Pay Pronto! Court Tells GOB To Pay The Strike Teachers

On Friday, we told you about the injunction that the Belize National Teachers Union was attempting to get against the Ministry of Education. They were trying to stop the Government from deducting money out of the November paycheck of 1,500 plus teachers who went on the 11-day strike in October. Well, even though those deductions are already finalized, the Chief Justice has granted that injunction against the Government. So, tonight, those strike teachers need not be worried about a "mawga" Christmas; they will get their full paycheck for November.

This afternoon, the Chief Justice handed down his ruling in a private case management session in chambers. When the hearing was done, BNTU's attorney, Eamon Courtenay explained:

Eamon Courtenay, attorney for BNTU
"The honorable Chief Justice handed down his decision a short while ago in which he granted the Belize National Teachers Union and Miss Guerra the injunction that we sought. He found that we had an arguable case and that there is a real likelihood that we will succeed at trial and he felt that the balance of conveyance was in favor of the teachers, that the teachers should not be denied the enjoyment of their Christmas, because the government has taken the very mean and, I would say decision, to attempt to process the payments and then to come to court and say to court that they can't pay it on time. CJ said that more people will be affected if they don't pay, that the people who have to do the overtime to correct the situation. So the teachers need to be paid and paid on time."

Daniel Ortiz
"Sir, can you explain to us how he received these arguments on Friday?"

Eamon Courtenay, attorney for BNTU
"Well we had quite a long submission on Friday, longer than an injunction like this ordinarily takes. We pit forward four arguments in favor of the union and Miss Guerra. The point is, first of all, that the government is oblige to pay to the managing authorities and the managing authorities are oblige to pay to the teachers. The rules as they stand which the government is bound by, the government cannot in the middle of the year or at any month decided they are not going to pay the managing authorities. That is an arrangement that occurs on the basis of a year and they disburse it monthly and they must do so. The rules specifically say that if government wants to change it, they must give one year's notice. So there was no one year notice given. This was arbitrary, high handed action by the government intending to punish the teachers and so we came to court and said that the teachers are entitled to their pay, the government has a procedure. If they want to suspend, it says the school must be close for 15 days. The school was only closed for 11 days, so yet again they attempted to act above the law."

We also spoke with BNTU's President, Luke Palacio. His constituents in the union can now put aside money worries going into the month of December, when money is most needed. He said that today's victory is a part of the continuing success of the teachers in their cause:

Luke Palacio, President - BNTU
"We were striking for a number of issues, particularly good governance for the country of Belize. Our Belizean people has supported us fully. We explained to the ministry, to the minister, to the prime minister in our letters that we were prepared to make up the time. Those negotiations have taken a long, long time. Our teachers have made great sacrifices. Our teachers continue to make great sacrifices to this nation and when the ministry decided that this is the course of action they intended to take, we had no other choice but to seek legal advice and to come to the courts for a final decision on this matter."

"Our teachers have said to our managers, we will continue to do our work, we are prepared to do everything that we've been doing before we went on strike. We went back to the classroom without anybody coercing us, we thought and we knew it was the responsible thing to do. But the minister of education, who is clamoring or wanting to become the prime minister of this country, has decided that he is going to punish the teachers. That is the only thing you can see out of his actions, because everybody have said that what the BNTU did for this country, no one else has done it over these many years and we again are grateful to our Belizean brothers and sisters, both at home and abroad who continue to support us and not because we've gain this victory today it means that we are going to try and become rambunctious and try to create any problem, we had said it from the beginning our strike was a peaceful strike, our demonstrations were peaceful and all our attempts to ensure that our country gets the best type of government and governance that this country deserves, we will always take the peaceful manner in doing that."

Of course, there is a complication. Though the court has stopped the government from docking the teachers' salary until the substantive case is heard and decided upon, the Ministry of Education has already finalized the pay cut for the November salary for those strike teachers. They are to be paid this Friday, and though the court has ordered that the situation be reversed, the Chief Education Officer, Dr. Carol Babb, told us that it is not so simple. She told us that the teachers will get their full November pay, but they might not get the full amount by Friday. She added that the Ministry's financial officers will work to make the rest available for each strike teacher as soon as they possibly can:

Dr. Carol Babb, Chief Education Officer
"I guess now what we will have to do is to try to make the full salary available to teachers. I can't say when."

Reporter
"It's not for the 25th then?"

Dr. Carol Babb, Chief Education Officer
"I don't think it will be ready for the 25th, because we explained that this is a process that takes about 2 weeks. But I am not in a position right now to say when the salaries will be ready. Please understand that. I am not the finance officer. As we explained to you all before it a process that takes time. So I don't know if it will be ready for the 25th. But you can check back with us. But I think it's highly unlikely that it will be available."

Reporter
"This decision has been high handed on the part of the government, particularly the ministry of education, can you respond to that in light of the decision that has pretty much...?"

Dr. Carol Babb, Chief Education Officer
"I don't see why you would called it high handed. The teachers did not work, so how can they expect pay. We asked them do you realize that if you strike you may not receive your salary. They said we are willing to accept that. They said that. I mean you all have coverage of that too. So it's not high handed. I don't know why you would call that high handed."

Reporter
"After the strike wasn't some agreement reach for the teachers to make up the time that they lost during the strike?"

Dr. Carol Babb, Chief Education Officer
"Yes, we have proposed to them that we can make up like 6 next year. I can't remember the exact dates and they will be paid for those dates for those days. But the decision has been made, the injunction was granted. We will move from here."

Reporter
"If you don't manage to make the November 25th date, wouldn't that be in breach of a court order?"

Dr. Carol Babb, Chief Education Officer
"No. they will be paid, but remember it is a process and we've explained that before and so you can't say that we are being unfair. We've said that before. I am not in a position to say it will be ready for the 25th. We have to check with our financial officers."

The substantive case, on whether or not the Ministry was correct or wrong in attempting to withhold their contributions for payment to teachers, will have its first procedural hearing on December 16.

Channel 7