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There is major political trouble tonight for Prime Minister Dean Barrow and his administration, as the Belize National Teacher’s Union National President Luke Palacio announced today that his over 5,400 members – all teachers – will be going on strike on Monday, October 03rd.

While appearing on the Krem Wake Up Belize morning show today, Palacio made the grand announcement. After the show, he spoke to the media and explained why the Union sees it necessary to take action.

Screen_Shot_2016-09-26_at_8.36.26_PMPresident Luke Palacio – Belize National Teacher’s Union

“We are seeking for good governance for all of us, all Belizeans, for our children, we are seeking good governance for the future of this country and we are not going to back down because the Prime Minister has insisted that we back down we have indicated that we are asking our teachers to stay out of class on Monday 3rd of October and that is the action that we are pursuing, we are also hoping that the other social partners will find it within themselves that for us to come and meet let us sit down and discuss because the issues that we are raising are issues that they too have raised and when the Prime Minister makes his efforts or attempts to try and divide and conquer the different social partners, the different organizations in this country then it is a sad day for this country, when you speak of unity when he speaks that he wants people to be united in support of his party and his agenda yet he wants to come now and divide this nation, divide person who are feeling the pinch of what is going on in this country then it is time for all of us as Belizeans, if we truly love Belize we ae going to do what it takes to write what is wrong it is going to and we are all going to come together to ensure that the mantra that the BNTU who is standing up for Stand up for Belize and for Good Governance, Belizeans in general know that our country is not going down the right road, our country needs to be brought back to the things that will benefit all of our people, not just a few.”

Now, if you’re still asking how things got to this point, we will provide some background. On September 12th the BNTU wrote the Prime Minister Barrow citing eight major issues which they believe the Government must act on in the national interest of the country. Neither of those eight issues were on the Government’s proposed deferral of a salary adjustment for teachers and public officers. The issues were mainly on governance and reform, and included the removal of Senator/Minister Godwin Hulse as Minister of Police, the appointment of a Senate Inquiry into the findings in the Auditor General’s report, the establishing of a functional Integrity Commission, and the signing of the UN Convention Against Corruption, to name a few. PM Barrow responded the follow day, on September 3rd, calling the members to a meeting instead of giving clear answers. That meeting was held last week Thursday and while neither of the parties wanted to discuss the details or outcome of the meeting, it appeared that things didn’t quite go well.

Well, that turned out to be true as on Thursday night the Council met in Belize City and chose to respond to the Prime Minister, expressing dissatisfaction with his responses to their issues and informing him that they will take action.

Over the weekend, the PM prepared a televised national address in response to the BNTU’s new position and he basically let off on the Union, calling the leaders unreasonable and intolerant.

Rt. Honorable Dean Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize

“We have reached a stalemate with the leadership of the BNTU and now they are threatening to close down the schools leaving children without classes and parents desperate, how did things come to this? I want to make clear that their decision has nothing to do with the deferral of the 3% salary increase until April 2017, in fact that was not even tabled by them at the meeting I had with their council of management last Thursday and indeed the deferral was supported by the other two Unions representing all who are paid from the government purse, so at the first the meeting, the BNTU agenda consisted exclusively of the demands they had earlier made with government and those demands did not include the 3% .  Those demands had originally come by way of their letter to me of September 12th and at the meeting we had on September 24th the BNTU leadership emphasized their position that unless all their demands were fully met they would proceed with their industrial action. Those demands were eight in number and did not, I repeat, include salary adjustment and those demands made up all that was placed on table for negotiation by the BNTU leadership on September 23rd.  Now I had already attempted to address the demands in my response letter to them of September 14th and I made further efforts to do in last Thursdays meeting but the BNTU leadership proof unyielding and after the meeting they summarily rejected government in under eighteen hours despite promising to consult with their wider membership, in doing so I believe they are being wholly unreasonable.  This is the back story which causes me to repeat that the BNTU leadership is being unreasonable, they are utterly unjustified in holding parents and children to ransom even as much as 75% of their political demands has been met.  This administration decisively won free and fair elections less than an year ago, our mandate is to govern and we must do so fairly and effectively we will continue with just that trying to set right whatever has gone wrong and listening to people including the BNTU but our democratic duty to proceed with good governance is one entrusted by a sovereign electorate it cannot be exert by any one entity, I therefore urge the BNTU and I am here appealing to the wider membership and not just the council of management to call off this destructive cruse, government has had multiples meetings with the churches and other Unions and reason and government compromised prevailed in all those discussions, its leadership therefore needs to return to the negotiating table so that we can also strike a balance between their demands and the interest of the larger society especially the children and their parents.”

