Last night, we told you about meeting between the Prime Minister and the leadership of the Belize National Teachers Union that went late into the evening. It was their first dialog after 8 days of strike. Even though the Prime Minister made public commitments to concede to a number of their good governance demands, the teachers continued their strike today because many of the Prime Minister's fixes involved lengthy timelines, instead of immediate changes.
The teachers first intended to strike until on next Monday when they would have held a national demonstration. That would have made it 10 consecutive school days of no classes, but the news is tonight that it has been extended to Wednesday, day 12. The teachers are blaming the Prime Minister for the additional 2 days of strike because, according to them, at the very last minute, he postponed a follow up meeting. That conversation would have been between the BNTU, and the other 2 unions which make up the Joint Union's Negotiating Team. They would have been discussing the deferral of the 3% salary adjustment.
This afternoon, the leadership of the BNTU called an impromptu press briefing to explain to parents why the extension of the strike is not their fault. Here's what they had to say:
Luke Palacio - National President, BNTU "If you all will recall, yesterday night you interviewed us and the question was asked, whether the matter of the 3% salary adjustment, the deferral in particular, was addressed with the Prime Minister and we said to you all- Yes. At that meeting, we indicated to the Prime Minister that the three presidents of the Unions: the BNTU, the APSSM and the Public Service Union had agreed to meet with him in Belmopan on Monday afternoon. He gave us that assurance; he even said to us he doesn't have anything pressing for Monday because if he did, then it would be right in his head. And by today now, that has changed because he has just sent us a text that I will ask our Executive Secretary to quickly read to the press."
Keesha Young - Executive Secretary, BTNU "The PM had told us at the end of last night's meeting that those meeting notes will be forwarded to us today and that he would make final confirmation of our meeting for Monday. We didn't receive anything and so, this afternoon, we sent to him a message saying 'Good Afternoon PM, kindly take note we at the BNTU have not yet received the meeting notes from yesterday as promised and have not yet received final confirmation of Monday's meeting date you agreed to. Could you be so kind as to address these matters promptly for us? Looking forward to a positive reply; and the PM responded, CEO Wallace is doing a last review of the meeting notes and should get the final version to you shortly. I will be unable to meet on Monday afternoon since it turns out I have a previous commitment. Tuesday is Cabinet, so I wish to suggest Wednesday in Belize City, either morning or afternoon would be good."
Luke Palacio, National President - BNTU "From our membership they said to us, we meet on Monday, depending on the outcome of Monday's meeting we determine what happens next. The Prime Minister has decided that he wants to continue kicking this ball down the road, we are prepared to kick it down the road with him until he gets it right."
So, as you heard, the Prime Minister has rescheduled the meeting on the 3% salary adjustment to Wednesday. The BNTU's national demonstration has been changed from Monday in Belmopan to Wednesday in Belize City.
Later on in the news, we'll take a look back at yesterday's late evening press conferences to show you why the stalemate has not been broken.
What Are Parents Doing About Strike?
And so now parents across Belize are in for at least three more days of the teachers' strike. But Are they really in support of the BNTU movement ? Or are they just getting frustrated with this prolonged strike? We spoke to a few parents today and all they want is for some resolution to be finalized so their kids can go back to school:
Agnes Mariano - Mother "My thoughts on the strike is that, um, I know to fight for something- to get something we have to fight for it. But, for the children cut out of school is kinda way you know, I'm going to work, I have to work nightshift, I got to work day shift. Everywhere I go now I have to take her with me because- but, that's what we have to do cause it's a strike and we have to be behind the teachers. For me, I did something different. I take her to tutor three times for this week so she could, like, keep up with some work and I try to help her with some school work while I am at home. I want her back in school but I would really like the Prime Minister to work along with the teachers and just let us end the strike."
Jennifer James - Aunt "I think it's enough because the amount of classes they have missed, the preparation weh deh have for different work, really I deh with the teachers, yes, but then I think they should, um, come to a point. Even if da go slow ina the classroom, we know the kids dehn deh da school still yet, right. But really, two weeks and Monday they are talking about a demonstration- it's past the mark."
Courtney Weatherburne "And now with your niece, she is in what form?"
Jennifer James - Aunt "She's third form, Pallotti."
Courtney Weatherburne "And I know in Third, I think that's when you have the SBAs and preparing for CXCs, as well. How is this impacting her work and her progress?"
Jennifer James - Aunt "Well right now, well really, they noh start to do that part yet. But then when that time come, it will be like a pressure on them. Cause the amount a work deh wa haftu put in, fu try ketch up- it will be very hard on them."
Courtney Weatherburne - Reporter "Do you think that the teachers should continue? Or they should go back to the classes at this point? It has been two weeks."
Denise August - Mother "Go back. Cah da di children di suffa. And dehn deh di keep them behind time fu school."
Courtney Weatherburne "So you don't really agree with the strike, you don't agree with the teacher's movement?"
Denise August - Mother "No."
Courtney Weatherburne "I know that of course your kids are out of school but how is it for you as a parent?"
Kimberly Flowers - Mother of three "Well, it really, umm, affect me because I have to dreg them everywhere with me. All I'da want tell the teachers deh fu please get back ina school, you know, because children need to learn cause right now my daughter di home noh di do nothing just d walk all about the place. And, I noh really like it neitha. "
Courtney Weatherburne "Do you try to keep them occupied at home and give them work or reading assignments?"
Kimberly Flowers - Mother of three "Yes I just try keep them busy mek them stay inside and stay outta trouble, watch tv and do what deh could do."
