Will the union organize a strike action? That’s the question weighing on the minds of many teachers and school administrations tonight. That is because the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) is at odds with the Ministry of Education (MOE) over the re-categorization of hardship and rural allowances for teachers. The BNTU indicates it was done without consultation and was delivered with only a few days’ notice. The BNTU serves on the Joint Education Staff Relations Council and although its President sits on the Council’s subcommittee, it has not received a finalized list from the Ministry as it relates to the schools which fall under categories for hardship, rural allowances and time off to collect salaries. The BNTU is not in agreement with many of the changes being suggested on the draft list. The union claims the changes will disenfranchise and inconvenience many teachers. BNTU President Elena Smith says that it will listen to the voice of its members before any action is taken but the union cannot let these decisions pass since it was with negotiations the benefits were initially attained.
Elena Smith President BNTU: “As we are going we sent our press release and we informed our members that they should continue to take the time off on the payday. As we have said before in a press release we were a part of the committee that was reviewing in these areas. However I made it clear in that committee that were not agreeing with all that they were putting forth and so we were supposed to take back those information to the joint staff for a final decision. That was not done and I was informed at meeting with management that the Ministry has the final say there was really no need to take it back to jump start. Our position remains that BNTU fought long and hard to get teachers these benefits and so we would not allow for the Ministry to come and take away the teachers benefits that we have fought so hard for. So our position remains that our teachers must take their day.
Jose Sanchez: ”There are teachers who for example work in rural areas like Manatee for example and they have to catch that teachers bus and when it comes to payday the bank nearly closes at 3:30 and the bus would leave at 4:30 those special cases really did need time to access their salaries.”
Elena Smith President BNTU: “And that is what we are saying, if you need time you are saying that teachers must leave school regular hours, by the time these teachers get transportation especially those who have to take the bus and we know that service is like. By the time these teachers get in to town or the city to do their transactions it will be already late so they might get to the bank maybe on time but that will be all that they get to do. They have to pay their bills as well and if they don’t have the time to do these things then it will end up that teachers will have to take out time from school to go and do their businesses because they can’t do it on the day they get paid so nobody is considering those situations but teachers have to go through it. I guess it is because a lot of these people have an office and they can leave their office whenever they feel like and they have persons that can do transactions for them so they are not worrying what the teachers have to go through to be able to collect there salaries and to do their other business.”
Jose Sanchez: “And regarding the other things the complaints or disagreements, where are you standing with them and is there any industrial action pending in case the Ministry doesn’t really agree with some of the points you are making?”
Elena Smith President BNTU: “We are aware that what the Ministry has been doing is that just because we sit on a committee or we attend a meeting with them they go and they say BNTU agree and we keep saying not because we sit on a committee with you or in a meeting with you it means that we agree to everything that you are saying and for this one, we have said it out clearly that we did not agree with what they were doing. In terms of the way forward we will be having an emergency council meeting on Friday and after that emergency council meeting on Friday we will be more than likely having a press conference where we will be putting forth our position on that matter so our teachers countrywide can hear from us what would be our position. As I said earlier we will not let this one slide by so easily. This is one matter that we are going to fight for because these benefits came through negotiation.”
Smith said some teachers got the notice as late as Tuesday and Wednesday this week. She further stated the BNTU will not sit back idly and let the new conditions by the MOE dictate the way forward without consultation. The Ministry of Education is hosting a press conference on Thursday afternoon to discuss the issue.