Belize – Teachers Take Strike Action

Last week, the Belize National Teacher’s Union (BNTU) launched industrial action against the Government of Belize [GOB], with strike actions and protests.

According to reports three consecutive days of strike action included picketing the GOB cabinet meeting in Belize City and the convergence of teachers from the union’s ten branches on capital city Belmopan’s National Assembly steps, in an action larger than witnessed during the previous week’s protest at the House of Representatives budget debate. 

The teachers say their initiative is to oppose a10 percent salary cut and three-year freeze on annual increments, which the GOB claims will save a total of $80 million during the life of the cost-saving measure.

The industrial action comes two weeks after some schools reopened for the first time since closure in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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GOB maintains that it will implement the requested reforms, which were the subject of several presentations during recently held budget debates. Claiming that the country’s current economic position makes the proposed salary cuts an inconvenient necessity, the government suggested that the reforms will take some time to implement .

Speaking to Belize’s Channel 5 TV station last week Karema Arnold, Principal of the Stella Maris Primary School explained the teachers concerns:

“We understand that this whole pandemic has taken a toll on everybody, the entire economic system of the world. However, as you rightly mentioned, teachers have taken the time to qualify themselves, to ensure that they gain the necessary credentials that they need to be in this profession. Taking away our salary is somewhat like a slap in the face – this is my point of view – a slap in the face and it is not something that we are taking quite easily or taking sitting down. There must be other options that the government can take or look at before they say alright this is what we are going to do and hands down.  As we speak, we have teachers who have been reaching out to parents and finding out their take on it. As a union member, we come together; our theme is solidarity and we will ensure that we come together. If it means that we have to put all this aside momentarily and we have parents understand that what we are doing is not just for now. We want to set the groundwork for our children’s children and for the next generations to come, ensuring that all these things that we are doing now that they don’t have to go through.”

Jose Mejia, the First Vice President of the B.N.T.U also shared his views with News Five

Jose Mejia, First Vice President, National B.N.T.U.

“You know that we have ten branches from north, south, east and west. We were unable to bring all of our membership and those who wanted to participate, because we know safety and the covid regulations is our priority and the safety of our teachers is our priority. So these are just a few members out here today.”

News Five

“It’s a few, but it is still a large number of teachers. Speak to what COVID protocols where spoke to or what advice were given to teachers out here today.”

Jose Mejia

“We advised them that they need to follow all the regulations in place. Please wear your mask, have your hand sanitizers, keep your distance and so forth. The safety of our teachers is priority. We cannot go against it. Also the buses they were not full, we had 75 seating capacity, because of the same reason.”

Paul Lopez

“Is this turnout larger than what we saw at the two days of the house meeting?”

Jose Mejia

“Yes, it was larger because a few branches brought two buses. They were given the position to bring two buses. So we have a little bit more than last time.”

Paul Lopez

“Is it, in your view, that more teachers are now convinced that they need to be out here to stand up and voice their concerns?”

Jose Mejia

“Definitely, more teachers are convinced and more teachers believe in our fight and our stand here today, and they will continue joining us.”

Paul Lopez

“And what is the message? The message remains the same I believe.”

Jose Mejia

“Yes the message is the same and it is clear. We want good governance and we want these things in place before they even have the conversation of salary cuts.”

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