Twelve Days and Counting; B.N.T.U. Strike Breaks Record

The Belize National Teachers Union made history today. The union has been engaged in strike action for twelve days, the longest on record.  Back in 2005, the B.N.T.U. protested for a total of ten days, while in 2016, their protest lasted for eleven days.  Indications are that this time around, the strike will continue into the weekend.  Teachers have taken to streets alongside sister unions, protesting the Government of Belize’s now implemented salary cuts and increment freezes. The unions are also calling on G.O.B. to get serious about corruption by enacting more good governance legislation.  News Five’s Paul Lopez looks back at the green machine’s history of protest in Belize.  Tonight we look at the strike of 2005.

Anthony Fuentes, President, Belize National Teachers Union [File: January 13 th , 2005]

“Do not play with our salary increase. We deserve it. We have worked for it. I must say also that the business community said we shouldn’t get our salary increase and I must remind the business community that it is the union that negotiated for salary increases for public officers and teachers. The raise that we get, we go and buy from them in their stores. So we deserve our eight and five percent salary increases.”

Paul Lopez, Reporting

Former B.N.T.U. National President, Anthony Fuentes made those remarks at a joint union press conference in 2005. At the time, the People’s United Party formed the Government. Prime Minister Said Musa was preparing to present an austere 2005/2006 budget on January nineteenth, 2005.

Prime Minister Said Musa [File: January 14 th , 2005]

“Regrettable as it is and as much as it goes against the grain of a P.U.P. Government that is noted for having significantly reduced taxes over the past six years, we have to face the hard reality; new revenue measures are necessary. After consultation with the respective unions, therefore, we propose that the agreed increases in salaries for all public officers and increase for pensioners be staggered over the next three years beginning July 2005.”

This did not set well with the unions. In fact, violence erupted outside the House of National Assembly on that day. And by January nineteenth the unions were calling for a two-day nationwide shutdown.

Anthony Fuentes [File: January 19 th , 2005]

“As a union we have made it abundantly clear to all our educators in this country that there will be a total shutdown of all the schools on Thursday and Friday. So we are advising parents not to send their children to school on Thursday and Friday.”

True to their word, teachers and the National Trade Union Congress of Belize took the streets in protest for two days.

Anthony Fuentes [File: January 20 th , 2005]
“Most schools throughout the country have been closed in solidarity with the National Trade Union Congress of Belize.”

Janelle Chanona
“What exactly are you trying to push for, I know it’s the raise increase but what are you…?”

Anthony Fuentes
“It’s not only the raise increase. It’s the tax measures that Government says its planning to impose, along with that the mismanagement, and corruption in the Government of Belize.”

Janelle Chanona
“What are the teachers prepared to do if this doesn’t work?”

Anthony Fuentes
“This vigilance will continue and we will not stop until we get what we want.”

On the second day of the national shutdown, violence broke out on Independence Hill in Belmopan

Weeks of negotiations were held. And, by February eleventh of 2005, the government of Belize would give in to the unions. An agreement was made that public officer s and teachers would get their promised salary increases of five percent for senior officers and eight percent for junior officers and pensioners as of April first, 2005.

Prime Minister Said Musa [File: February 11 th , 2005]

“The struggle for freedom and justice is never ending. And in that struggle trade unions have a major and legitimate role to play. Today we are witnessing another product of the militancy of trade unions. This one achieved with the corporation of a government that has demonstrated its belief in participatory democracy and social justice.”

That was the end of an era… A decade later the ‘green machine” would once again stage a national protest.

Elena Smith, B.N.T.U. President, Belize District Branch [File: September 5 th , 2016]

 “We did our rounds, all our branches had meetings and as far as I am aware, based on reports that we have received; that majority of them are saying that they want their adjustments now because the monies should have been there. The money should have been there and so our teachers, a lot of our teachers are not happy right now.”

Reporting for News Five I am Paul Lopez.

News Five will have more on the strike of 2016 in part two of our look back at the union strikes on Wednesday.

Channel 5

PSU Pres Says Hon. Coye Not On Same Page As Negotiating Team

For the past couple months, union activities have dominated the news. Yesterday made 11 school days that the BNTU has been on strike, which means that they have surpassed their previous record set back in 2016. And the PSU is following behind, with one week of strike action so far.

