O.Walk & Corozal teachers rally for 5% pay hike

Students in Orange Walk and Corozal districts got a free day from school last Friday, January 10, as their teachers turned out en masse for the first of a month-long series of nationwide rallies.
Chief among the teachers’ demands is the case for a minimum five-percent pay increase by July.
The teachers, however, are also calling for an end to corruption in public office. The Belize National Teachers Union is currently negotiating with the Ministry of Education for a new collective bargaining agreement for teachers, who have not received a pay increase since 2005.
In Orange Walk Town, over 300 teachers marched up Queen Victoria Avenue and the Belize road, and returned to a public rally at the Queen Elizabeth Park Friday morning.
In Corozal Town, some 250 teachers from the town and villages marched from the Andres Campos Civic Center up 3rd Avenue and down 4th Avenue to rally at the Central Park on Friday afternoon. All were dressed in neon green or lime green T-shirts emblazoned with their new slogan “Teechaz ga yu back”.
BNTU President Luke Palacio addressed both rallies with the same message. He noted that Prime Minister Barrow had offered to give the teachers 50 percent of any increase in revenue collected for the financial year 2013-2014, ending March 31, 2014, over the previous year 2012-2013.
While teachers welcomed the news on any increase, Palacio feared this might not be enough to be on par with the rising cost of living and urged them to call on the Prime Minister to set a 5 per cent pay increase the minimum or “floor” of any salary adjustment to be negotiated for the next three years.
The Vice Chairman of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association, Alfredo Ortega, also attended the rally, for as he explained, many of the teachers are also cane farmers, so he was there to show solidarity with their cause.
Minister of Education Hon. Patrick Faber, himself an ardent unionist demonstrator when he was a teacher before he was elected to public office, expressed his disapproval on Tuesday that the teachers had chosen a school day for their rally.
He lamented that the students had already lost many school days to factors beyond anyone’s control like last month’s heavy rains and flooding.
Perhaps anticipating Faber’s censure, Palacio pointed out that Friday was the only day available, because Saturday is when they do fund-raising activities to pay for school supplies that the school managements cannot provide. Many teachers may end up buying out of their own meager funds, if they can’t raise the money otherwise.
Teachers also get an annual pay increment of about two percent, but Palacio argued that this is not enough, because the cost of living has doubled since 2005.
He also said the annual increment is based on each individual’s performance evaluation, so everyone does not get an increment.
He explained that the slogan is related to the host of other ills that have plagued this and past administrations, the many scandals of corruption in public office, which the union is calling on Barrow to eliminate. They argue that if the government could recover the lost revenue from all the corruption and malfeasance that has been uncovered, the government might have the funds to give the teachers the pay increases they have requested.
Other issues Palacio addressed included the issue of on-the-job security and safety and health coverage from Social Security against work-related illnesses. The union has been supporting the proposed Occupational Safety and Health Bill and Palacio said it must be brought to the House of Representatives as soon as possible!
In Corozal, union officials said they had a 90 percent turnout from the town branch and about 50 percent of the teachers from the villages.
News of taxpayers’ monies gone missing from the Corozal Town board only added fuel to the fire. At both rallies, the union’s Branch officers and retired teachers addressed their colleagues, giving testimony to the many sacrifices they made for their profession in a lifetime of teaching, and to the need for the salary increase.
The rallies continue in Belize City on Friday, January 17, and the BNTU branches from the West, including Belmopan, San Ignacio, and Benque Viejo, will hold their rally in San Ignacio on Friday, January 24.
Other citizens groups demonstrating against crime and the recent spate of kidnappings have planned a complete shutdown of San Ignacio Town to coincide with the teachers’ rally. Teachers of the southern districts will hold their rallies on Friday, January 31.

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