BELIZE CITY, Tues. May 4, 2021– Today marked the first official day of strike action by the Public Service Union. The PSU now joins the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), whose members have been on strike since last Monday.
According to PSU’s president Gerald Henry, members of the union came out in the hundreds to participate in the protests. Three large groups of union members gathered after a morning service at the Kings Park Nazarene Church. The first two groups met at the Battlefield Park and marched downtown. The other group converged in the Yarborough area and proceeded to march to Central American Boulevard, then down Cemetery Road, before returning to their point of origin.
The energy of the union could be felt across the city. The PSU’s 1st vice president, Dean Flowers, could be seen at the back of a pickup leading the march on Central American Boulevard with a loudspeaker in hand, urging participating members on.
The Nurses Association of Belize also took part in the morning’s march in downtown Belize City. Their president, Darrell Spencer, said that it is high time for the Belizean citizenry to come together, after 40 years of “crooked politicians.”
As mentioned, the BNTU was the first union to initiate its strike last Monday. Since then, many teachers have been out of classrooms in the 55 schools which had been reopened for in-person learning, and also absent from online sessions. BNTU president Elena Smith told local media that she is sure that these preliminary actions by the unions are nudging the government to expedite the drafting of good governance legislation. She is of the view that if the unions continue their resistance, the country will see the drafting of other necessary good governance legislation before the end of the government’s eight-month timeline.
The morning march in the city was a prelude to an afternoon meeting between the Joint Union Negotiating Team and representatives of the Government of Belize, the first of such meetings since negotiations abruptly came to an end in mid-March.
Now, Smith, like the other union leaders, is simply hoping that the government comes to the table to present new proposals — proposals they will have to take back to their union members who have foregone salaries to send their message: no salary cuts!
That message additionally includes the call for the full activation of the UNCAC in Belize. This can only be done through the strengthening and enforcement of current anti-corruption legislation, like the Prevention of Corruption Act, which provides for the creation of an independent Integrity Commission and the enactment of laws not yet in our books, like the Whistleblowers Act, Asset Recovery and Disposal Act, Illicit Enrichment Act and Campaign Financing legislation.
The unions released an 11-point list of demands before entering the meeting with government officials on Tuesday afternoon, which went late into the evening. Neither union leaders nor the government have yet disclosed what was discussed in the meeting or if an end to the impasse was reached. Gerald Henry of the PSU told local media that they would brief their union membership before returning to the public with a position.