Government’s ‘Scrooge-Like Decision’ Thwarted by Chief Justice

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Updated: November 21, 2016

Today Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin ruled in favor of the teachers. Last week, attorney for the Belize National Teachers Union, Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay filed an application for an injunction to stop government from withholding teachers’ salaries at the end of this month. The Ministry of Education had the intent to dock wages of teachers who did not report for duty during the eleven day strike. On November 9, the BNTU warned the Ministry not dock the wages of teachers but that warning was not heeded and so the matter ended up in the courtroom of the Chief Justice. Senior Counsel Courtenay updated the media just after the CJ handed down his decision.

EAMON COURTENAY

“He found that we have an arguable case and that there is a real likelihood that we will succeed at trial and he felt that the balance of convenience was in favor of the teachers; that the teachers should not be denied the enjoyment of their Christmas because the government has taken the very mean and I would say scrooge like decision to attempt to process the payments and then to come to court and say that they can’t pay it on time. The CJ said that more people will be affected if they don’t pay than the people who have to do the overtime to correct the situation so the teachers need to be paid and paid on time. We had quite a long submission on Friday longer than an injunction like this ordinarily takes, we put forward four arguments in favor of the union and Ms. Guerra. The point is first of all that the government is obliged to pay to the managing authorities and the managing authorities are obliged to pay to the teachers, the rules as they stand which the government is bound by; the government cannot in the middle of the year or say any month decide that they are not going to pay the managing authorities; that is an arrangement that occurs on the basis of a year and they discourse it monthly and they must do so and the rules specifically say that if government wants to change it they must give one year’s notice. So there was no one year notice given this was arbitrary high handed action by the government intending to punish the teachers and so we came to court and said that the teachers are entitled to their pay. The government has a procedure if they want to suspend it says that the school must be closed for 15 days the school was only closed for eleven days so yet again they attempted to act above the law and not comply with the rules and the chief justice said that those were clearly arguable things that had to go to trial and in the interim he was going to maintain the status quo an pay the teachers so they could have their ham and turkey like everybody else for this Christmas.”

BNTU’s National President, Luke Palacio, also spoke to the media saying that teachers were prepared to make up the time.

LUKE PALACIO

“We explained to the minister, to the prime minister in our letters that we were prepared to make up the time, those negotiations have taken a long long time. Our teachers have made great sacrifices, our teachers continue to make great sacrifices to this nation and when the ministry decided that this is the course of action they intended to take we had no other choice but to seek legal advice and come to the courts for a final decision on this matter. Our teachers have said to the managers that they are prepared to do their work, that they are prepared to do everything that they had been doing before they went on strike, they went back to the classroom without anybody coercing us we thought and we knew that it was the responsible thing to do. But the Minister of Education who is clamoring or wanting to become the Prime Minister of this country has decided that the is going to punish the teachers, that is the only thing you can see out of his actions because everybody has said that what the BNTU did for this country no one else has done it over these many years and we again are grateful to our Belizean brothers and sisters both at home and abroad who continue to support us and not because we’ve gained this victory today means that we are trying to become rambunctious and try to create any problems, we had said it from the beginning our strike was a peaceful one, our demonstrations were peaceful and all our attempts to ensure that our country gets the best type of government and governance that this country deserves we will always take the peaceful manner in doing that.”

While accepting the CJ’s decision, Chief Education Officer, Dr. Carol Babb, told the media that it is not likely that the teachers will be paid on Friday.

DR CAROL BABB

“I don’t think it will be ready for the 25th because we explained that this is a process that takes about two weeks but I am not in a position right now to say when the salaries will be ready, please understand that. I am not the finance officer, as we explained to you all before it’s a process that takes time so I don’t know if it will be ready for the 25th but you can check back with us but it is highly unlikely that it will be available. The teachers did not work so how can they expect pay. We asked them if they realize that if they strike they may not have received their salary they said that they were willing to accept that, they said that, you all have coverage of that. It’s not highhanded. They will be paid but remember it is a process and we’ve explained that before and you can’t say that we are being unfair, we said that before. I am not in a position to say that it will be ready for the 25th we have to check with our financial officers. Okay but we will respect the decision.”

EAMON COURTENAY

“My understanding from Dr.Babb is that they have processed it and it is about to take place remember that teachers are going to get paid on the 25th well we wrote them on the 9th of November telling them to give us an undertaking that they will not do this otherwise we are going to bring them to court, they knew from the 9th that we were coming to court and yet in order to attempt to tie the Chief Justice’s hand they started processing it and then told the CJ that if he gave the injunction and told them they that had pay they would not be able to pay it on time that is bad mind and spite and the Chief Justice would have none of it and he said pay the teachers on time.”

The trial for the case is scheduled to commence on December 16.