“To promote and advance the highest levels of professional service in the teaching profession, and to represent and advance the just cause of teachers and their collective views of Government and Educational authorities at all levels within Belize and abroad, in order to promote and achieve the best possible standards of education and quality of life for all of our people.” BNTU’s mission statement
Teaching remains one of the most respected and noble professions in Belize and let’s face it, teachers possess a great deal of influence over our children and spend a great deal of time educating and molding our children and the future of Belize. If the average teacher has twenty children, spending an average of eight hours a day, it means that a teacher is working with about 160 hours of children time per day or 3200 hours per month of children time. If teachers make an average of $1500.00 a month, teachers are being paid about 46 cents an hour per child. When you break down a teacher’s salary, you get a clearer picture of how truly underpaid these professionals are.
While children are an investment for the future of Belize, public schools are not self sustaining because they do not generate real income especially in parts of Belize where families struggle to make ends meet; they struggle to pay school fees and struggle to buy the necessary uniforms, books and equipment. The state uses redistributive taxes from income tax and taxes from products and services to provide income for teachers, administrators, build and maintain schools, pay electricity, water and other bills. Studies show that the more affluent a neighborhood, the better the kids from those schools will perform because parents are then able to subsidize deficiencies that the state is unable to provide.
Belize does not have zoning laws that forces children to be educated in their school districts nor property tax laws that forces neighborhoods to pay for their schools. As it relates to education, Belize has maintained a church-state relationship that has been essentially abused by the churches. The church-state schools pack their schools with their congregations’ children and a few other kids who are able to improve their school standings. Church schools are able to attract the brightest and best teachers and students with alluring scholarships for students and better working conditions for teachers. This current system prevents other schools from developing by leaving behind children with less resources and access. The state has always allowed the churches to create these exclusionary policies, so church schools (mostly Catholic) outperform other schools. Isn’t this a corruptive system of education? At the church’s and congregation’s expense these exclusionary policies would be okay, but every tax payer contributes to this system but not every tax payer is afforded equal access to these schools. This brings me to examine the Belize National Teachers Union.
The Belize National Teachers Union also known as BNTU is a powerful union of teachers with a vision statement that highlights their purpose: To promote and maintain a professional organization of workers in education in Belize. This organization will aspire towards the highest and best in educational standards, services and conditions of work for the development of Belize.
The BNTU mission statement states: To promote and advance the highest levels of professional service in the teaching profession, and to represent and advance the just cause of teachers and their collective views of Government and Educational authorities at all levels within Belize and abroad, in order to promote and achieve the best possible standards of education and quality of life for all of our people.
The BNTU is currently in a labor dispute of sorts with the government of Belize. The teachers are demanding a 3% raise from the government except that when they actually sat at the negotiation table with the government they argued that corruption in Belize contributes to an environment that forces the government to have to break promises to give raises. So instead of demanding anything within their vision or mission statement, the BNTU decided they will take on a broad issue of corruption arguing that the International Labor Organization, a UN agency dealing with international labor standards world wide, of which Belize is a member state, gives BNTU this authority to take on corruption because it affects their social and economic well being. The BNTU presented the government of Belize with eight demands that they want the government to address forthwith or face a strike.
- Urgent Action by GOB to sign the UN Convention Against Corruption.
- Take Corrected Measures to improve and ensure compliance with the requirements of our Unjust Enrichment and Integrity in Government Laws
- Take Urgent corrective measures including Legislative Action to have and make our Public Accounts Committee work and be effective.
- Take immediate and necessary Action to appoint a Special Senate Select Committee to make a full and proper Investigation/Inquiry into the recent Auditor General’s Audit Report into the Immigration and Nationality Departments for the 2011-2013 Period; including recommended, Corrective and Punitive action.
- Take immediate and appropriate measures to enact the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Bill and to formulate a Just and Fair Minimum Living Wage Legislation and Policy.
- Take serious and immediate action to restore (Education Rules) and to discuss and implement the unfinished section of our BNTU Special Proposal 22, to ensure the just Right and employment status/tenure and Service Benefits of the Non-teaching Staff of our Secondary and Tertiary Levels Educational Institutions.
