The Strike Continues, Demonstration On Thursday

There was no school again today - and the way it looks right now, there won't be any tomorrow either! This evening, the Belize City Branch President, Kathleen Flowers, announced at the union's National Headquarters that not only will it continue tomorrow, but it extends to Thursday when there will be another nationwide Teachers Demonstration.

Here's what she said:

Kathleen Flowers, Belize City Branch Rep.
"Strike action continues."

Crowd Chanting

Kathleen Flowers, Belize City Branch Rep.
"We shall not be moved, despite what will come at us with that announcement, we will stand our ground. We are standing our ground until we get a feeling that we have a solid enough bakerup to come in, not just a feeling, but we know where the feeling will come from because we are working a process. When we get a solid enough feeling and an indication from those persons we are calling on, then we will say here is the baton, the relay continues. Because BNTU has move this stagnant ship from out the dock and its sailing up the bay on our captaining it. Gearing up for day 3. How many more days there will be? I can just tell you that on Thursday we are doing our mass countrywide demonstration. You people like demonstrate yeah."

"Tomorrow is world teacher's day. What a way to celebrate. We will be showing world and country that these teachers in Belize could stand up for what they believe in and so to do that we have some plans we will be sharing with you in a short while. But I want you all to learn this theme "valuing teachers, improving their status" that's world teachers day theme. And coincidentally it fits right in what we are doing. Like they were very clairvoyant."

But, as you would remember, today was the deadline for the Ministry of Education. They said that they would put their newly signed Statutory Instrument into effect tomorrow - allowing the Ministry to hire temporary teachers to fill in for the teachers on strike, so that the schools can remain open.

We asked the President about the effect of that, and if that in anyway weakens the resolve of the teachers:

Daniel Ortiz, 7News
"Does this undercut leverage you all have for the industrial action given that they would attempt to pad the teaching staff until you all return?"

Luke Palacio, National President - BNTU
"My brother they have said over and over, they've ask the parents to send their children to school. We have said to the parents we cannot force you to keep your children at home. But if you want that these people, that the minister in particular is trying to get into the classrooms to teach your children, then it is entirely up to you. We have our plan of action, we will keep our plan of action and we will go day by day to address the matters and how we respond to these things."

Daniel Ortiz, 7News
"Had the teachers' addressed it directly? Is that any way a threat to them that persons are moved in to replace them while they are out on strike?"

Luke Palacio, National President - BNTU
"Our teachers have said if the minister believes, in fact they quote the rules, to say that the minister can make any rule, that he deems necessary, that he sees fit. If he sees that as being fit, our teachers know what we are standing up for. We are standing up for this country. We are not going to be easily intimidated and we believe that the Belizean people will see the nakedness and the attempt that this government continues to do to try and silence the Belizean people. We need to stand up against such things."

"Are you aware if in fact there has been a meeting to come up with a curriculum for those same provisional teachers who will be put in the classrooms?"

Luke Palacio, National President - BNTU
"Well the name that they have here is emergency teachers. Because it's an SI that will employ teachers on emergency basis, so I don't know that they have any training - those persons that have been listed in SI - if it has already been signed. I don't know what kind of pedagogical training they have. I don't know what kind of teaching experience they have. But that is going to be left up entirely up to our parents if they want those types of individuals teaching their children."

We communicated with Education Minister Patrick Faber by text this evening, and he told us the application forms have been released for these temp teachers but said quote, "(we) will only bring it into effect as a last resort if all else fails to reason with teachers. It is my hope that we will not have to at all." End quote.

GOB Asks Teachers to Come Back To Table

So, while the strike by the teachers continued today and will extent to at least Thursday, today the Government publicly asked them to return to the negotiating table to talk about the 3% salary adjustment. As we told you yesterday, it is given as the cause for industrial action in the notice sent to the Ministry of Education.

The Government released a statement today which says, quote, "The Cabinet... is disappointed that the... (BNTU) blatantly moved the goalposts in deciding to strike, close our nation's schools, and affecting children and their parents." End quote.

Calling them out on the late addition of the 3% as a reason for the strike, the Cabinet says, " The initial BNTU campaign was first declared to be centered on a good governance agenda as set out in the eight demands contained in their letter to the Prime Minister. However, the formal strike notice sent to the Chief Education Officer...did a switch and listed the 3% salary adjustment and the so-called Proposal 22 as the main reasons for the strike. Yet, the BNTU had already acknowledged that the Prime Minister has proposed a compromise on the 3%, to which the BNTU has not yet responded…" End quote.

The Cabinet release goes on to explain that the proposal 22 was part of the last Collective Bargaining Agreement process between the Government and the 3 unions. That process was recently brought to a close, and everyone agreed that proposal 22 should have been placed on the agenda for the next round of negotiations.

