Ever since Minister of Education, Patrick Faber announced that government is allocating one million dollars to compensate teachers who did not take part in the strike last year, he has fallen under serious scrutiny and criticism. That of course has not only been by the Belize National Teachers Union but from the opposition PUP, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and the public at large. Today, he finally elaborated on the decision and explained the logic behind paying teachers additional monies, which he calls an honorarium. Faber says that, one, teachers who will be paid are in effect those who did not participate in the strike and two, even union members who desisted from going on strike the second time in January 2016 will receive payment. Those who were on strike got their pay for those eleven days and would now be making up for the lost days but those who were not on strike will be giving ten additional days and hence he says, deserve some form of compensation.
“This is the point I want people to understand. There were eleven days of strike. During those strike days those teachers who would have qualified for a part of the honorarium I called it an honorarium for a reason. Those teachers went to work, now there are many arguments these people worked or they did not work let’s put that aside for a minute. As a result of the strike we along with the managing authorities which is what the law prescribes decided to amend the schools calendar to include six additional days. We have teachers turning up for four days of work in January that was sabotaged by the BNTU, they told their members not to turn up. So we had teachers who turned up for those four days of work, are those teachers not to be compensated in any way, is it so unfair to offer something to those teaches who turned up for those four days in their Christmas break so to speak? And then those teachers are then required to take three days out of their Easter break and then three days of out of their summer break, if you add up all of these days these are ten additional days that those teachers are asked to show up to work outside of the planned days. Don’t those teachers deserve anything ? Is it a waste to give those teachers an honorarium because if you pay them their daily rate for those ten days, which we did not attempt to do it would be far exceeding a million dollars.”
Part of the criticism toward the decision has been that government is trying to sabotage the Union’s efforts. Faber says not so.
“If you attended the bulk of the days in the strike period you could qualify for I think three hundred dollars and if you attended in the bulk of those four days I think you could qualify for two hundred but no teacher received in excess of five hundred dollars honorarium and it was for both periods not just one and it was not full compensation for anything.”
“But sir, so to speak specifically to the charge from the unions, do you reject the claim that it is trying to union bust by rewarding those who did not stand with the unions?”
“It is not rewarding those who did not stand with the unions. It is rewarding those who stood for our children, it is rewarding those who came additional days.”
Faber said the Government has put aside up to a million dollars to issue to teachers but at the time they do not know the exact number of teachers who showed up for classes during the two periods. When those submissions are made, government will determine how much money will be disbursed but he believes it won’t even be a million dollars. His calculations place the figure at around six hundred thousand dollars. But where is this money coming from and is the whole process even legal? Faber says it is.
“Senator Courtney is now saying that it is illegal, well every year when we read the budget you know that the Ministry of Education gets a huge chunk of money. The bulk of that money is for salaries, there is no exact amount so to speak that the salaries come up to. Every year there is an amount that is allotted to the budget for salaries, that figure fluctuates from year to year; a teacher gets pregnant, nobody can determine how many teachers will get pregnant, how many teachers will go on long leave, there are a number of things that affect how much you will actually spend in the budget and it is through that line item if he wants, that the honorarium is being paid which is why some of the teachers have still not received that honorarium. Why? Because we insist that it must go through as a part of the salaries and in fact for the government teachers, in order for us to have gotten things in time, we would have had to have it in the start of the month when the decision was made so we had to wait until the beginning of May which is upcoming for us to make the submission for them to be paid which is about three hundred and seventy seven teachers or so at the end of May and likewise some of the denominational teachers have not gotten because they will be paid in the normal process of salaries and their salaries come at the end of April so to say that it is illegal is utter nonsense. It comes out of the salaries allocation that go out for teachers and that is perfectly legal for us to pay teachers out of that type of item on the budget.”
And what does Faber think about the criticisms that have befallen him since the announcement? He says he is disappointed but makes no apologies for the decision.
“You know that I don’t dodge when there is an issue I face the issue but I was disappointed in these entities because nobody bothered to find out what the facts were. In fact on this entire issue I gave one single interview that was on the day of the opening of the basketball court in the Faber’s Road area with the police, nobody including the media have ever written to us asking if we can give them the details of how things were going to be done and what it was that was specifically being done. You would think that those things would be done before you put out a press release as an entire entity to say you condemn and that is my issue with them so I am very disappointed at that. If you think ,and anybody who says it any of them who critics me for giving something to those teachers who will have to work ten days outside of the eleven days that they already work for the strike some kind of honorarium then brother I am wrong and I will go down on that one but I make no apologies for that. I believe it is the right thing to do.”