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Nov 21, 2016

Full Salaries for Teachers! But Will They Be in Time for Christmas?

A major decision was handed down this afternoon by the Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin. The Belize National Teachers Union, led by President Luke Palacio and Adelaida Guerra, took the government to court seeking to stop a decision by the Ministry of Education to dock the salaries of teachers who went on strike for eleven days in October. The hearing was held on Friday and today the CJ determined that government cannot unilaterally decide to deduct salaries for striking days. But there is a hitch because according to the Ministry of Education, pay sheets for November have already been processed for Friday’s salaries. So will teachers get their full pay before the Christmas? News Five’s Isani Cayetano spoke with B.N.T.U.’s attorney Eamon Courtenay as well as Palacio and Doctor Carol Babb of the Ministry of Education.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The Belize National Teachers Union emerged victorious in the Supreme Court this afternoon, following the handing down of a decision by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin in which he granted an injunction in its favor.  The application filed on behalf of Adelaida Guerra and B.N.T.U. was for an interim order to inhibit government from withholding the salaries of each teacher who participated in the eleven-day work to rule in October.  Despite a request from the union asking the Ministry of Education to rescind the deduction of wages, the process continued nonetheless, resulting in legal action being taken.

 

Eamon Courtenay

Eamon Courtenay, Attorney for B.N.T.U.

“The Honorable Chief Justice handed down his decision a short while ago in which he granted the Belize National Teachers Union and Mrs. Guerra the injunction that we sought.  He found that we have an arguable case and that there is a real likelihood that we will succeed at trial and he felt that the balance of convenience was in favor of the teachers, that the teachers should not be denied their enjoyment of Christmas because the government has taken the very mean and, I would say, scrooge-like decision to attempt to process the payments and then to come to court and say to the court that they can’t pay it on time.”

 

…and that’s precisely where government stands at the moment.  Notwithstanding a clear legal victory, there is still uncertainty as to when teachers will receive the balance of their salaries, since MOE seemingly preempted litigation by moving ahead with the process of docking their pay.

 

Carol Babb

Dr. Carol Babb, Chief Education Officer

“The injunction was upheld and so I guess now what we will have to do is to try to make the full salary available to teachers.  I can’t say when.”

 

Reporter

“So not for the twenty-fifth then?”

 

Dr. Carol Babb

“Well I don’t think it will be ready for the twenty-fifth because we explained that this is a process that takes about two weeks, but I am not in a position to say right now when the salaries will be ready.  Please understand that I am not the finance officer, as we explained to you all before it’s a process that takes time.  So I don’t know that it will be ready for the twenty-fifth, you can check back with us but I think that it’s highly unlikely that it will be available.”

 

Under law, government is mandated to make monthly contributions to Managing Authorities so that they can in turn meet the monthly salaries of teachers.  Sometime around mid-October, the Ministry of Education announced that it had decided to reserve its contribution towards the salaries of protestant teachers.

 

Luke Palacio

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

“When the ministry decided that this is the course of action they intended to take we had no other choice but to seek legal advice and to come to the courts for a final decision on this matter.  Our teachers have said to our managers, we will continue to do our work.  We are prepared to do everything that we were doing before we went to strike.  We went back to the classroom without anybody coercing us.  We thought and we knew it was the responsible thing to do.  But the Minister of Education who is clamoring or wanting to become the Prime Minister of this country has decided that he is going to punish the teachers.  That is the only thing you can see out of his actions because everybody has said that what the B.N.T.U. did for this country no one else has done it over these many years.”

 

Those recent accomplishments, including the tabling of an eight-point proposal, saw government agreeing to a number of national objectives.  In the wake of the strike however, the move to deduct the salaries of teachers who absented themselves from their classrooms has caused much controversy.

 

Eamon Courtenay

“CJ said that more people will be affected if they don’t pay than the people who have to do the overtime to correct the situation so teachers need to be paid and paid on time.”

 

Reporter

“Sir, can you explain to us how he received these arguments on Friday?”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“Well, we had quite a long submission on Friday, longer than an injunction like this ordinarily takes.  We put forward four arguments in favor of the union and Mrs. Guerra.  The point is, first of all, that the government is obliged to pay to the managing authorities and the managing authorities are obliged to pay to the teachers.  The rules as they stand, which the government is bound by; the government cannot in the middle of the year or in any month decide that they are not going to pay the managing authorities.  That is an arrangement that occurs on the basis of a year and they disburse it monthly and they must do so.  And the rules specifically say that if government wants to change it they must give one year’s notice.  So there was no one-year notice given.  This was arbitrary, high-handed action by the government intending to punish the teachers.”

 

Chief Education Officer Dr. Carol Babb refutes the idea that government was deliberately being imperious.

 

Isani Cayetano

“This decision has been criticized as high-handed on the part of government, particularly the Ministry of Education.  Can you respond to that in light of the decision that has pretty much quashed your move?”

 

Dr. Carol Babb

“Why would you call it high-handed?  The teachers did not work, so how can they expect pay.  We asked them, do you realize that if you strike you may not receive your salary.  They said we are willing to accept that.”

 

There is no timeline for when the balance of the teachers’ salaries will be defrayed ahead of the Christmas Season. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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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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