We told you of the meeting between the Education Minister and the Belize National Teachers Union in which they had agreed to move forward in settling their differences. Another meeting is scheduled in the coming days and as Minister Faber explained it, there are three primary issues that they have agreed to flesh out.
Patrick Faber, Minister of Education: “I can’t remember the specific dates but basically there were three issues that we discussed on Monday the first having to do with the hardship allowances and how we will proceed with that and we’ve agreed to a consultation meeting with the BNTU where we will listen to their specific concerns that they want to raise. That meeting I think will happen quickly, I can’t remember the specific date that we put on it but it will happen quickly and in that meeting we will have representatives of their districts, I believe one from every district and of course we would bring in our district managers who are our experts from the ministry and we will try our best to go over the entire list and look at those schools that the BNTU especially believes should be on the hardship list and the respective categories in which they should fall. We looked at the conditions as well, the criteria for them to fall in there and we put in an additional criteria which is the chief’s ability to pronounce a school worthy of hardship allowance even though it may not strictly speaking fit into one of the other categories. If the case can be made ‘this is why this school needs to be there’ to consider any other condition that may exist then that school can be placed on hardship and we believe that is a process that can work so we are looking forward to closing that issue and we are looking to also delay the implementation of the new hardship allowance list until the end of January and the BNTU has made it’s pledge that once we are able to conclude our meetings it is referred back to the joint staff relations council for their final approval of the recommendation to the minister. Then once we agree on all of that then that process is concluded that they will encourage their members to follow that new list and it will come into effect at the end of January for the pay period of January.”
Also, on the list of discussions are two elements of Proposal 22. One of those elements is the incorporation of four community schools under the management of government.
Patrick Faber, Minister of Education: “The two elements that are still outstanding in the collective bargaining negotiations one has to do with the four community schools and whether those schools would be desirous of coming under the proprietorship of the government, those four schools are CCC, TCC, Ecumenical and San Pedro High and we agreed that both the union and the ministry would embark on a mechanism to determine from the proprietors which is the community in all of those cases and the stakeholder bodies, the alumni, the staff, the parents all of those entities, the municipal bodies all of them would be involved in determining whether those school want to come under the ownership of the government and once that decision is made then we go with what the schools decide. The other element having to do with the 30% for benefits of the denominational and community schools, we’ve agreed that the government will work with the union in order to ensure that there is the kind of mechanism to support the persons who reach that stage of needing their benefits to get those benefits from the denominational or community managements of our secondary schools.”
Reporter: Could you clarify when you said that those fours schools coming under government so what is their current status ?
Patrick Faber, Minister of Education: “Their current status is that they’re community schools and so they operate pretty much like denominational schools but there is not a clearly defined proprietor like in the case of a Roman Catholic High School you know that the Roman Catholic Church is the clear proprietor of that school. Well community schools as we have it set up are owned by the community but that is where the problem lies, who do you consult with, who is really the proprietor. So we’ve agreed on talking about a structure, we are initially suggesting that the proprietors are the community and so we have to have town hall meetings with the community, all of them are in town so we have to engage the municipal bodies to consult with the wider community, the stakeholders, the businesses, the church. And that is the composition of the board we have business representatives, we have community representatives, we have alumni representatives, we have staff representatives so that when the board makes a decision after those individual members of the board consult their constituents we are then able to make a decision that we believe can legally stand up because you don’t want to be forcing; we can’t force and it cannot only be an issue for the teachers because it is not only an employment issue. It is an issue of transferring ownership of a school and that requires us to be on proper legal footing and so we believe these kinds of consultations are necessary.”
Another issue is the allowances for teachers. The ordinary worker would have to find their own way to and from work, but it turns out that the teachers are given additional benefits by way of several types of allowances. Faber explained the rationale for the allowances.
Patrick Faber, Minister of Education: “The third issue had to do with commuting allowances and the complaint that some teachers applications were not submitted for years previous to the 2017/2018 school year and it is our position, we agreed in that meeting that we will consider those applications if we can find that the teachers indeed submitted these applications even to the management’s because sometimes that is the issue; it was submitted to the management it was not forwarded to the Ministry of Education but where we can find proof that those teachers applied that we will try to make those payments retroactively before the 2017-2018 school year and we will try to continue to work as well to efficiently pay increments and other allowances that are applied for in the current financial year.
Reporter: Why commuting allowances? Why all of these allowances ? In the ordinary world and even in portions of the public sector you get paid a salary and you find your way to work and you find your way home.
Patrick Faber, Minister of Education: “You see when I suggested that the media can be provocative at times and causes me to land in trouble this is the kind of thing that I am referring to. But honestly providing education services is something that we are mandated to do and quite often we require our teachers who by and large live in the urban areas, many of them even if they come to the villages upon receiving their training everybody is trying to to upgrade themselves and live a better life they move to the urban areas and so sometimes it is that we have to require them to go and work in these remote areas, they have to travel and so we pay that commuting allowance and where the school is located in one of the hardship areas they receive a hardship allowance. I don’t think you can receive both of them so it is either you are working in a hardship area and you receive a hardship allowance or if you are not really in a hardship area but you have to move to where the school is on a daily basis we pay you that commuting allowance. And where the government pays for transportation which is a very real situation now especially in the south of the country, the government provides bus runs for the teachers, then that commuting allowance is not paid because the government is already spending on getting you to work on a daily basis.”
Another benefit given to teachers is the day off on the last Friday of each month to go to the bank, collect their salaries and conduct their personal financial business.