The tensions between the Ministry of Education and the Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU) have eased somewhat following a meeting earlier today. The two parties were able to compromise on some of the issues that led the union threatening to strike. Minister of Education, Patrick Faber along with his staff met with executive members of the BNTU at ITVET for five hours. The main concerns pertained to the proposed amendments to the education system mainly; vacation days, renewal of contracts and emergency appointment of teachers. After the meeting, we caught up with Minister Faber who seemed pleased at today’s outcome. The first matter they addressed had to do with vacation days being determined by one person. According to Faber this proposed amendment has been scrapped and the current law will remain.
Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education Youth and Sports: “The proposal was that we scrap the amendment because they claim that there were some sinister motives which I tried to assure them was not the case. That would have secured for us the position of going back to what was and I have to say what is really because the amendment has not been signed officially so the law as it is now says that if Christmas falls at midweek or beyond midweek then the holiday starts on the Monday as opposed to the previous week. The amendment would have- if that amendment was not made Christmas holiday for the teachers last year would have been just two weeks. The union through its vice president made it clear that that was not something they requested, that they were not interested in amending the rule so I suggested that we throw away the amendment then but then that brought up the question of the five days that were given and of course their position with that was that they wanted that to just be forgotten basically and I said but that is not what we are contractually in agreement with, we need to find the hundred and eighty contact days. We ended up saying that in order to see if that is the case we will refer the matter to the joint staff, Joint Education Staff Council which is made up of representative bodies that are actively involved and they will determine if indeed because of those five days we will fall short of the hundred and eighty days and if that is the case then we will discuss how the time will be made up. If when we do the checking of the days we see that there is a hundred and seventy nine days for instance then only one day needs to be made up and if we are over the hundred and eighty days then those days can well be given we don’t have a difficulty with that. We pointed out that there may well be differences in circumstances at different levels and of course at different schools and so the joint staff will be tasked with working out all of those details.”
The second issue addressed was the issue of contracts being issued under a five year tenure. Faber noted that the proposal to remove that five year wording has been accepted by the BNTU.
Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education Youth and Sports: “The main decision that we came up with there was to say that they want to accept the amendment that was proposed and for the benefit of those who have not been following the amendment proposed to take out of the current wording of the contract the portion that speaks about the contract only being for five years. The idea was that once you put that in there when the teachers go to a lending institution or so that those teachers would be handicapped because the mortgage people would say ‘well you need a longer term, longer tenure of your contract in order for us to be confident.’ So we took that out and so that was what the amendment would have done. They have agreed that that portion of the amendment is good but they wanted us to add another portion or something else to the amendment. They were saying that when that contract is given, as it is being recommended now, there is a start date and it does not take into consideration the teacher’s many years of service. So we agreed that we will review it, we’ll have the legal people review it and find out if there can be a concrete reference made within that contract to show a reference to the service record of the teacher. So if a teacher signs that contract in September of 2020 that does not mean that that is the start date of the teacher’s employment, that the we will have a reference in there to the service record – this teacher might have been teaching for twenty five years before that and that is their concern. So I think with those two things we will be able to proceed with an amendment in terms of the contracts.”.
The last point of issue dealt with the wording of the proposed amendment when it comes to emergency hiring by the Ministry. Patrick Faber stated that after a heated conversation with the union they have come to terms that the wording within that amendment will be changed.
Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education Youth and Sports:“The major issue I think was a portion of the amendment that spoke to a kind of overall point in the amendment that said basically if none of these matters that we’ve outlined to be emergency situations is deemed to be suitable for an emergency situation that we didn’t take into account then they will look at it and they will determine that to be an emergency situation. Their position is this could be used for mischief, this could be used in terms of a strike and all of that to put replacement teachers in if later they determine that something like a strike is an emergency situation. So for the avoidance of doubt of what is intended there we agreed to put in wording that our legal team could come up with to suggest that what that is suggesting should not be interpreted to mean anything with industrial action and so they’re satisfied with that kind of wording.
According to the Minister of Education, they must now consult with other stakeholders within the education system on these changes to the proposed amendments. He went on to say that if there is a concern from them further adjustments must be made and further consultation must be conducted.