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Tomorrow Prime Minster Dean Barrow will present the budget for the next fiscal year at the House of Representatives in Belmopan City and while that in itself leaves much to wonder, there are other matters that will be holding the attention of the nation such as the rally teachers are expected to hold during the sitting of the house. However, even before that happens, there is tension forming as the Ministry of Education has indicated via memo that teachers who fail to report to their classrooms will have their pay for that day deducted. The Belize National Teachers Union is saying that this is a double standard since teachers were allowed to skip classes today to attend the women’s rally without any threat to dock their salaries. Yesterday BNTU National President Luke Palacio gave their view point on the Ministry’s move.

Screen_Shot_2014-03-06_at_8.19.58_PMLuke Palacio, National President, B.N.T.U.

“When we look at what we have dubbed as a double standard is simply because the issues at hand…if we are talking about people having their constitutional rights, the last time the unions indicated that they were going to be having these rallies throughout the country, there were all sorts of negative statements made implicating the teachers as being irresponsible, unprofessional, etc. On the other hand, the Ministry now says to teachers you can go to this rally and you will not suffer any types of consequences. The Catholic Church, which manages the largest number of schools in this country have sent out their take on the matter of this women rally. The B.N.T.U.’s position on that matter is that Catholic Church has its policies, its principles; what it believes in. And so therefore if they are saying to the teachers in their management that it don’t believe that they should go there, our position on it as the B.N.T.U. is that we are asking our teachers to use their discretion. In terms of what the Chief Education Officer has undertaken and has written in a memo to the managements and to the schools and to the union in relation to Friday’s demonstration, again seems to indicate to us that there is a special effort being made to intimidate our teachers. We’ve said to our teachers from day one, the rules are clear—rule one hundred and two—as amended in the school rules, we note they have taken it a step further as far as we have been informed. They are now threatening our teachers—and we have been told that this is being done by some managements and in some instances, some education officials—that they will be docked for three days. We want the ministry to inform those managements or to correct this memo to clearly indicate to those managements that the rules are clear—rule one hundred and thirty-three in Education Rules 2000 states clearly that Saturday and Sunday are non-school days. So we are saying to them that they are not going to dock our teachers’ salary for Saturday and Sunday because ordinarily they would not have been at work at any rate. And we need to make this absolutely clear. And Monday is a public and bank holiday so I want to know if they would want to dock our teachers pay on Monday. These type of things, again we are saying to the members of the B.N.T.U. and the Belizean public in general who are supporting the teachers in this initiative that we are undertaking; that our teachers will not be intimidated.”

In an interview with our colleagues at Channel Seven, Minister of Education Patrick Faber said that he believes there are other ways teachers can show support to the causes that they claim without absenting themselves from the classroom. He adds that it is not as if things are not moving forward in regards to their salary increase as teachers will get a raise of up to seven and a half percent if the annual increment is added. Hence there is no reason for industrial action and as such the Ministry invokes the right to enforce the laws under the Education and Training Act and accompanying rules. In reference to the Ministry granting women teachers permission to attend the women’s rally held today, Faber clarified that the instruction was that if schools determined that the participation of female teachers will interrupt classes then the Ministry granted permission to suspend classes but in no way directed schools to close down and attend the rally. Notwithstanding the Ministry’s warning, the teacher’s union has indicated that the peaceful demonstration and rally will take place as planned tomorrow in Belmopan.

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