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Belize: Union urged to re-think position on planned industrial action for next week

By CMC

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Patrick Faber – CMC photo

(CMC) – Education officials have called on the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) to re-think its position in planning to stage demonstrations here from next week after accusing the Dean Barrow government of stalling on a number of issues affecting teachers.

The BNTU said that no agreement had been reached with the Ministry of Education on issues including hardship allowances for teachers in remote areas of the country, the stalling of negotiations on Proposal 22 and what the union calls the disrespect being shown by Education Minister, Patrick Faber.

BNTU national president, Elena Smith, said that the union was no longer prepared to accept the situation regarding teachers and that it is tired of “writing press releases and having these press conferences because it seem as though persons think that BNTU would not remain silent in the face of what it regards as the “unfair” treatment from the authorities.

“She said the branch presidents have come with a mandate from their membership and “so today we are announcing that on November seventh, the BNTU will demonstrate once more”.

But Faber said that there is a general perception in the public that Proposal 22 has to do with the benefits for pension and gratuity for those denominational and community schools and is not on the table as the prime minister said.

“So when it was that President Elena was talking about a meeting with the Minister of Education to continue to talk about Proposal 22; it is not Proposal twenty-two in its entirety so the matter of pension and gratuity or that thirty percent is not yet alive to make that absolutely clear.

“The portion that is alive has to do with four community schools that are to determine whether they want to be under full government proprietorship or they wish to continue as community schools. “Those are the only issues that are still alive under the Proposal 22 that keeps the collective bargaining negotiations alive; that is in excess now of 10 years going on,” he said.

In October 2016, the union staged an 11-day strike in support of the efforts to get the government to meet its demands.

Chief executive officer in the Ministry of Education, Deborah Domingo, said that the joint staff relation council met in September and there were several agreements in terms of the way forward which included continued dialogue between the Ministry of Education and the BNTU on several matters under Proposal 22.

“There was a commitment expressed by the minister to engage BNTU to come to a resolution with some of the things that may have been outstanding. Those include the government’s offer to adopt the secondary community schools pending feedback from those schools and their stakeholders with regards to their desire to be so adopted to become government-managed entities. And so that is where we were.

“There was also a commitment shared by the minister in that meeting to work along with all the stakeholders to get the managing authorities to pay the thirty percent of pensionable benefits that for many grant-aided institutions are not being paid.

“So there was commitment on the part of the government side to push managements to meet the other thirty percent given that if you are retiring from a grant-aided institution, particularly at the secondary level, most people walk away with only seventy percent of their gratuity benefits and their pension,” she said.

The BNTU said that it is also rejecting the decision by the Ministry of Education to withhold commuting allowance owed to teachers prior to 2017.

“Recently the BNTU conducted an exercise where we looked at cases from our membership where teachers were not being paid increments and allowances on time. Through that investigation, we got to find out that the ministry is saying that commuting allowances that were not paid beyond 2017 will now not be honoured,” said BNTY general secretary, Keisha Young.

“The BNTU is saying that our teachers have gone out of pocket, some of them for several years, not receiving their commuting allowances and it is not their fault that those monies did not come on time. “And so the BNTU will work earnestly, and even if we have to work the legal route, we are putting the ministry of notice that if we have to go through the courts, we will ensure that our teachers get what they justly deserve,” she added.

But Domingo said that she is “not aware that commuting allowances aren’t being paid.

“There is an obligation of teachers to apply for commuting allowance every year. There is also an obligation on the applicant to show proof that they are indeed living where they are living and it goes through approval at the manage level locally; at the district education centre level and then finally at the general manager’s level.

“So having those approvals, the application forms are submitted to the teacher/administrative service unit and they would process. So there is no position not to pay commuting allowance or otherwise; that is normally done from one year to the other and the deadline is normally mid-September to get the form in,” she added.

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