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Oct 31, 2016

B.N.T.U. on the Streets; Demand Education Minister Stop Playing Games

The Belize National Teacher’s Union held another protest on Saturday, several days after its members resumed classes and ending an eleven-day strike.  The demonstration this time around did not enjoy a massive turnout in terms of participation. But why? Still yet, the leadership of the union says that the message is loud and clear – twenty-five members or no meeting at all.  That’s in reference to a pending sit-down with Minister of Education Patrick Faber to discuss salary deductions and makeup time after the industrial action.  News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Over the weekend, dozens of primary school teachers converged on Belize City where they participated in a demonstration which saw them making their way on foot from B.N.T.U.’s headquarters on Mercy Lane to the Fort George Memorial Park.  What was initially billed as an expression of thanks to parents and supporters of recent industrial action staged by the disgruntled educators, turned out to be another protest.  The Belize National Teacher’s Union is once again at loggerheads with the Ministry of Education.  This time, however, the anemic turnout of teachers may be indicative of the present momentum.

 

Luke Palacio

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

“Of course, the Belize National Teachers Union has put the strike on hold so we decided that there would have been the need for this rally. Initially, it was intended as a thank you rally to thank those persons, bodies, organizations whoever had given us support during our eleven-day strike. However, once that was concluded and our teachers committed to making up the time, the Minister of Education has decided that he is gonna withhold our salaries. And so we are demonstrating that we are not in agreement with that, we are not satisfied and therefore we are asking the public to lend support to have the minister understand that the teachers are prepared to make up the time, [so] pay them their salaries.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“The turnout today seems a bit smaller than what would have been expected otherwise. Could you speak to us a little about that?”

 

Luke Palacio

“The teachers in our council, a great majority in fact, teach in rural community. This is a payday weekend and so when they are in town they make sure that they take care of all of the bills that they can because they want to be back in the classroom on Monday. And some of them leave their communities, their homes, early in the morning and come back at night and therefore they would not be able to transact the business that they would ordinarily have done. So we are satisfied with what we are seeing out here today and there is support; that is what matters most.”

 

Union Senator Elena Smith, herself an educator, was also present at Saturday’s march.  She shared her position on Minister of Education Patrick Faber’s refusal to meet with a twenty-five member Council of Management.

 

Elena Smith

Elena Smith, Senator, Trade Unions

“I’m a member B.N.T.U. first—well citizen of this country really, but member of B.N.T.U.—and so we are just out here this morning just to show a sign of thank you to the community and parents who have supported us during our eleven-day strike.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“In terms of this particular situation where there is a standoff between the union and the government, from your perspective as a senator for the unions, what do you think of all of this?”

 

Elena Smith

“Well I believe that as a minister, he should be able to find ways and means of resolving situations. We have said to him that our constitution says that the council is the second highest authority and so five persons from the union cannot make a decision. But our minister refuses to accept that. He has been a long serving member of our B.N.T.U. Belize Branch Executive and so he should know this. But he is just refusing to accept that; he wants to have his own way and that’s not how things work. You can’t be a leader and want to have your own way; you have to learn to compromise.”

 

If there was a central message to be delivered to government, Palacio says that would be that the union is very much alive and active on social issues.

 

Luke Palacio

“That the teachers of Belize and the B.N.T.U. are very much alive and are prepared to continue to fight for its members at whatever cost.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“Let’s talk a bit about the standoff between the union and the government as it relates to the number of union representatives to attend the meeting with Minister Faber. Where do we stand as of today?”

 

Luke Palacio

“Our position remains. We have said to the minister we are prepared to meet. Our constitution mandates that once it comes to national issues and matters that will affect our union that we take our Council of Management to meet with whomever. And we’ve said it before and we say it again…the Prime Minister has met with us—twenty-five members of our council on two different occasions—the Minister of Education has also done so in the past so I cannot understand what his problem is; what issues he is trying to create.”

 

The standoff, says Smith, is once again the result of politic games being played.

 

Elena Smith

“Well, politics is in everything. We know that the government looks out for the government’s purposes and we have to look out for the members that we serve. And so in everything that they do it will be political, but we are not going to play the game that they are playing; we are going to be working on behalf of our members and by what our members tell us.  Unlike them…they do what they want to do when they want to do it. We do what our members tell us to do.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“Where do you see this going insofar as this particular stalemate?”

 

Elena Smith

“Well really and truly I don’t understand why we cannot have a meeting. If the Prime Minister, who is above the minister, has met with our council on several occasions and if the Prime Minister can meet with us as a council, why can’t the minister? He is just a minister right now and the deputy—but he is just a deputy. So why can’t he follow the lead of the Prime Minister and meet with our council as we have always been doing. So I hope that he would rethink the situation and choose to meet with our Council of Management as we are asking.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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