Kids, you'd better pack those schoolbags - because the teachers' strike is over, and today, classes resume as normal at schools across the country. It's been a long break - the strike went for 11 school days - which is the longest teachers strike in memory; in 2005, it lasted for 10 days.

But this afternoon, after meetings at all the district branches, the National teachers Union announced that they are putting the strike on hold and returning to the classroom tomorrow.

It's a huge relief for teachers and parents, but it's not over - because the teachers say they will keep a watchful eye over things. Today, the BNTU National President, Luke Palacio, flanked by other leaders within the union, held a press briefing to announce that the strike is on hold. He gave us sort a report card grading of the Prime Minister's compromise on each of their demands that were contentious. Here's why the teachers have voted to return to the classroom:...

Luke Palacio - National President, BNTU
"We submitted a letter to the Prime Minister on September 12th in which we had made 8 demands. There were demands for good governance and there were demands for respect for the workers. The good governance demands included that one, we wanted a senate investigation into the auditor general's special report. That selected committee has been named even though the composition those not reflect what the BNTU had been requesting. The senate inquiry is important because information will come out which we believe the Belizean people will deserve to know. as it relates to the matter of him not wanting to remove the honorable Godwin Hulse as minister of police, again we still believe that that would have been necessary for there to be a avoidance of any perceived conflict of interest, but if the Prime Minister insist that that is going to be the case, I don't think that we really need to battle over that."

"Public accounts committee, there again has been some movement in terms of that. In terms of the matter of the integrity commission, we are told that the prime minister should have gotten within the course of this week, the names of chartered public accountants who are prepared to serve. We have the matter of the 13th senator, the prime minister has promised that on Thursday he should sign that commencement order and so definitely on Thursday if it does not happen you'll be hearing from the BNTU. as it relates to the matter of the international investigation into the Danny Mason case, the attorney general has undertaken that by Thursday she will be providing us with the terms of reference that we are to study and once we are satisfied or we add whatever we think is necessary to that, then they have undertaken that they will then seek to get this international investigation going. In terms of the occupational safety and help bill which we have reported that parliament came to an end that that bill also died. We now have agreed that the trade union congress of Belize would now be able to champion that further. in relation to and from work for social security, that was one of our sticking points and on Monday, yesterday, the Prime Minister agreed that they are prepared to make the necessary amendments and we want to make it absolutely clear at this time, for those who may still seem confused, the to and from work for social security is not a compensation for us to agree to the deferral of the salary adjustment. that was a part of our a-point demand because social security to and from work will benefit all workers, all employees who pay social security and have to travel to work in transportation not provided for them by their employer. the 3% salary adjustment, again, the Prime Minister who has adamant initially that we are making a sacrifice and we are to get nothing for it, our membership said to us we are not going to give that up and we are going to be able to get the Prime Minister to move now to agree that they will be giving us a 5% interest on the 3% salary deferral that we have agreed to. We've made movement, we're satisfied with what has been provided. Of course we are not going to drop the ball."

So, there are two other outstanding matters that will need to be address, how will the teachers make up the 11 days in the classroom that the nation's students have missed, and will the managing authorities dock the pay for the teachers who were out on strike? Here's how the President addressed those two questions when the press asked him about them this evening:

Daniel Ortiz, 7News
"Have the teachers or has the union addressed how the make-up time will take place? There is some suspicion that it may come from the Christmas holiday."

Luke Palacio - National President, BNTU
"We have agreed, the teachers along with their managements and administrators, to determine what will be made up. The teachers have said it from the beginning, they are prepared to make up the time. It is not for the union to tell them how they are going to do that. We have said it from the beginning, we keep on saying it every time, rule 102 is clear. If you go on strike, you may lose salary, we are saying to the managements, there was a ruling I remember an appearance on a morning show, one of the general managers made it clear in 2005 that the ruling of the chief justice was that government cannot instruct managements to deduct for strike action. We hope that those managers will understand that these teachers who were out on strike were striking for good governance, they were striking for Belize. They as general managers will also benefit from whatever good governance agenda we are able to foster as a result of what has happened. Our teachers are prepared to make up the time, we are appealing to those managers to kindly give the teachers their salary at the end of the month because they were not doing anything illegal. They are standing up for Belize, they were contributing to national development which is one of the things that our teachers are expected to do every day. We need to have our children learn, we need to have our parents understand that we must love this country and if we do we must keep on fighting for what we believe will make our country a better country not only for today but for generations to come."

Well, if the school managers is considering not docking the pay for the teachers who were out on strike, they will have to do so without the Government's contribution to the bi-monthly salaries for the teachers. A Memorandum from the Ministry of Education was sent to all those managers, and it says, quote, : "The Government of Belize… will be withholding its contribution toward the salaries for individual teachers for the days when those teachers were on strike. This will apply to all government and grant-aided schools. In the case of secondary schools, where the managing authority of a school took the decision to call off school, in anticipation of the strike action, notwithstanding their mandate to keep schools open, the Government's contribution to salaries, plus any grant amount above that for services will be withheld for the number of days that the school was close." End quote.

