By William Ysaguirre
The Belize National Teachers Union is calling on Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow to set a five percent pay increase, over the next three years, as the baseline for any pay hike in ongoing wage negotiations as part of a collective bargaining agreement between the union and government.
BNTU President Luke Palacio said that the union wants that agreement in writing!
The union also called on Barrow to honor the July 1st date set in last year’s negotiations between the union and the Ministry of Education.
This demand followed the Prime Minister’s address, in which he promised the teachers would get a “substantial” pay increase in August.
To rally public support for its cause, the union will be holding nationwide rallies over the next four Fridays of this month under their 2014 slogan, “Teachers got yu back!”
Palacio and the union’s vice president Kathleen Flowers, who is also president of the Belize City branch, both 30-year veteran educators, laid out the union’s position at a press conference at their headquarters in Belize City on Monday morning, January 6.
Barrow soon clarified to the media later that the pay increase would indeed take effect on July 1, and he had simply erred in his recollection of the proposed agreement when he said August.
Palacio explained that union had accepted the government’s proposed date of July 1st, because their financial year ends on March 31.
It would take the accountants some time to determine the 2013 revenues out-turn, as compared to 2012 and determine the increase that could then be passed on to the teachers. In any case, the increase would be made retroactive to April 1, 2014.
In explaining their objection to an August salary increase, the union said that delay would mean teachers wouldn’t receive the increase until the beginning of September. Most teachers are hired in September, so their annual increment also occurs in September, and teachers would like the wage increase to take effect before then.
Flowers said teachers often have to delve into their own pockets during the summer months to buy materials to prepare their classrooms with teaching aids for the start of classes in September.
She said school managements often tell teachers to fund-raise to buy these supplies, but as often as not, the teachers end up footing the bill, so they would need the pay increase in July.
She noted that as the more progressive and innovative teachers move to incorporate the new technologies into their teaching and lesson plans, they find themselves needing to buy their own projectors for Power point presentations from their computers, as the schools do not have the resources to buy into the new technology. Flowers justified their wage demands saying, “We are not greedy; we are just asking for what we deserve!”
Flowers added that they will be working with the community to highlight major issues of public concern, such as corruption in public office, and that the union will be taking the message to government.
She said they want the public to recognize the union as a social partner, and to discard the perception of unions as contentious, only raising their voice in time of crisis.
She called on the public to recognize the obstacles that teachers face and overcome in remote areas like Crique Sarco, Crique Jute, Sarteja and Crooked Tree, just to get to school.
To this Palacio added that while Social Security insures teachers travelling on transport provided by the employer, most teachers have to travel to work on public transport, where they are not insured.
He said the union would also like the Social Security Act to be amended so the SSB would recognize illness caused by working conditions in the classroom such as chalk dust; teachers’ health benefits under SSB do not presently recognize this work place hazard.
Palacio also said the union supports the passage of the new Occupational Health and Safety bill, which has not yet been introduced in the National Assembly, and he hopes it will be interpreted to cover chalk dust as a work place hazard.
The upcoming rallies will be held at the Queen Elizabeth Park in Orange Walk Town Friday morning, September 19, and later that same afternoon in Corozal Town.
Flowers said the Belize City branch plans to hold a similar rally in Belize City on Friday, January 17, hopefully at Battlefield Park. The Belmopan, Benque and San Ignacio branches will hold their rally in San Ignacio on January 24, while the Stann Creek branch will rally in Dangriga on January 31, when the Toledo Rural and Punta Gorda branches will also hold their rally in P.G.
Monday’s press conference also served to inaugurate the union’s new conference room.
The lower flat of the BNTU building had been open air until last July, when work began to close in the lower flat to provide more office space.
Palacio said the construction was funded entirely out of members’ contributions, not a penny borrowed, and the conference room would be used for training seminars.
The union hopes to generate some revenue by renting out the remaining office space across the corridor.