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Belize: education union forces government to agree on its demands

published 24 October 2016 updated 2 November 2016

The Belize National Teachers’ Union has suspended its strike for improved working and living conditions for teachers and quality education after the national government agreed on the educators demands.

“For eight years, the Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU) has been struggling to engage in social dialogue with public authorities,” said BNTU President Luke Palacio, adding that “we want to ensure that students get education and remind that teachers do more for their communities than just teaching in the classroom.”

On 18 October, BNTU decided to put on hold its strike, which began on 3 October, after the government agreed on different trade union demands.

Education union demands

Educators demanded among other things a salary increase to catch up with the cost of living. While the Belize’s government initially said that there would be another adjustment of three percent in 2016, it announced that it had to be differed because of the Hurricane Earl which struck the country on 4 August. The BNTU agreed only if a compensation would be given to educators. Belize’s Prime Minister Dean Barrow agreed to bring teachers a five percent interest on the three percent salary deferral teachers agreed to.

Barrow also promised that he would sign an amendment to the Social Security Act, to expanding and broadening workers’ protection and coverage, so that all Belizean employees are insured while travelling to and from work, also if they use transport means not provided by their employers. For the moment, workers are covered only if travelling by transport provided by their employers, but not if they take public transports, as the majority of educators for instance does.

The government went on to say that it would take appropriate measures to pass the Occupational Safety and Health Bill.

The BNTU also want complete equality of treatment between teachers working in public schools and those working in grant-aided schools, including equality of treatment for all teachers in terms of pension. The government accepted to reopen negotiations for pension equality.

Outstanding dispute issues

However, the education union firmly rejects the governmental position not to pay striking teachers for their strike days and asking the BNTU to use its strike fund to pay them. The education union insists that its strike fund must be kept to finance strike actions and activities.

“It is about all about good governance and respect for workers issues, Palacio insisted. Teachers are ready to make up for the teaching time lost when they were in strike, he said, noting that they “are standing up for Belize, like they are expected to contribute to the national development every day”.

Further acknowledging that children must learn, Palacio underlined that “we also need to have parents understand that we must love this country and if we do, we must keep on fighting for what we believe will make our country a better country, not only for today, but for generations to come.”

Education International (EI) and the Caribbean Union of Teachers ask the appropriate Belize’s public authorities to engage in good faith in social dialogue with BNTU.