The government's strict response continues, "Managing Authorities have already been asked to submit the required information on attendance of teachers and on school closures during the strike, in order for the necessary adjustments to government's contribution to be made.."

Channel 7


Teachers’ Union Reviews 8 Points, Says They Got Most of What They Asked For

The Union says that its eight-point agenda, the three percent salary adjustment deferral and Social Security coverage to and from work were just about fulfilled.  There was no agreement on two points: the removal of Senator Godwin Hulse as Minister of Immigration and Police, and a five-person Senate Select Inquiry Committee rather than six. As Union President Luke Palacio reports, the Government has agreed to the rest of the agenda, though with several timelines imposed which the union will be monitoring.

Luke Palacio, National President, B.N.T.U.

“The good governance demands, you would recall, included one, that we want a senate inquiry investigation into the Auditor General’s special report. That select committee has been named; even though the composition does not reflect what the B.N.T.U. had been requesting, we believe that the fact that initially the Prime Minister wanted a bicameral committee to look at that matter and then decided that okay, we will go with a senate select committee – that we believe and we see as movement on one of our request. Of course the matter of the senate inquiry is important because information will come out which we believe that the Belizean people deserve to know. As it relates to the matter of him not wanting to remove the honourable Godwin Hulse as Minister of Police; again, we still believe that that would have been necessary for there to be the avoidance of any perceived conflict of interest. But if the Prime Minister insists that that is going to be the case, I don’t think that we really need to battle over that. The investigation will reveal certain things, we believe, even if the intention is for them to try and conceal anything, we believe because the hearings will be televised, then certain things may be made public. As it relates to the matter of—and I am not putting them in any specific order—the Public Accounts Committee, there again has been some movement in terms of that. In terms of the matter of the Integrity Commission, we are told that the Prime Minister should have gotten within the course of this week, the names of chartered public accountants who are prepared to serve. We will definitely need to follow up with that to see where he is with that and we will be doing that. As our press release says we will continue to ensure that those other agreements that we reached; that those will be carried through. We have the matter of the thirteenth senator. The Prime Minister has promised that on Thursday, he should sign that commencement order and so definitely on Thursday, if it does not happen, you will be hearing from the B.N.T.U.  As it relates to the matter of the international investigation into the Danny Mason case, the Attorney General has undertaken that by Thursday, she will be providing us with a terms of reference that we are to study and then once we are satisfied or we add whatever it is we think necessary to that, then they have undertaken that they will then seek to get this international investigation going by getting an international investigator. In terms of the Occupational Safety and Health Bill, which we have reported that when parliament came to an end that that Bill also died. We have now agreed that the [National] Trade Union Congress of Belize would now be able to champion that further, along with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, because they too have concerns as it relates to that Occupational Safety and Health Bill. In relation to the to and from work for Social Security; that was one of our sticking points and on Monday, yesterday, the Prime Minister agreed that  they are prepared to make the necessary amendments. And we want to make it absolutely clear for those who may still seem confused, the to and from work for Social Security is not a compensation for us to agree to the deferral of the salary adjustment. That was a part of our eight-point demand because Social Security to and from work will benefit all workers, all employees who pay Social Security and have to travel to work in transportation not provided to them by their employer. The matter of our three percent salary; again the Prime Minister was adamant initially that we are making a sacrifice and we are to get nothing for it. Our membership said to us we are not going to give that up and we were able to get the Prime Minister to move now to agree that they will be giving us a five percent interest on the three percent salary deferral that we have agreed to.”

The unions have also been invited to be part of a tax reform committee and cost savings committee. As for the Senate Inquiry, Senator Elena Smith who represents the trade unions and civil society confirmed that she will be at Wednesday’s meeting of the Committee, though a chairman still has to be selected.

Union Pleads With School Managers Not to Dock Salaries

As the teachers and students return to class, there is concern about possible punitive measures including withholding of salaries for the eleven days of absences by teachers. The B.N.T.U. has promised to stand up for its teachers on this point, but the decision lies in the hands of school managements. Palacio made an urgent appeal to these managers to consider the facts of why they walked off the job and promised that the teachers will make up the time lost.

Luke Palacio, National President, B.N.T.U.

“In 2005, the ruling of the Chief Justice was that the government cannot instruct managements to deduct for strike action. We hope that those managers will understand that these teachers who were out on strike were striking for good governance; they were striking for Belize. They, as general managers, will also benefit from whatever good governance agenda we are able to foster as a result of what has happened. Our teachers are prepared to make up the time. We are appealing to those managers; kindly give the teachers their salaries at the end of the month because they were not doing anything illegal. They are standing up to Belize; they were contributing to national development which is one of the things that our teachers are expected to do every day. We need to have our children learn; we need to have our parents understand that we must love our country. And if we love this country, we must keep on fighting for what we believe would make our country a better country—not only for today, but for generations to come.”

The Ministry of Education has also issued a memo via the Chief Education Officer today to say that salaries will be withheld for striking teachers of government and government-aided schools. 

Channel 5