The next meeting between the joint unions and the government is scheduled for Thursday, and is highly anticipated since the GOB is reportedly offering them promissory notes as compensation for the 10% cut which WILL be reflected in the upcoming payday.

Or at least, the unions claim the government has put that proposal on the table. We say this because, as you heard last night, Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance, Christopher Coye, did not have a clue about the promissory notes. He stated that it would be contrary to the government's goal to get out of debt.

But the unions were pretty clear on Friday when they told us about the proposal. So, who's telling the truth?

Well, according to PSU president, Gerald Henry, it seems the Cabinet colleagues that form the budget consultation team haven't exactly been forthcoming with each other.

Gerald Henry, President, PSU
"I will only go as far as to say that he was not in that meeting, in that last meeting that we had, and it suggests to me that perhaps his colleagues did not fully tell him everything that was discussed and leave it at that for now. But there were other details in addition to simply just the promissory note itself as he stated."

"The promissory note and then there's also the land credit that was presented to us as well, I believe that those two would have still be there but as you know the land credit did not succeed with our membership, I believe that the compensation from the promissory note itself, I believe that the promissory note will be a difficult sell because it won't be redeemable until three years from now so we will be without that money for the next three years."

Henry says he has yet to meet with their membership to discuss the promissory notes but hopes to do so in the next couple days.

Will Strike End Soon?

And we asked Henry if we could expect a large crowd gathered in front of the House of Culture during Thursday's meeting. He explained that there are no plans for a demonstration, but chances are there may be a small crowd, like the one we saw today. About 25 BNTU and PSU members marched from Battlefield Park to the House of Culture and protested outside while the Cabinet members met inside. It's a scene that has been happening the past few Tuesdays, as the unions hoist their placards, chant on the bullhorn and sing their solidarity songs.

But no matter how small, it is still a part of the ongoing strike - one that seems to have no end in sight. While there is speculation that the government and the unions may be able to overcome their impasse on Thursday, ending the strike on Friday…we won't hold our breaths. But Henry did say he remains hopeful and offered suggestions in place of the compensation that would allow a resolution.

Gerald Henry, President, PSU
"I'm always hopeful that the issue would be over sooner than later. Most of it is in the government as you know they are the ones who can pretty much make or break the impasse and some of the things we are asking for really and truly don't have to impact on government expenditure or the domestic debt any at all."

"Butane prices, they could perhaps reduce butane prices, they could perhaps subsidize the workers bus that we have, two of the workers bus we have presently that are priority buses for our public officers and teachers - if those things are added up, making sure that they regulate and enforce the price in the grocery stores to ensure that these merchants don't take advantage of the situation. As you may have heard, I'm not certain, that ramen increased from I think fifty cents to a dollar and twenty five cents or something to that effect right now. And that only happen because merchants are taking advantage of the situation because it's the popular source of a meal for a lot of persons especially in the lower brackets so what they do is that they increase their prices because the demand has increased and it's unfair ad those are some of the things that we are trying to get the government to lobby for and work with us."

The Paycuts Cometh, What Will It Mean for Public Officers?

And those suggestions are expected to soften the blow of the pay cut which, as we've said before, will definitely be coming this pay day. And while that part of the unions' fight may be for naught, the PSU president is still hoping that the government will implement measures to relieve the burden. He noted that these measures, such as price control and regulation, will also assist regular folks who have been struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic.

Gerald Henry, President, PSU
"It is already in the budget, it should be effected as you rightly said this coming pay day, at least the pay day for the month of May, and that's the reason why I'm saying if it is the government has absolutely no choice but to reduce the salaries by 10%, they could look at other ways they could remove the burden. Let me remove the compensation part of it, I just saw an ad that speaks on compensation and the public officers want compensation but those that lost in the private sector were not compensated. So if the government can find ways to relieve, it won't be only us as public officers but it will also be those who have lost some percentage of their income in the private sector as well if they can reduce the electricity bill, they can reduce the water bill, 10% discount. It would then make it a bit easier for the public officers and other workers who have lost their jobs or got a reduction in their salaries to be able to provide for themselves and their families."

Channel 7