SPRC School teachers join BNTU protest

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 12, No. 10            March 14, 2002

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Teachers of the San Pedro Roman Catholic School joined the Belize National Teacher's Union (BNTU) Tuesday at a demonstration in Belmopan City, protesting the Government of Belize's (GOB) delay in dealing with teacher salary increases. SPRC School union representative Oscar Vidal informed the San Pedro Sun last Friday that, because their school has the largest union membership on the island, their teachers would be traveling to the capital to support a national protest with the Public Service Union (PSU) and the Association of Senior Managers (ASM) to state their union's cause. Emphasizing, "This is NOT A STRIKE," Mr. Vidal stated similar protests were taking place around the country. He stated one protest was held that very morning by Corozal District teachers.

     According to Mr. Vidal, negotiations with the Government of Belize were initiated in 1999, and formal proposals were presented in December of 2000. Among the items listed in this proposal were salary increases, a return or restoration of benefits, and transportation allowances for commuting teachers. Despite meetings held last year to address the teachers' demands, government has not replied with anything remotely encouraging, claiming that the economy was in a "bad state". Since this is completely contrary to what government is presently claiming about the state of the economy, teachers feel their demands should be met or at least considered. These stall tactics have many teachers believing that either government is not taking them seriously, or that the government is "truly broke".

    It would appear the latter may be the correct assumption as, according to reports of Tuesday's negotiations between the teachers' representatives and Minister of Finance Ralph Fonseca, "government could not afford a salary increase at this time." The BNTU, PSU and ASM negotiating team further informed that government stated they would "consider" the teachers' benefit package and decide what was feasible. The major upset of the day, though, was the announcement by government that "it was highly possible that the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme would come into effect April 1st."  This statement surprised the massive audience on hand for the demonstration, since an announcement of this magnitude had not even been released to the general population yet. Calling NHI no more than another government tax scheme, negotiators reportedly accused the GOB of mismanaging their funds. By denying teachers a salary increase and implementing their highly controversial "health plan," many expressed that government was "adding insult to injury." In essence, government was demanding more out-of-pocket money from the already underpaid teachers. Sadly, many teachers who hoped they would gain something from the negotiations left feeling they had less than what they had come with.

    Furthermore, government announced that if they agreed to increase teachers' salaries it would mean "retrenchment," and not only would teachers lose their jobs but, nationwide, taxes would need to be increased

    Although teachers were left feeling "deeply dissatisfied and disappointed," it was stated they felt their protest would make a nationwide impact. The next meeting between the teachers' representatives and government is scheduled for March 27th.

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