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Jan 26, 2005

Students rally in support of unions

Story PictureThe rumor mill was working hard today, spewing various reports of planned strikes by Belize’s labour movement. But at newstime tonight, only one had proven true: as of one this afternoon Belize City’s water pipes went dry. According to Belize Water Services Limited, this morning their union informed them of a walk out call sent out by the NTUCB and as a result, both the company and its employees agreed to “a managed and planned shutdown”. The agreed scheduled is as follows:

There will be water between the hours of six and nine tonight, Wednesday, January twenty-sixth. It will go off again at nine but will be turned on at six Thursday morning for three hours. Water will be turned off all day until six that night when it will last for another three-hour block. It’s the same story on Friday, three hours in the morning, off again all day but then at six that night, it is expected that a continuous supply will resume.

BWS says other company operations will continue as normal and all offices will be open to conduct business during regular working hours.

As it stands tonight, the schools are expected to remain closed while the unions ponder their next move and Government tries to regain it’s negotiating momentum.

Meanwhile today, one new group making its voice heard was that comprising Belize’s youngest citizens.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
What began as a small trickle of students at the Memorial Park soon became a stream of scholars, unionists and teachers…drowning the streets of Belize City with a single message.

With more than a handful of police officers serving as escorts, the student organized parade slowly wound its way through the principal streets of the old capital.

By the time the demonstrators crossed the intersection of Orange Street and Albert Street, more than a thousand people had joined ranks with the students.

Moses Sulph, President, UB Student Body
?Our message will be, we want to keep education affordable, we want good governance and reform. That?s our main three messages.?

Janelle Chanona
?Do you plan to put your suggestions in writing and forward it to the PM??

Moses Sulph
?Yes, eventually we will do that. As you can see so much youths out there and that means definitely we have the support of the youths and we have the support of the teachers and we are supporting them same way.?

For some students, today?s march was an important milestone for free speech.

Student 1
?We?re out here because we are supporting our people. We need a future. We don?t know where our future is going with this and we need our youths. Our youths are united today with our teachers. ?

Student 2
?And we want everybody to know that we are supporting today. This is Muffles, SJC, U.B., high schools and everybody because this is a national problem and we are united. We are not violent. We are very peaceful and we want everybody to work together and get our goal, which is that no taxes or there can?t be reform.?

Janelle Chanona
?If you could say one thing to the Prime Minister what would it be??

Student 2
?I would plead to him to just be reasonable with the people. We don?t want any violence. We don?t want anything. We just want that everything be resolved. We too want the financial situation to be improved but we don?t just think that his budget is not the right way.?

Student 3
?My point of view about being out of the classroom is that I don?t like it. I think it?s not proper but I mean the mess that the country is in is causing us to be out of the classroom and we have to stand up for our rights.?

Student 4
?It?s not the teachers that have stopped school, it?s the Government. They should implement the reforms as reprimanded and I am glad that a lot of people came out today because we need to show our support for the teachers. The teachers are not wrong in doing this. There have always been there for us and its time that we stand beside them and help them when they need us.?

Present at the student march this morning were members and leaders of Belize?s labour movement. After talks between the unions and the government broke down in deadlock on Tuesday, leaders say the strikes will continue.

Anthony Fuentes, President, B.N.T.U.
?We demand and deserve reform in our system. We want no taxes or increase in taxes. We want our eight and five percent that we collectively signed for on the twenty-third of February 2003. To the parents, I would advise them to take this time out to assist their children at home with their workbooks or give them some type of work that would be beneficial for them.?

I would just like to reiterate the position of the Belize National Teachers Union that we continue in this effort to show government that we?re serious and the need to listen. A responsible government would listen to the unions, the business community, the Chamber of Commerce and those who are involved in this struggle together. So Government please listen to your people.?

Paul Perriott, President, Belize Communication Workers Union
?My members have spoken to me and they said the same thing that they are willing to stay as long as they possibly can with the teachers out of the work. So we are willing to go along with them.?

Janelle Chanona
?What is your message to the rest of the community??

Paul Perriott
?We would like the community to support the actions of the teachers and let us try to get away from this political issue and let it be a political thing. We have put together recommendations to the Prime Minister for him to look at where he could get the taxes from.?

?No reform, no tax. No reform, no tax. No reform, no tax.?

George Frazer, General Secretary, N.T.U.C.B.
?Let us look at the problems of Belize. Let us live within our means and not in a society where some have more and the poor continue to suffer and increase. We want is best for Belize. God has given us a beautiful country. Let us work for that and those who have abused, let them be made to pay. Let us see how we can collect the taxes and put in place the reforms. This is not a political issue. It is bread and butter.?

Janelle Chanona
?So at the end of the day though you are saying that you will stay out of the classrooms until your demands are met??

George Frazer
?Well that is what our teachers and students are saying here. There is time in the affairs of men when you have to stand and make the sacrifice. If Government call us today and say let is sit down and let us really look at the issues.?

The parade ended at the Memorial Park with a rally during which student and union representatives addressed the gathering.

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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