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Jan 28, 2005

PSU takes hard line, leads nationwide walkout

Story PictureAs promised, it was back to the streets again for unionized workers and citizens agitating for financial reform, rollback of recent tax increases and the implementation of promised salary increases for teachers and government employees. Today’s action was led by the Public Service Union which held rallies and marches in Belize City, Orange Walk, San Ignacio and Dangriga. Our coverage begins with Patrick Jones reporting from the old capital.

Protestors
?Reform, resign or be removed. Reform, resigned or be removed. Reform, resign or be removed.?

Patrick Jones, Reporting
The message was clear as hundreds of public officers took to the streets of Belize City this morning…they won?t be overlooked by Government. Dylan Reneau is the president of the Public Service Union, which led today?s demonstration.

Dylan Reneau, President, Public Service Union
?We want to prove to this Government that we have resolve. We will not back down. We are very serous about what we are saying, we want reform, we want no new taxes and we want our salary increase.?

Some public officers walked off the job on Thursday afternoon and others joined today. Reneau says they are joined in solidarity with teachers to hold the Prime Minister?s feet to the fire.

Dylan Reneau
?This Government has tried to divide and conquer us by calling in BNTU into meetings and they have left the APSSM and PSU outside. And we are making a point here because you will see a lot of PSU members are out here that we will not stand for anything less than five and eight percent.?

But with Government seemingly unwilling or unable to back down from its intention to stagger the increases over the next two years, Reneau says the strike by public officers could drag on. President of the Communication Workers Union, Paul Perriott, says while consensus has been reached on the issue of reform, there is still a long way to go in this dispute. And the ball is now squarely in the Prime Minister?s court.

Paul Perriot, President, Belize Communication Workers Union
?Well, so far I nuh satisfied yet until the prime minister decide fuh tek fuh we words, the words of the people into action. Put the words of the people into action. That dah when I wah weh be satisfied.?

Patrick Jones
?What basically dah the sticking point, why are you all still on strike??

Paul Perriott
?Well, he has not listened to nothing we have said. Yes we look at the reforms, but nothing else; none of our other cries have been heeded. If you notice we di cry no more taxes. That dah di continual cry. The teachers have to get their salary increases, you know, things hard out here.?

Patrick Jones
?What can you do about the taxes, it?s already passed into law??

Paul Perriott
?We will find a way to let him turn back the taxes in the way he needs to turn it and not on the people.?

Under the watchful eyes of law enforcement officials on land and by sea, hundreds of postal workers, customs officials, teachers and students chanted songs, and carried placards reinforcing their message.

By the time the demonstration hit Regent Street, the crowd had expanded and the level of rhetoric turned up several notches.

Patrick Jones
?Is it likely that this strike will continue into next week??

Paul Perriott
?Well, mek the Prime Minister make that call. I think if he makes the right call this could stop today, you know. But if he doesn?t make the right call it won?t stop.?

Patrick Jones
?So conceivably you could be off the job on Monday as well??

Dylan Reneau
?Definitely we will be off the job because we are going to have a special AGM at the Civic Centre. All our branches have been mobilised. We are ready to pick up this fight from here on if the BNTU, and I know it?s not the BNTU will back off. They are very concerned that our children are not in school but we will keep up this fight.?

And as a gesture of support in their fight, the Association of Concerned Belizeans has donated over two thousand dollars to the National Trade Union Congress of Belize.

As to the question of when teachers will return to the classroom, president of the Belize District branch of the BNTU, Elena Smith, says no firm decision has been made.

Elena Smith, President, BNTU Belize Branch
?Remember that we had three things that we were looking for reforms, taxes and our salaries. We spoke with chamber, we had a meeting with chamber and they have accepted some of the reforms that we had offered to them. And so that is one part. But the taxes have not been settled. So we need to get taxes settled and we need to get our salaries settled.?

Patrick Jones
?Taxes settled, what you mean??

Elena Smith
?We were saying that there is no need for taxes to be increased. We have given them many ways in which they can raise monies and these will help them so that they cannot increase taxes. Those that we have given them have not really been looked at. And we are sure that if they implement those things, then there is no need for taxes.?

Patrick Jones
?So as of now schools remain closed with no prospect of opening on Monday.?

Elena Smith
?Yes, that is correct. We have no set date and out teachers will be informed through the teacher union when they should go back to school.?

Following the demonstration, a rally was held at the Memorial park where the protestors were addressed by representatives of the various unions and the Opposition United Democratic Party. Patrick Jones, for News 5.

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