Will He Stop GOB?
Two days ago, we told you about the lawsuit which Eamon Courtenay filed on behalf of the Belize National Teachers Union. They're suing the Ministry of Education to stop the Government from docking the pay of the strike teachers.
Well, that case went before the Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin, today, and we'll tell you all about how it went, but first to the big news. BNTU's investigations say that almost 1,500 teachers went on strike, and are at risk of having their November paycheck docked.
The problem is that the Ministry has already put in the paysheets with the pay-cuts, and as of today, the calculations have already been made, and the deductions are finalized. So, that means when those strike teachers go to the bank next Friday, they may very well find their pay - their last salary before Christmas - docked for the number of days they were on strike.
But, the Court could force the Education Ministry officials to reverse it before then. That's if the court rules in the BNTU's favor on Monday.
It's delayed until Monday because instead of having an injunction hearing, the Chief Justice went ahead and allowed Eamon Courtenay, and acting Solicitor General Nigel Hawke to argue the full case on whether or not he should order the pay cut to be reversed.
That happened in a closed door session, where the press was not allowed to listen. But when the hearing was over, BNTU President Luke Palacio granted us an interview. He said that the union is not accepting an excuse that the deductions are already final and irreversible:
Luke Palacio, President - BNTU
"We cannot say with any great degree, we are satisfied with our submissions. We have seen where the ministry personnel through their attorney in particular, are trying to make it appear that it is very difficult for them to rectify what they have done. We have submitted to the ministry through the government that the BNTU would have asking them to rescind their decision on withholding the salary of our teachers. We have given them a deadline by which time they should have responded and they have refused to do so and now they are coming to court. Their argument basically is that it will be difficult for them, it will take a lot of time for them to redo the pay sheets. We do not subscribe to that. We are certain that we had over 1,500 teachers on strike who will be affected by this action by the government. We believe very strongly that the government is just trying to be a bully. The Minister of Education in particular continues even though he tries to say that he is not about to punish the teachers. That is exactly what they are doing and making every attempt at trying to bring down the Belize National Teachers Union. But they shall not succeed. We shall not be moved. We are saying whether the salary for government teachers come through the smart stream or not, the smart stream is manned by human beings. Therefore, whatever changes they had made to the salaries of our teachers at government secondary and primary schools that are paid through the smart stream, somebody had to undo that. Because the pay sheets remain constantly for the most part month to month."
The Chief Justice has reserved his ruling for Monday afternoon, and when the decision is in, we'll tell you what it is.
Supreme Court Decision Monday on Injunction to Stop Salaries Deducted for Teachers
The monthly salaries of almost two thousand primary and secondary school teachers hang in the balance tonight, as they anxiously await a decision to be handed down by the Supreme Court on Monday. Earlier this week, an application for an injunction was filed on behalf of the Belize National Teachers Union. The formal request for a court order to prevent the Government of Belize from effecting a deduction from the wages of all teachers who participated in an eleven-day strike in October is a last-ditch effort by the B.N.T.U. The union has made several unsuccessful attempts to persuade the Ministry of Education to rescind the withdrawal of salaries. This afternoon, inside the chamber of Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin, Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, accompanied by attorney Iliana Swift, made submissions on behalf of the B.N.T.U., while the Ministry of Education was represented by the Solicitor General’s Office. Officials from the ministry, including Chief Education Officer Doctor Carol Babb sat in on the closed-door session. Following the hearing, B.N.T.U. National President Luke Palacio addressed the media.
Luke Palacio, National President, B.N.T.U.
“…to seek the court’s ruling on putting in place an injunction to the government’s decision to withhold its contributions to the managing authorities of schools for them to be able to pay the salaries of our teachers for the end of November. The Chief Justice has reserved his ruling for Monday afternoon at 2:30.”
“How confident are you that it’s going to go in your favor?”
“We cannot say with any degree [of certainty], to any great degree. We are satisfied with our submissions. We have seen where the ministry personnel through their attorney in particular are trying to make it appear that it is very difficult for them to rectify what they have done. We had submitted to the ministry, through the government, that the B.N.T.U. would have been making a, asking them to rescind their decision on withholding the salary of our teachers. We had given them a deadline by which time they should have responded and they have refused to do so and now they are coming to court. Their argument basically is that it will be difficult for them; it will take a lot of time for them to redo the pay sheets. We do not subscribe to that because we had said it in a media presentation; I had said it that usually it is the second week of the month when pay sheets are submitted by managing authorities. The Minister of Education Patrick Faber denied this by saying that that is not true, that it’s the first Tuesday of the month. We have been in this business for a long, long time and we are very familiar with that process. As a matter of fact, even from the Teaching Service Commission we were asked, the commissioners were asked to approve recommendations from managing authorities for persons to be employed and that we were asked to make those submissions by the second Tuesday of the month in order for those teachers to make the payroll. So who is playing the game? They continue to try and play this game with the Belizean people and honestly we believe very strongly that the government is just trying to be a bully. The Minister of Education, in particular, continues even though he is trying to say that he is not about to punish the teachers. That is exactly what they are doing. We are saying whether the salary for government teachers come through the Smart Stream or not, the Smart Stream is manned by human beings, therefore whatever changes they had made to the salaries of our teachers, government, primary and secondary schools that are paid through the Smart Stream, somebody had to undo that because the pay sheets remain constantly for the most part month to month.”