The Cabinet statement says, quote, "...In all the circumstances Cabinet repeats that the BNTU action is extremely harmful and out of all proportion. Cabinet therefore restates its call to the BNTU: In the interests of the children, the parents and the country, suspend the strike; return to the negotiating table." End quote.

It notes that the BNTU has now pushed 8 good governance demands as a secondary reason for striking, but the Government says it is still willing to discuss them with the other social partners, the Belize Council of Churches, the National Trade Unions Congress of Belize, and the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

So, what's the BNTU's response to the Cabinet. We asked the President, and here's what he said:

Luke Palacio, National President - BNTU
"Obviously there is no flip-flopping. Remember the government has to give it its own twist. The bottom-line remains that we never said that the 3% salary adjustment was off the table. The Prime Minister has made a request for a deferral, the BNTU is adamant in refusing to accept the request for deferral without getting any guarantee that there is something that we will get for our money. Because we've said it over and over, that money was already there. The government has already raised that revenue in the last financial year. In terms of them saying that we are flip-flopping on proposal 22, they are the ones who are flip-flopping. Because we have met, there has been discussions and we have been consistent that we are not prepare to accept this injustice, this malpractice, this denial that they have of social justice for our teachers and support staff at the grant aided secondary schools. It was the minister of education who came there and said these negotiations have been going on for too long. We close negotiations. We were adamant. Mr. Frazer in particular was adamant that negotiations were not closed."

Daniel Ortiz, 7News
"Have you responded as a national president for BNTU on the meeting request that the Prime Minister made to all 3 unions, you included?"

Luke Palacio, National President - BNTU
"Letter was written to the 3 presidents of the joint unions negotiating team, one of the presidents of those unions, I am told would arrive in the country today. I have been busy all day in meetings. I don't know if the president has arrived and I'll try to make contact with her this evening and then we will have to agree. The 3 presidents will have to sit down and agree on what day will be suitable for them to be present at the meeting. If we have sent a letter saying only one of the presidents' side or the BNTU sent the letter, then you will hear this is not a joint union response. So we are waiting for that and as soon as that is done we say we are open to go to the meeting, but we will go to the meeting with the condition that BNTU is not prepared to defer its salary adjustment and get nothing for it."

PSU Starts National Consultations To Decide If It Should Stand With Teachers

And will that fixed timeline for singing the convention be enough to placate the other unions? The PSU Belize City branch met this evening and the utility unions are meeting right now. The PSU meeting had about 50 public officers in attendance and it finished at about 5:45 - with most of those walking out expressing disgust with president Eldred Neal. It seemed very contentious inside and Neal told us it was lively. We asked what are the concrete actions coming out of it:...

Jules Vasquez, 7News
"What motions was tabled or taken to the floor at today's meeting? Which were passed and what does it mean for the PSU going forward?"

Eldred Neal, President, Public Service Union
"Well we had a very spirited meeting must I say and I want to congratulate all the members who came out. The one motion that was passed, that was tabled was that the union are to render a voice. Whether it's a communique in terms of a press release or it's a communique amongst membership, that we are in solidarity with the number of national issues BNTU is presently standing up on. We know of all these issues. We've been following it closely. The entire country has been and in fact we are in full support of those issues. Where we deferred some was in the area in terms of the action, in terms of the timeline. Where BNTU is at this point is that their membership has spoken and they've gone through the process. We are now doing so, but yes Belize branch particularly are in support of at least 6 of the 8 points that BNTU has spoken to and in fact we do want to see a better governance. We do want to see the Integrity Commission, we do want to see the 13th Senator, we do want to see the passing of the Convention on Anti-corruption. What are a next salient point that BNTU brought up?"

Jules Vasquez, 7News
"The removal of Mr. Hulse."

Eldred Neal, President, Public Service Union
"We did not even brought that up in our session today and that's why they shared their voices on the specifics and in fact that was not one of the issues that we discussed that we are moving along with. They are that stage where they are saying the time for action is now and they stand in support of a couple of those issues that BNTU presented."

Jules Vasquez, 7News
"Is action industrial action?"

Eldred Neal, President, Public Service Union
"Again, I reiterate, PSU is not at that stage as yet. We are not prepared to stand in protest with BNTU. We are going through the process. We will get to whatever position on the eventual."

Jules Vasquez, 7News
"Now not the 8 causes, but if you read the letter of their cause for industrial action, it talks again about the 3%. Are you all revising the 3%? Because the letter they sent, the chief education officer says, proposal 22 and the 3%. You all had already taken a national decision that you all are in support of a defferal. Are you all also revisiting that? Because that is the teachers cause for industrial action."