Andrea Moguel – Mother "As a parent I kinda annoyed that the children noh deh ina school, but pan the same time to, I know we have to do drastic movements like this so the Government can hear us. You know, I mean the teachers want deh 3%. I believe all public servants da Belize underpaid. And dehn da some a di things weh people have to be more vocal and stand up fah. I mean, as a society. But the sad reason is that the children deh di suffa. So, we need our children back ina school. Me personally I need mines back inna school and I know all parents, we need it too. My call is da more for like the Government, dat da weh I di talk to- the Government deh. Try fu assist the teachas with deh 3% so the children could back inna school so the teachas can be satisfied. I mean deh di call fu a lot of good governance a di country, deh da things worth bringing up ina society fu mek arise, mek everybody can see."
UDP Reps. Implore Teachers to Return To School
And today, two UDP representatives are pleading with teachers to go back to the classroom, and with parents to send their children back to school. Michael Finnegan and Tracy Taegar-Panton – who we met two weeks ago trying to tell teachers in their constituency not to strike – held a press conference today, encouraging teachers individually to abandon the strike and return to their classrooms. They said the government has done its part, and now it's time for the teachers to do theirs:…
Hon. Tracy Taegar-Panton - Albert Representative
"There is no reason for this to continue. They have received, they have gotten the assurance and commitment at specific time frame, specific date that the government has provided in which this governance agenda will be advanced."
"The government of Belize has listened, the government of Belize compromised; the government of Belize has acceded to several of the concerns that were raised by the BNTU in terms of the 8 point agenda, almost all of them. And so I was hopeful that would signal an end to the strike. There is a measure disappointment that I feel that today the children of the Albert constituency continue to be out of school. It has been a long time, it has been 10 days; the children also have a right to an education. I think there are several ways in which we can advance any negotiation but my appeal to the teachers and my appeal to the parents is that it's time for our children to be back in school."
Hon. Michael Finnegan - Mesop. Representative "To my mind most of these matters were dealt with and I think the government bent back over to the BNTU so as to settle this matter so as to get our children back in school and I was totally dismayed or I should not use the word, I should use the word lugubrious. It has become lugubrious Jules and as far as I am concerned and we are right back where we started and this is why we come here today, Tracy and I as representative to appeal to the teachers, the BNTU to let us resolve this matter, let us come back again to the table with the prime minister, let us work out this situation and let our children get back into school."
"The teachers have to find another strong way to protest and to make their voices be heard rather than to keep the children of Belize out of school."
Now, two weeks ago when we met these two canvassing the schools in their divisions, we asked if it would amount to failure if their efforts did not avert the strike. Well it didn't; the strike rolled on through its ninth day today. But, Taegar still claimed that her intervention was successful in Albert:..
Hon. Tracy Taegar-Panton - Albert Representative "I thought we passed with an A+ in the Albert division as you know we have 135 teachers and 109 of them reported to work and has been reporting to work since the day of the strike."
Jules Vasquez "That's because you have an Adventist school."
Hon. Tracy Taegar-Panton - Albert Representative "We have an Adventist school, we have a Methodist school, we have private schools, we have high schools, we have a 6th form and the teachers that have shown up to work every single day I want to publicly thank those teachers who put our children first. I want to also say that a lot of parents after they got through the first 3 days realise that is was time to send their children back to school and a lot of their parents; we didn't have 100% and I wouldn't go there but a lot of the parents started to send their children back to school and I'm appealing to them that the teachers are in school, the teachers are waiting to engage your kids and I'm asking you to kindly send your kids to school."
Finnegan says Queen Square Anglican and Grace Primary in his division also remained open.
We note that today in Orange Walk parents protested in front of La Inmaculada school for the second day in a row. We counted close to 30 parents. We expect this to continue and possibly intensify next week.
In last night's newscast, we gave you extended coverage of the Prime Minister's press conference on his second set of counter proposals to the BNTU on their 8 good governance demands. Due to time, we were not able to properly put those comments in context for you, so today, with more time to digest the positions from both sides, we prepared a bullet-point look at the different perspectives on the same 3 and a half hour meeting. Here's what the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Teachers Union had to say:
Daniel Ortiz "Majority of the demands have been a seeded or the government has agreed to move on them. Would you accept that as your position?"
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister "Yes I would."
Luke Palacio - National President - BNTU "We believe that the prime minister could have done better."
Daniel Ortiz "So will the strike end tomorrow based on your perception of how the meeting went?"
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister "I can't tell you that answer you would have to ask the BNTU. I believe it should end but I can't tell you whether or not it will end."
Reporter "Are you guys going back to the classroom tomorrow? Do you continue with your strike action? Where do you stand as a union?"
Luke Palacio - National President - BNTU "We continue our strike action tomorrow because we are not satisfied with the outcome of what has transpired."
Micah Goodin - Krem "What measurements are you putting into place that would ensure that today that these promises that you made will be in fact fulfilled or completed? Because it's just another politician's promise."
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister "We have taken these negotiations with the BNTU very seriously. There is a strike currently in progress that is of fundamental concern to government, to parents, to citizens. There is no way that in an effort to resolve the problems with the BNTU we will make promises that we don't keep. If you don't want to believe the fact which is proven empirically by all the evidence in the world you can ever look at that I am a man of my word. You can rely on the consequences which would be shit and severe in the circumstances if I did not do what I have committed to do."
Reporter "Mr. Palacio what was different between this meeting and the last one two weeks ago?"
Luke Palacio - National President - BNTU "What was different? The difference is it got worse because basically we thought that we would have made some movements today. There were certain issues that we thought we could have moved on to get the prime minister to agree but instead we see that it has gone in a different direction."