Highlights — 14 January 2014 — by Kareem Clarke
Teachers rally in the North, to the dismay of the Education Ministry

In accordance with their pledge to increase their advocacy on the different burning social issues affecting Belizeans presently – and in particular their salary adjustment – the Belize National Teacher’s Union (BNTU) held two rallies in the northern districts of Belize today.

This morning, roughly 300 teachers from Orange Walk and surrounding areas came together to let their voices be heard as they sang and marched through the principal streets of that municipality agitating for an end to corruption in government and demanding certainty on the quantum of their projected salary adjustment from the Government of Belize (GOB).

While they responded to the call from the BNTU and assembled at the Central Park in downtown Orange Walk, the teachers were soon joined by about 100 cane farmers and other supporters. The president of the BNTU, Luke Palacio, said that the teachers have been long-suffering and that GOB has underestimated them because they have been so patient.

During his highly charged speech, he outlined the reason for the protest. Palacio said, “We want to make it absolutely clear that despite what Patrick Faber and his other minions on the radio are saying this morning that we are demonstrating or rallying against a salary adjustment – that is not the purpose of this rally. This rally was planned a long time ago because our council of management (decided) – based on what you as our members have said to us – we need to address a number of national issues.”

As expected, Palacio also spoke about the thorny issue of the teachers’ salary adjustments. He said, “We are going to fight that our salary be adjusted because we contribute to the development of this country. When the Prime Minister speaks that in addition to the increment that is given – which he states is about 2% , we need to let the public understand that not every teacher gets an increment, and not every public officer gets an increment. So let’s not try to create this confusion so that the people can believe that we are greedy. We are not. We are fighting for what we deserve and we are going to continue to fight.”

The teachers union has sworn to remain especially vigilant in their demand for a salary increase, which is one of the many issues that the BNTU has sought to address since the start of the year. The increase has been promised to the teachers and public officers since early 2013, and GOB has agreed to fulfill that promise later this year, retroactive to April. The date for the increase was originally set for some time in July; however, in his New Year’s address, Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow announced that it would instead be given sometime in August.

While that may only be a month later, the rescheduling of the salary increase has led to consternation and distrust among many of the public servants who believe that perhaps they may once again be ‘taken for a ride.’

To show their solidarity in their stance, the BNTU has a planned a series of rallies which are scheduled to take place throughout the month of January. The rally in Orange Walk this morning was the first, and took place despite the issuance yesterday of a press release directly from the Ministry of Education calling on teachers to stay in class and boycott the rally.

The Minister of Education, Hon. Patrick Faber, stated in the release that no permission had been granted by the Ministry for the rallies to take place. According to the Ministry, the unions have customarily asked for permission in such cases in the past in a spirit of partnership. The Ministry expressed that they were concerned about “the inconvenience to families, unnecessary disruption of classes, and other negative effects on learning by our children and young people” that the rallies will cause.

Well, the union struck back a few hours after by sending out its own release, which stated that the school managements had been informed of the rallies, and that is all that is required. It added that the rallies would go on today and on the following Friday in Belize City. It also urged union members to stand firm.

Today, Amandala spoke to Faber, who said that there is no need for the type of action that has been initiated by the BNTU because it overshadows students’ right to an education. Faber stated that as far as GOB is aware, talks about a collective bargaining agreement have not broken down.

Faber said, “The union has said that the reason we are going to engage in this kind of action – and if it has been through a meeting that is in accordance with the Education Act that requires them to ask the Ministry of Education for permission – if it is another type of gathering, then that to me signals that there is some breakdown in the communication; if it is not through the collective bargaining agreement for negotiations, then it must be some other kind of breakdown in communication which to my mind does not exist.”

Faber said that the union representatives were in his office last Wednesday and no mention of any major bone of contention was addressed, and neither was there any mention of any rallies that were slated to take place. He stated that the teachers will get the raise that they are looking for; however, GOB will not be able to determine the amount of the raise until after the commencement of the financial year.

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