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Nov 7, 2018

Education Minister Weighs in on Teachers’ Demonstration

The man at the centre of the storm is the Minister of Education Patrick Faber whose relations with the Belize National Teachers Union have been testy at best.  As teachers chanted in Belmopan, “Solidarity forever; we will not be moved,” the minister was here in Belize City, away from the hundreds who made their point in front the ministry.  Faber says he is not fazed by the demonstration, but conceded he is willing to go back to the negotiating table as early as next week. Proposal Twenty-Two is one of the biggest hurdles to cross. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports. 

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The coming together of educators from across the country to protest against government for a number of unresolved issues involving the well-being of teachers, by and large, speaks to the antipathy that exists between the Belize National Teachers Union and the Ministry of Education.  Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber has been at the helm of that government department since 2008.  He’s seen his share of demonstrations over the past ten years.

 

Patrick Faber

Patrick Faber, Minister of Education

“Unrest, or this kind of disgruntlement on the part of unions, is a common thing.  I am positive that if you check the region right now, there are similar activities going on between the teachers union and the Ministry of Education in many of our countries, or several of our countries.  So it is not abnormal where we have this kind of inability to come to a common ground.  It is not unhealthy either, but the issue primarily is that it takes away, especially a day like today, from our children’s instruction.”

 

Setting aside the idea of standing up for a just cause, when teachers absent themselves from their classrooms it comes as a hindrance to their students.  In visiting several primary and high schools in Belize City earlier today, it was evident that attendance was wishy-washy.  Nonetheless, the blame is placed squarely on the minister.

 

Patrick Faber

“For the sake of those who say, “Faber, maybe you are the lightning rod.”  Then, you know, I say to those people, I have not been in any negotiations for the allowances you know, I have not sat in any meeting with the union, not one.  The only involvement I have is in fact when you the media people come to me and ask me.  It is my senior management team that engages those people on a regular basis.”

 

But while Faber was in Belize City today, he was abreast of what was taking place in Belmopan.  The demonstration, he says, was unwarranted.

 

Patrick Faber

“I believe it’s an unnecessary demonstration because the discussions have not gotten to the point where there is an impasse.  Certainly all Belizeans would have heard me say repeatedly that in fact, even as we speak there is an opportunity afforded to B.N.T.U. and our managements to be able to share their concerns as it relates to the hardship allowances.  So there is no breakdown in communication and in fact, this matter, if we would have agreed to sit at the table a long time ago to talk about them, could be resolved.  This and other issues.”

 

Among those concerns is Proposal Twenty-two.

 

Elena Smith

Elena Smith, National President, B.N.T.U.

“It’s for those grant aided secondary schools where those teachers and support staff get seventy percent of their salaries as opposed to a hundred percent as the government schools are getting.  So that when you retire, your gratuity and your pension, the amount that you get, government would only pay seventy-percent and then the management should pay the thirty and that is not happening, so teachers from those schools, most of the times leave without the thirty percent.”

 

Patrick Faber

“The proposal for instance of the thirty percent benefits of pension and gratuity for the denominational schools, the union is perfectly correct when they say that that matter is something that they still are in discussions with us on, but we’ve already agreed to the way forward.  We’ve said to them that the government cannot make those payments and that in fact where the churches or the communities the government is going to assist them in being able to secure that payment for their teachers.”

 

According to Faber, government has made it clear that it cannot cover the remaining percentage of gratuity and pension.

 

Patrick Faber

“The matter of Proposal Twenty-two as I repeated, in my opinion, the bulk of it is concluded and where it is not concluded the way forward has been agreed upon and that is why I think there is a misunderstanding on their part and maybe the communication between us has not been the best and so things have not come out the way it ought to.”

 

And that is the perceived disrespect that the union says continues to happen under Faber’s leadership of the ministry.  He takes an entirely different view.

 

Patrick Faber

“I don’t know where that comes from.  I speak passionately about my position.  I can assure people that my position is merely to set things straight and to try to as best as I can make the education system better.”

 

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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