Eldred Neal, President, Public Service Union
"No, we've not ventured in that area today. We spent the time today looking at the clarity around how we came to that position, because whilst our decision came from membership through branch settings, through this forum, we are not only targeting branch members now. Remember the union encapsules the entire public service. What we've done, we've now opened up these sessions, not just to branch members, but to all public officers across the country so that we can hear their concerns and their views. Because of course, the consultations that we did were done by branch members and I've heard and the media has ran with it, a lot about decisions being made by myself without consultation. That has never been done and that is the clarity that I'm bringing across to those who are outside the immediate union family, who are also public officers, who will also be affected."

Jules Vasquez, 7News
"However you have more than 50 public officers in Belize City and only 50 plus were here today. So obviously something wrong with either the turn out or the consultative system or something, because you leave here with a mandate from Belize District. But only 50 people came out."

Eldred Neal, President, Public Service Union
"Again, such is the nature of our democracy. Fortunately or unfortunately the meeting was open to all public officers and individuals may say well I didn't know and I didn't hear. The point is it was open to all public officers."

Neal will now go on a lightning round of national consultations which ends in Punta Gorda on Friday afternoon. He says that after that his union will have a firm position. He stressed thought that as president he is not inclined to change course in the middle of an ongoing negotiation.

The three utility unions continue to meet at this hour.

Hon. Elrington Provokes Teachers With Comments

So, while the teachers and the Government rift continues to open, some are especially offended by comments made by Foreign Affairs Ministry. He granted an interview over the weekend, and when he was asked for his perspective on the teachers strike - here's what he said:

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"Union leaders are really and truly seemed to have form the view that neither the UDP nor the PUP are in fact doing what they think should be done and that they are the saviors of the country. That is not the role of a labor union. A labor has interest in looking after its constituents; the teachers. In this case teachers union should be looking after the teachers interest and those interest would include making sure that their salaries are paid and that kind of thing. But it is not my understanding that they have the remit really to take on all the issues of the country and I don't even know whether they have the wisdom or the ability or the competence to deal with those issues."

Of course, the teachers haven't taken kindly to that, and we understand that some teachers have resolved to support an extension of the strike just because of Elrington's comments. We asked the BNTU President about it today:

Luke Palacio, National President - BNTU
"I believe that Minister Elrington is being his usual self - typical of persons in government who believe that they are all knowledgeable, because that statement show how arrogant these people in government are. Why do you have teachers and you ask teachers to teach Belizean history, you ask teachers to teach about how we are govern, you ask teachers to teach about the ministerial system of government and now you are going to say that the teachers don't have the wisdom to deal with matters of governance. But more importantly than that for us, the minister basically continues just like his government has been doing, trying to insult the teachers of this nation and it is so unfortunate that our country has come to that stage."

Capital Schools Were Closed, Again

The teachers continue to stand strong on Day 2 of the strike. Last night you heard the countrywide report on the status of schools. Only a few of them were open with about a handful of students roaming around the compound. Well, today was quite the same. In Belmopan, one teacher was spotted at the Garden City Primary School with 2 students. No one else was around and all the classrooms were closed. That was the case at Our lady of Guadalupe R.C School as well…no one was in sight except for the school warden who was stationed there to turn away those uninformed parents, like this one, who still brought their kids to school. Kuxlin Ha School in Maya Mopan was also closed with a few students standing around quite confused by the sight of their empty playground.

In terms of high schools, it looked like it was a free day at the Belmopan Comprehensive School as the wardens and students hung out at the entrance of the gate.

Students Support Teachers In OW

While the teachers are striking for what they think is right, they've gotten many pledges of support - including quite a few form kids who are happy for the break form school. But others are full of passionate intensity for their teachers' cause - and so it is at Muffles Junior College in Orange Walk where yesterday about 50 students took to the streets to show their support for their teachers, and to protest against corruption. Here's how they put it:...

Muffles Junior College Student
"Yeah we're protesting for the teacher, and hoping that the government reaches a compromise decision that could affect us and the teachers as well. So the more teachers fight for, the more us students will want to fight for, because at the end of the day we also get affected too."

Muffles Junior College Student
"Why this protest is very important for us students now to stand along with our teachers. Our teachers of Belize. It is a national issue, we are standing up for us the students. Not only the students but the country. So it is now time for us the students, in support of the teachers against corruption, corruption in a whole, government corruption, no violence, all these murders going on. So it is time for us the student to now show our support to the teachers and our country Belize."

Muffles Junior College Student
"I am protesting right, to support the teachers right, cause the government are doing things that they are not supposed to do. And they aren't paying the teachers, and teachers need it because we need an education too right. We have to go to school, to get our future, but if the teachers are not getting their pay and don't want to go to school, it's us who will get it."

Today they marched again and were joined by other youth leaders.

Channel 7