- Take immediate and long over-due Legislative Measures to reform and update our Social Security Laws and Benefits to expand and broaden the protection and coverage of the workers (Contributors) including the section on to and from work. 1
Transparency International defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power. That abuse can be via manipulation of policy, rules, procedures and allocation of resources to enhance personal wealth, status and power.
These demands from BNTU are definitely what Belize needs, but it is not aligned with BNTU’s vision and mission statement. In fact, the demands are so broad and unlikely to be created and implemented in such a small window that one must reason that the BNTU motives are not transparent and their strike is to destabilize the government of Belize. Some people argue that the present government had eight years to create these changes and failed to, but why is that argument even being made during the BNTU/GOB discussion? Is this election time? Election was held in November of 2015 and all these arguments were made and the people of Belize reelected the government of Belize. I agree that Belizeans must hold our government accountable as a people and nation of Belize, but BNTU’s unilateral action reeks of abuse.
Corruption is not one thing AND it is not only a government problem, it is a systematic practice that involves everyone. To argue that you want the government to solve corruption is like arguing you want world peace or else. The parameters were created to fail.
Belize is a small developing nation where politics and family are deeply intertwined. Belize is facing increasing international scrutiny because of different acts of corruption and there are urgent issues that the nation and people of Belize must tackle. Those in power must understand they have a responsibility for the positions they hold and they owe their memberships and supporters accountability. Belize laws have not yet evolved to address the ever-present issues that manifest almost daily. Historically, Belize has existed in some form for about 400 years in what use to be a mostly homogeneous society in an extremely small colony (prior to mass emigration to the US and immigration from neighboring countries and most recently US and UK) . The laws of the colony were there to maintain order and maintain the status quo. Belize has only been independent for 35 years and while George Price may have had an idealistic vision for the future of Belize, he could not foreseen globalization, parasitic investors, tax havens, brutal drug trades, illegal transshipment points with billions of dollars at stake, international criminals and fugitives, terrorism, sex tourism, Internet, porous borders, international interest in developing and moving to Belize. The colonial laws of Belize that were designed to maintain status quo, are not equipped for the tsunami of events that have unfolded since Independence.
As the nations cries for changes these are some to the things that BNTU should consider:
- Instead of taking a ‘my way or the highway’ approach, why not partner with the government, businesses and social partners to work on a development plan for Belize? The government has in good faith agreed to your demands but you do not speak for the electorate and therefore holding the government ransom for what is not your mandate is a form of abuse and manipulation of rules.
- The current PM, Hon. Dean Barrow, is the only sitting PM that has consistently agreed to work on improving the system while in power. Belize has seen its share of oppositions make promises to change the system only to ignore the changes while in power however only Mr. Barrow has disciplined misbehaving ministers, allowed audit reports to reveal corruption and have removed or diminished some of the most infamous personalities of corruption within his ranks. The current PM may be a shrewd negotiator, as some describe him, but he realizes that the people power is real and has been working to address these issues.
- Change can only happen with a sitting government who must create the policy (hopefully in full partnership with stakeholders), present it to the House, and vet it through the Senate. We must work within our system to change our system. Placards and marches bring the necessary attention and pressure, but changes happen with a sitting government. Destabilizing a duly elected government on a unilateral mandate is not for the betterment of teachers.
- Work on improving the education system because there is much corruption in the state/church relationship that requires urgent attention. The recent unilateral letter of support by Catholic Public Schools signed by Maria Zabaneh only to be dispelled a day later by Sister Barbara Flores is evidence of how unilateral crusades undermine credibility and leadership
- Ask the government to create a property tax system to benefit schools. Do you know that some communities are paying $5.00 a year in property taxes? We must create a comprehensive tax system that does not overburden one sector of society and allows equitable distribution and access.
We will never achieve change with egos. We will achieve change by understanding how the system functions and what creates the opportunities for abuse. Partnering and holding everyone accountable for their positions are the only true way to achieve change. The reality is that all Belizeans will need to get use to the idea of accountability including the BNTU and we should not let our passions overrule our ability to reason.