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Sep 26, 2016

War of Words between B.N.T.U. and Government; Strike Action Declared

Eleven years ago, in 2005, the Belize National Teachers Union went on a week-long strike joining other organizations in a sustained campaign against government on the economic issues including proposed tax hikes at that time. Tonight, the B.N.T.U. is preparing again for strike action against the government if its eight demands are not met.  Eighteen hours after a marathon meeting with the P.M. at the Biltmore Plaza, the B.N.T.U. served notice on Government that it will take industrial action. Teachers have been asked to participate in a one-day closure of schools on October third which is next week Monday. Following a successful demonstration one week ago, this latest démarche is another step in the union’s strategy that may extend beyond Monday. After receiving the B.N.T.U. notice, the P.M. did a rare thing.  He vented his exasperation in a nine-minute statement to the nation on a Sunday afternoon. Correspondent Aaron Humes reports on what has happened in the last seventy-two hours.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

On Thursday night, September twenty-second, the Prime Minister said that the Belize National Teachers’ Union was going back for further consultations following their marathon meeting at the Biltmore. But roughly a day later the Union wrote him to say he had not even come close to meeting all eight demands they made of him. The P.M. then moved into damage control mode, seekingto get his side of the story out first. The results of that “exhaustive” and “minute” discussion on Thursday, the Prime Minister confirmed in his Sunday statement, did not lead to anything being completely agreed on – but he maintained that it was not his fault.

 

Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Now, I had already attempted to address the demands in my response letter to them of September fourteenth, and I made further efforts to do so in last Thursday’s meeting. But the B.N.T.U. leadership proved unyielding, and after the meeting, they summarily rejected Government in under eighteen hours, despite promising to consult with their wider membership. In doing so, I believe, they are being wholly unreasonable.”

 

However, as the old saying goes, there’s two sides to every story – and then, there is the truth. The other side of this story belongs to national president of the B.N.T.U., Luke Palacio, who now accuses the Prime Minister of wanting things his own way.

 

Luke Palacio

Luke Palacio, National President, B.N.T.U.

“He never said that to us then; we laid our positions to him right there in the meetings, that we were not agreeing with some of the things he is proposing; and I don’t know that that now means that we are intolerable. Because we need to understand: it seems that unless it is the Prime Minister’s way, then it is no way. And we as Belizeans need to understand: we have the power. The power of the people is greater than the people in power, and if we realize that, and if we – again, I repeat, love this country, we will do what it takes for us to right what is wrong, and if the Government decides, and believes that it wants good for this country, then this piecemeal appeasing of this group, as opposed to not wanting to appease another group, so that you can get them on your side, that needs to stop.”

 

Palacio maintains that the two sides are quite far apart on the issues they discussed.  So where does this leave the country? On the verge of strike action – which the Prime Minister still wants to avert.

 

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“I therefore urge the B.N.T.U., and I am here appealing to the wider membership and not just the Council of Management, to call off this destructive crusade. Government has had multiple meetings with the churches and other unions, and reason and Government’s compromise prevailed in all those discussions. Its leadership therefore needs to return to the negotiating table, so that we might also strike a balance between their demands and the interests of the larger society, especially the children and their parents. Then, altogether, the people, the Government and the social partners, we can continue to take this country forward.”

 

But Palacio insists it the Prime Minister who must change his ways.

 

Luke Palacio

“We need to get this country righted, and if it means that the Prime Minister is prepared to change his ways – to change what he has been pronouncing – then maybewe can consider. Because what needs to be pointed out, is that there are instances, where the Prime Minister will say to anybody he is negotiating with or discussing with, “I can change this tomorrow – with the stroke of a pen,” and then when there are other pressing issues, that he is totally against, he says, “Oh, it has to go to the Legislature, oh the modalities need to be worked out,” and a whole ton-load of whatever it is that he continues to say. And we are again saying, we are not going to be held ransom by the Prime Minister dangling a carrot in front of us, and we will continue to suffer after we have taken that carrot. We are not for that.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

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