The Prime Minister also attempted to put the unions against the other, and the Chamber against the BNTU, a classic divide and conquer tactic which his Government has employed many times to stave off political uprisings.


Screen_Shot_2016-09-26_at_8.36.48_PMRt. Honorable Dean Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize

“It was the same with their demands that the United Nations Anti-corruption Convention be signed now. I reiterated that signature will take place as soon as the working committee formed by the Chamber and Government conclude its job, that job is only to make sure that we would be able to implement all of our obligation upon signing so that we could not be found in default by the UN, still the BNTU leadership refused to accept the working group, leaving government aside, I felt that disrespectful to the Chamber but it got worse because when I informed the BNTU that pursuant to a suggestion made by the Utilities Unions the umbrella NTUCB was being asked to appoint a member to that working group the reaction was dismissive, indeed resentment was expressed over the fact that the Utilities Unions had dared to discuss with me a matter that the BNTU council of management obviously felt that it owned. There first demand was for a Senate Inquiry but they were not satisfied when government agreed to this rather they started quarreling with the composition of the Senate Select Committee that government was supporting in order to accommodate them even further I accepted that government would have two rather than three Senators on that committee, they at firs said this is ok but then insisted on coming back to the matter after we had moved on they then rejected on what we had already agreed and demanded instead that the opposition had equality with the government on that Select Committee notwithstanding that the Senate Standing Orders provide otherwise. What I found astonishing at a negotiating meeting was their refusal to hear any other view, thus, when I pointed out that two of the three social partners namely the Chamber of Commerce and the Belize Council of Churches had agreed the composition government was relaying to the BNTU, the BNTU leadership said this was of no account their position was the only one that matter and too bad if the majority of the social partners felt differently, in fact they went further and made clear that they were not even concerned to seek the view of the third Senate social partner the umbrella National Trade Union Congress of Belize to which the BNTU belongs.”

The PM’s choice of words has not made things any better for the dispute with the BNTU. Actually, his statements have been like fuel to fire for the teachers.

Rt. Honorable Dean Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize

“I’m not going to detail the intractability regarding every single one of their demands but I will sight two more examples, their demand for expanded to and from work social security injury coverage is one for which government has great sympathy, currently insured workers under this scheme are only covered if they are in their employers vehicle when the accident occurs, expanded coverage will undoubtedly increase claims and result in strains on SSB but I nevertheless agreed to meet their demand, in turn I ask that they undertake not to proceed with school closure in view of my concession, needless to say they refused, finally on the question of the occupational safety and health bill, I pointed out that the Utilities Union were writing to the Chamber on the matter, they wished to see how they could agree a manner in which the bill could be passed without so increasing costs as to drive people out of business once more the fact that other Unions were proceeding in that fashion counted for not and the BNTU management council insisted that the bill be passed at once.”

President Luke Palacio – Belize National Teacher’s Union

“So the Prime Minister’s appeal to the wider membership of BNTU as far as we are concerned is a tactic of divide and conquer and he will not divide and conquer the BNTU.  The Prime Minister is a very skillful orator he will say to you the things you want to hear, he will say the things that sounds good, he never said in any of his written responses as it relates to the OSH Bill in particular, he never said and he said he has met with the Chamber, he has met with other Unions for the first time we heard on Thursday despite all his other pronouncement he had in his response that the OSH Bill would be too costly to implement that the chamber is opposed to it that the employers ae concerned about all the cost that would be incurred he never said to them at least as far as I know in his response it was on Thursday that he said to us you know what this OSH Bill has to be brought back because it was dead when parliament was dissolve before the last election so who is playing games if the bill has to go back why is he trying to make it appear that the BNTU is being inflexible on a bill that does not exist.”

The BNTU will be meeting with its members in preparation for the strike action, which for now is only for Monday. The Ministry of Education has also scheduled meetings with Principals and School managers on Wednesday morning in Belize City, in an attempt to prepare for the inevitability of teachers staying out of classrooms.

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