Tough Talking Teachers Reject PM’s Response, Commit To Demonstration On Monday, teachers from all over the country will converge on Belmopan to demonstrate against the Government, and the Ministry of Education says it will have to take action.
We'll tell you what the Ministry will do to keep schools open a little later, but, first, to the reasons for the demonstration. As we told you, the teachers don't want their salary adjustment deferred, but on the list of priorities, that's very far down. That's because they are demanding good governance from the Barrow Administration. With all the scandals that Government has faced this year, the teachers say that they have to stand up for Belize to make a statement against corruption of any kind.
As you saw last night, the Deputy Prime Minister, who's also the Minister of Education, made an impassioned plea to the teachers to stand down for the sake of the children. Well, this evening, we got an opportunity to speak with the National President in Corozal. He was there along with the Executive Secretary for an Annual General Meeting with the members of the Corozal Rural Branch of the union.
He was flanked by other senior members of the two Corozal Branch Unions, and he reiterated to us why they will not stand down on Monday's demonstration. Here's what he had to say about 2 hours ago:
Luke Palacio, National President, B.N.T.U.
"In relation to the demonstration we are having on Monday, it was not contingent on whether the Prime Minister responded by Friday or not. Our position is that on the 19th September, we are going to have a national demonstration in Belmopan. My friends the thing we are talking about, the things we are taking these actions upon and hoping that they will bring about good governance for this country - everybody knows it, everybody feels it every single day and so when individuals in the government will decide that they want to get the public on their side simply because as far as they are concern, they see nothing wrong. The masses of the Belizean people see what is wrong and at the end of the day the Belizean people will vindicate the union for standing up, because they've been clamoring for this for a long time, that we need somebody to stand up, somebody to speak up for us and we as the educators of this country are well suited to speak to those issues. You can ask the other officers here what they all have to go through as teachers in the classroom every day to ensure that our children are well taken care of."
Keisha Young, Executive Secretary - BNTU
"From the consolidated numbers that we got reported on Saturday, because we had on meeting on September 10th as you all know, from those numbers we can say that the turnout will be massive."
Lavern Pate, President, BNTU Corozal Town Branch
"In deed teachers do spend a lot of their money to facilitate students when they go to school. In the Corozal Town Branch my teachers they take out money to even feed the kids who doesn't go to school with breakfast in the morning and you know that if we don't eat we cannot function. So we do help our children although we are being bombarded right now that 'oh teachers don't care,' but we do. In the morning we are at school from 7:30am, we are their baby sitters. Parent drop them at the gate, the gates are open, they are our babies at that time until their parents pick them up at 11:30, take them for lunch and come back. So teachers do care for their students and parents do realize and appreciate what teachers do for their children."
Ministry Rings The School To Keep Classrooms Open On Monday
And while the teachers blasted the government today, the Government is blasting right back. In an effort to keep schools open on Monday - and to keep teachers away from the rally and demonstration, the Ministry of Educiaotn sent out a stern press release this evening. It says, quote, "in accordance with the Education Rules, Managing Authorities will take necessary measures to ensure that schools and institutions are kept open for classes and to ensure that there is safety for students and teachers present at a school or institution during the industrial action planned by the BNTU for this Monday." It goes unto say that school buses will run their normal schedules on Monday.
And the release also refers to the education rules where Rule 102 says, quote, "If a labour dispute results in industrial action by teachers or instructors, salaries and wages of persons undertaking such action may not be paid for any day or portion of a day during which they are on strike."
The very lengthy Ministry release also deals with the BNTU's list of demands, nothing that the Prime Minister responded to each one and that the PM wants to meet with the BNTU Council of Management.
The Ministry says, quote, "it is our considered view that the position of the BNTU as reflected in that statement is not only unreasonable, showing little regard for children's education and for inconvenience to them and their parents, but also a display of bad faith." End quote. And the ministry if even posting both the BNTU letter and the PM's response on the government website.
Union President Not Impressed With GOB Version of Senate InquiryWe also asked the president about the Government backpedalling on the issue of allowing a Senate Probe to look into the Auditor General's reports on corrupt immigration practices.
He told us that he is not impressed because the composition should resemble what it was during the SSB and DFC inquiries of 2005. Here's how he explained why:
Luke Palacio, National President, B.N.T.U.
"It is common knowledge that whenever something of this magnitude happens in this country, the Prime Minister will make every effort to try and see how he can quell it but to his benefit. The constitution is clear. There should be a senate select committee to investigate those matters. Cabinet has decided that okay we go with the senate select committee. The constitution did not say that the cabinet is to decide if the senate select committee should be or not be. The constitution dictates that and now you note this morning for instance the Minister of Police was saying on another media house that they have to use the constitution in conjunction section 69 or 61 whatever it was in conjunction with some section 70 which says because of the composition of the senate that the government must have the majority on the senate select committee. And what they've done, they've said okay we are not saying that the government will end up with the majority you know, but they are saying that the government must have two government senators and the opposition has 1 senator along with the 3 social partners. So that the government is still outnumbered. That is not what happened in 2005 when they did the Social Security and the DFC senate inquiry. So why must it be different now? And that is the question and that again for the persons out there they may believe yea its true, that is the simple math. But why was it good back then and now it must be different when you are dealing with the same senate select committee to decide and investigate an impropriety that has been allege to happen?"
Is BNTU Sweating PUP Fever?
Earlier you heard the action that the Ministry will take in response to the Teachers Union's demonstration, and last night we showed you how Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber believes this to be a purely political exercise with no real grounds.
Today, we got a chance to ask BNTU President Luke Palacio for a response to the direct accusation from the DPM that he is leading the union into a cause for the Opposition. He dismissed that out of hand, reminding Faber that he once stood beside them back in 2005, even being roughed up by the police. Here are his comments:
Teachers, Is It All About The 3%So, the bottom line is that - to hear the teachers tell it - the third tranche of their salary adjustment is the lowest priority for the planned demonstration Monday. But, money is always an issue, and as we showed you, while the BNTU is refusing the Prime Minister's request for a deferral to next year, the other two unions, the Public Service Union, and the Association of Public Service Senior Managers, have decided that they will agree to the deferral.
That's two-thirds of the union negotiating team which does not agree with them, and today we asked the President if that minority position has swayed them somewhat. He told us that it does not, and here's how he explained why:
"Since the other 2 unions has agreed to defer, does that have any weight with the BNTU, given that you are 1/3 of the negotiating team?"
Luke Palacio, National President, B.N.T.U.
"You must understand that BNTU is a independent entity. We are not contingent on whether PSU and APSSM accept it. It is not contingent on that and that's our position."