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Feb 4, 2005

Rank & File split with BNTU leadership

Story PictureIf it is clarity you are seeking in tonight’s newscast please be forewarned; the situation is as confused as ever. The bottom line is that no agreement has been officially signed to end any industrial action by any of the nation’s labour unions and to our knowledge no new negotiations are scheduled. Add to the mix a major protest demonstration this morning and a press conference late this evening by the government’s negotiators and you’re just about ready to need a stiff drink at happy hour.

We’ll begin our coverage with events that took place last night. Following the decision of the BNTU management council to accept government’s offer and ostensibly end the teachers? walkout, the NTUCB held a press conference…which turned out to be less press and more conference. News 5′s Stewart Krohn reports.

Stewart Krohn, Reporting
It was high drama at the NDFB conference room as member unions of the Trade Union Congress gathered to assess the situation on their ongoing dispute with Government. While the leaders methodically provided on historical background, the rank and file were anxious to cut to the chase–that being why it was that the Teachers Union decided to accept the GOB proposals and order their members back to work.

Anthony Fuentes, President, BNTU
?I must say that nothing has been signed.?

BNTU President Anthony Fuentes–like Assistant Police Commissioner Crispin Jefferies several weeks ago–was either the bravest or most foolhardy man in the room. For Fuentes it was the classic good news/bad news presentation…and not surprisingly, he led with what the militant crowd wanted to hear.

Anthony Fuentes
?The Belize National Teachers Union stand in solidarity with the National Trade Union Congress of Belize.?

But no matter how he tried to spin it, the Teachers Union president could not escape the simple fact that his council of management had voted to make a separate peace with government.

Anthony Fuentes
?I must say that our council of management, which is made up of two persons from each branch of the ten branches. This document was presented and the council of management voted for this particular document.?

And when it came time to defend that particular document President Fuentes paid a heavy price.

Audience Member #1
?If the Belize National Teachers Union is in solidarity with the actions that will be taking I cannot understand how we will be in classes and in support. So I would like that be clarified.?

Anthony Fuentes
?The Belize National Teaches Union is a democratic organisation and by majority vote, as I said, the council voted and they voted in favour of going back to school tomorrow.?

Audience Member #2
?Mr. Fuentes, I no happy. I am a teacher and I am not happy. Why? We?ve reached this far and you keep saying we are in this thing together. How could the membership of the BNTU have made this vote on something and not go back to their members??

Anthony Fuentes
?A vote was taken by the council of management. A resolution was proposed and after the resolution was proposed, a vote was taken and the vote went eight in favour of going back to school and two branches abstaining. Therefore by a majority vote the council of management voted in favour of saying that the teachers. Will be going back to school tomorrow, Friday. ?

Audience Member #3
?Mr. Fuentes, all the negotiations were going on under the NTUCB, why did Assad Shoman and Carla Barnet present the document to the Teachers Union? Why that has happened??

Anthony Fuentes
?I reiterate our position, BNTU is a democrat. We?ve eight to two. We are going with the majority.?

Audience Member #4
?You committed to us the Belize City branch as national president that whatever votes are cast at that council that it is a secret vote and should not be exposed to the media unless we have consulted the NTUCB. I want to say you committed that you will ask all presidents to go back and check with their membership. You committed that to the Belize City branch and I will stand for that.?

Audience Member #5
?I am a teacher and if I cannot be out there in the demonstration as a teacher, I will be out there as a citizen of Belize.?

Anthony Fuentes
?While the teachers were out on strike there are other people who were working. So now it?s time that the other people out there also to take up the mantle.?

And taking up that mantle was P.S.U, President Dylan Reneau. Reneau, uncharacteristically playing the role of peacemaker, gave Fuentes and his teachers credit for leading the charge. But it was clear that he believes the B.N.T.U. jumped too soon.

Dylan Reneau
?We had a document brought to us signed by the Prime Minister. He was not present and he had it signed already and we were supposed to sign on to that document. We know that that is procedurally improper and also the fact that this document basically tried to cancel out that bigger document that we tried to talk about with respective corrective measures etc. and focussed only on salaries and tried to touch taxes. But even the recommendations brought out on the taxes was a far cry because it did not necessarily state what we were asking at that meeting for us to sit down around the table, rollback these taxes ad be able to at the end of the day make meaningful suggestions on how we could change the tax structure so that it can be more equitable.?

Stewart Krohn
?So you have told the gathering tonight that you have refashioned the document and submitted it back to government. Are you now waiting for them to reply before your union decides on its next course of action??

Dylan Reneau
?Certainly we are waiting for them to respond, but the plan of action will continue until we get some sort of resolution to this. So it will be dynamic. We will continue with what we are doing.?

Stewart Krohn
?Before the teachers signalled their acceptance of the document, did you as the NTUCB meet with all your constituent members including BNTU??

Dylan Reneau
?I have to explain the circumstances under which this document was presented. The council of BNTU was having a meeting at the time and we were called into this meeting and they received as a council the document before many of us had a chance to even get in contact with our constituency. And they at that point read it through and felt assured that what we had negotiated the night before was captured in that document. But certainly that decision did not have the benefit of going through it as a Trade Union Congress and ripping the document apart totally. They just looked at it from a surface level from my perspective and since they were there and the document was there they called for a vote and they did their vote.?

Stewart Krohn
?A number of people at tonight?s gathering have expressed the feeling that what government has done is divide and conquer the union movement. Do you subscribe to that view??

Dylan Reneau
?Certainly it appears that way from the outside. But as the president of the BNTU clearly stated when he went up to the podium, we are in it together and we will end it together. Not because he is going to school. You have to understand they have to step back a little, rejuvenate, reassess. Their members are ready but the leadership also have their role to play. Certainly we will continue the struggle. Who knows? Maybe Monday we will be back out there again.?

Stewart Krohn for News 5.

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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