Saturday, July 20, 2024

BNTU plans to take Industrial Action


Following a mass demonstration on September 19th, and meeting with Prime Minister Right Honorable Dean Barrow on September 22nd, the Belize National Teacher’s Union (BNTU) has decided to proceed with industrial action. The purpose of the four and a half hour meeting was for BNTU members and Prime Minister Barrow to reach a compromise, but the teachers wrote back to the Prime Minister within 18 hours saying that they are planning to strike again on Monday, October 3rd, as they are not content with his response to BNTU’s eight demands.
In a letter released on Friday, September 23rd, BNTU President Luke Palacio stated that the Prime Minister was inconsistent with the BNTU’s demands, which would ensure good governance and respect for workers. Palacio’s letter directly addressed the offerings of the Prime Minister, and the union rejected seven of the eight proposals offered by GOB.
The BNTU then stated that they are no longer interested in negotiations. BNTU sites that the Prime Minister’s offer to put one less Government’s representative on the Senate Select Committee is “not favorable” and his response on the request to remove Godwin Hulse as Police Minister was “too vague”. They also said that the Prime Minister’s response to the union’s request for an international investigation into the William “Danny” Mason case that it is an “unreasonable suggestion”.

BNTU's protest on Monday, September 19th
BNTU’s protest on Monday, September 19th

On the other hand, they are willing to accept the proposal on the revival of cost saving and revenue enhancement committees. However, the BNTU says that GOB needs to show a stronger commitment on the activation of a fully functioning Integrity Commission and Public Accounts Committee, the Appointment of the 13th Senator, and the signing of the United Nations Convention against Corruption.
On the issue of amending the Social Security Act and the passage and implementation of the Occupational Safety and Health Bill, they say those points need “urgent attention”, but the GOB’s counter-offer is “too binding”. Within the letter to the Prime Minister, “The BNTU serves notice…that we intend to pursue all necessary actions in furtherance to our cause that has the betterment of Belize as our primary focus”.

Right Honorable Dean Barrow
Right Honorable Dean Barrow

In response to the BNTU’s announcement of further strike action, Prime Minister Barrow issued a nine minute video statement on Sunday, September 25th. According to the Prime Minister, the GOB has met 75% of their demands, and has made more than one attempt at trying to address the demands of the BNTU. “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. 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 so in last Thursday’s meeting. But, the BNTU leadership proved unyielding, and after the meeting, they summarily rejected Government in under 18 hours, despite promising to consult with their wider membership. In doing so, I believe, they are being wholly unreasonable,” said Prime Minister Barrow.
Prime Minister Barrow also said that the BNTU needed to meet with their general membership to discuss the matters before making a decision 18 hours after the meeting took place.
BNTU President Palacio rebutted by stating that 18 hours was more than enough time to make a decision, and that the Prime Minister is trying to divide the union. “Understand that the membership has the Council and the authority to go and discuss, and negotiate on its behalf, and that is exactly what our Council of Management is doing. The Prime Minister goes to the House of Representatives, passes a law, proposes a law, and passes it in the three readings, in less than an hour. So 18 hours is enough… the Prime Minister’s appeal to the wider membership of BNTU, as far as we are concerned, is a tactic at divide and conquer, and he will not divide and conquer the BNTU,” said Palacio.

BNTU President Luke Palcio
BNTU President Luke Palcio

Prime Minister reiterated that if the BNTU strikes, classes will more than likely be canceled, and he asked the BNTU to not close the schools as part of their action. Barrow went on to say that the union is holding parents and children to ransom, and wants the BNTU to call off the strike action. “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 crusade,” said Prime Minister Barrow.
The BNTU stands firm that they will not have any change of plans, and have asked teachers to stay home on October 3rd as part of the strike. All branches of the union will be meeting throughout this week to be made aware of the current status of negotiations with the Prime Minister, as well as the industrial action that will commence next Monday.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) scheduled a meeting on Wednesday, September 28th in Belize City with the general managers, secondary school principals, the School Board Chairs. The purpose of that meeting was to discuss the actions to be taken by the BNTU, and make plans to ensure that classes are not disturbed by the strike. After the meeting, the MOE and the Attorney General’s Ministry decided to prepare a Statutory Instrument (SI) that will provide authority for the temporary employment of emergency replacements to substitute during industrial action. In addition, if industrial action exceeds a certain amount of days, potential emergency replacements will be recruited by Managing Authorities.
In the official release, it ends, “The Ministry and Managing Authorities wish to reiterate for clarity that the purpose of devising and putting in place these contingency plans is in order to fulfill the Ministry’s, the wider Government’s, and the Managing Authorities’ legal mandate for the provision of sufficient and efficient education. This is to ensure that students are not deprived of valuable instructional contact time and to alleviate the burden on parents/guardians in making arrangements for the care and education of their children during industrial action.”
The Barrow Administration has also embarked on its own public campaign to shut down the strike before it occurs, and as a result, Palacio and BNTU members have stated that this strike may extend to more than one day.

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