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Oct 3, 2016

Belmopan Educators Stay Out of School in Big Numbers

B.N.T.U. Belmopan Branch says today’s strike was a success. The teachers who didn’t go to school converged in the Capital where the eight demands by the union were ventilated by guest speakers including Doctor Louis Zabaneh. More than three-fourths of the Belmopan Branch union members, along with non-members in Belmopan ditched the classroom in support of their union. News Five’s Andrea Polanco stopped in at the meeting where the teachers on strike were gathered.

 

Dr. Louis Zabaneh, Presenter

“The teachers, today and in 2005, the teachers – you have stood up and so I am happy to say that those lecturers who are from tertiary. We have been asking and you have been responding.”

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

More than three hundred members of the B.N.T.U. Belmopan Branch didn’t show up to their classrooms today. While most teachers were absent from school, they were present here at their local union branch meeting at the George Price Center.

 

Norlan Galvez

Norlan Galvez, President, B.N.T.U. BELMOPAN

“We are giving our teachers information, so that they can know the facts. So that whenever anything comes up they can stand up and explain and also for those who don’t understand they will be able to explain to them. What we are doing for today is for country.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“The B.N.T.U. Belmopan Branch, are you guys prepared to go all the way, along with the rest of the union branches from around the country?”

 

Norlan Galvez

“When it comes to B.N.T.U. Belmopan Branch, B.N.T.U. is one big branch and the members give the mandate. And whatever the members say, we do. And if the members say we are in it for the long haul, then we go for the long haul too.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Now meetings are being held around the country, by when will you know what happens after tomorrow and for the rest of the week?”

 

Norlan Galvez,

“By the end of the day. We will know what tomorrow brings and the rest of the days.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“We’ve heard and particularly members from the present Government and supporters of the U.D.P. are saying this isn’t really about the eight points. You guys initially only wanted your three percent but the leadership of the B.N.T.U. has turned this into a political issue. Do you agree or disagree with that?”

 

Norlan Galvez

“I disagree with that because when it comes to B.N.T.U. we have a council of management, so our national president could never ever make certain decisions and whatever is happening here comes from council and membership. So, when they are playing politics they are just finding reason to do union busting so that is why we are here today. We support Mister Palacio. He is our President and he listens.”

 

Around the city, most of the school grounds were pretty empty with less than half the students, classrooms were closed and some gates were locked. Primary schools like Our Lady of Guadalupe was closed. While Belmopan Methodist High School saw a fifty four percent turnout of their students and twelve out of seventeen teachers were in class teaching.  At Comprehensive High School, less than half the students were in class today with only three hundred and fifty out of one thousand fifty.  Only twenty one teachers were in class but Principal Maria Hutchinson said that they combined some of the smaller classes and students were given work and being supervised by at least one head teacher. Perhaps while this wasn’t the best news for those who showed up for classes today, it was victory for the B.N.T.U.:

 

Shirley Samuels

Shirley Samuels, Vice President, B.N.T.U. Belmopan Branch

“So far we have a little over three hundred fifty members and non-members who are here to support the cause.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Miss Samuels, how many members do you have on record?”

 

Shirley Samuels

“Up to when we had the first meeting we had about two hundred seventy five and at that time we had like fifty new members who have signed up and today we are accepting applications as well because we have teachers who have just started to teach, so we are accepting today.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Would you consider this a success- looking at the rate in terms of numbers in membership to the number of teachers out here?”

 

Shirley Samuels

“Of course, it is a success. Like President mentioned, normally we don’t have these numbers coming out for meeting. Inside it is filled and we have teachers standing outside, so it is a huge success. Majority or all of the Primary Schools are closed. And some of the high schools. A few teachers showed up and the teachers are just babysitting like two or three students in a classroom. So the support from the community itself has been resounding.”

 

And the spirited meeting featured speakers on a wide range issues and some public figures like Senator Ashley Rocke were not spared in the discussion of the teachers’ eight points. The teachers at today’s meeting say that the three percent is not the only reason they are on strike:

 

Annette Pech

Annette Pech, St. Matthew’s Government School

“I decided not to show up for school today because I am one hundred percent behind my union for the things that we are asking the government to hear our voice for and I feel like they are not taking us seriously. I need to take a stand. Yes. I am ready for my salary to be taken away. I need to know that when I stand now, my children will know that my mother stood up for what she believed in. What do I believe in? We need the thirteen senators. Look at what happened on Friday- it is a joke. Another thing, I think the tax reformation needs to be looked at across the board. We need to look at it and find a margin that is right for everybody. Those are just a few of them. As for the three percent, personally, okay as a union it is still on the table. But personally, I don’t care about the three percent because it comes out in tax. I have never paid tax before but now I am paying tax.”

 

Jose Ico, St. Michael’s Roman Catholic

“I am also out here because of the many national issues. One of the national issues that stands out to me is the United NationsConvention against corruption. You know, if s country is corrupt, on a pathway to corruption, its citizens will always be poor. Another thing that also stands out is our safety, from our homes to school and schools to home. We love what we do. We are in the teaching profession not for the love of money but the sake of what we do.”

 

Jose Ico

Andrea Polanco

“Government Ministers saying, you know what, the teachers deh mi only want deh three percent and they never really cared about the other points. But the leadership is making this political. How do you respond to that?”

 

Jose Ico

“The B.N.T.U. – no party is in. If I can go to the limit and say the party that are inside are PUP, UDP, and every other party is in our union. Once it comes to a union, we are union. Today we bear our hats in terms of the B.N.T.U.. Our leadership has no agenda; no political agenda. He might have aspired to have an office within there. Now the good gentleman is honest. That I can attest to. I am also willing to go to the point and say that each and every teacher here suffers every day. Now we are not here for what we call political mileage. What political mileage do we have? Our only political mileage is for the betterment of our country. I have twenty six students entrusted into my care and I wish that their future is much, much brighter than mine when the years comes in.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“What’s the sentiment among the teachers at your school?”

 

Jose Ico

“I have to say that at St. Michael’s we have a one hundred percent in solidarity with the union. We are all membership. I believe its ninety percent, no, ninety five percent of our staff or of my fellow colleagues at St Michael’s are union members. We also go through – what does it benefit us from that? Precisely for certain issues such as these ones and for solidarity movements and demonstrations and strikes such as these ones.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“So, you’re all out here today?”

 

Jose Ico

“We are all out here and will continue to be out here for as long as we gonna be out here.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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