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Schools and institutions are kept open for classes and to ensure that there is safety for students and teachers present at a school or institution during the industrial action planned by the Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU) for this Monday, September 19, 2016.

The Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports and Culture (MoEYSC) hereby informs all parents, guardians, students, teachers, principals, and the wider public that in accordance with the Education Rules, Managing Authorities will take necessary measures to ensure that schools and institutions are kept open for classes and to ensure that there is safety for students and teachers present at a school or institution during the industrial action planned by the Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU) for this Monday, September 19, 2016. Parents, guardians, students, teachers, principals, Managing Authorities and school bus operators are informed that school buses will run their normal schedules on Monday, September 19, 2016.

The Education and Training Act, No. 3 of 2010 Laws of Belize is the Act that governs education generally and the employment, management and discipline of teachers. The Act defines ‘ teacher’ as a person employed for the purpose of instructing students. The Act is buttressed by the Education Rules and the Education (Amendment) Rules, the latter of which is embodied in Statutory Instrument No. 87 of 2012. The framers of the rules have recognized the right of teachers to be involved in industrial action. In section 101 A it provides:

“ A labour dispute which may involve or give rise to industrial action by teachers or instructors shall be determined in accordance with any law or enactment, which makes provision for the determination of such disputes.”.
[Emphasis added]

The Trade Disputes (Arbitration and Inquiry) Act , Chapter 299 of the Laws of Belize, defines “trade dispute” to mean:

“any dispute or difference between employers and workmen, or between workmen and workmen, or between employers and trade unions, connected with the employment or non-employment, or the terms of the employment, or the condition of labour, of any person, or trade union recognition.”

It is worthy to note that a similar definition is also found in the in the Trade Unions Act Chapter 300 Laws of Belize.

Rule 102 of the Education (Amendment) Rules of 2012 prescribes the roles and responsibilities of Managing Authorities during industrial action:

102 (1) If a labour dispute results in industrial action by teachers or instructors, salaries and wages of persons undertaking such action may not be paid for any day or portion of a day during which they are on strike.

(2) Teachers or instructors not on strike shall report to work unless circumstances beyond their control prevent them from doing so.

(3) It shall be the duty of the Managing Authority to maintain a record of those teachers or instructors who are not present at school during the strike.

(4) It shall be the duty of the Managing Authority to take necessary measures to ensure that schools and institutions are kept open for classes and to ensure that there is safety for students and teachers present at a school or institution during a strike.

(5) Where the Principal or Manager has reasonable grounds to believe that the safety of students and members of staff not on strike may be at risk, the Principal or Manager may close the school or institution and advise the Managing Authority and the District Education Centre of his decision”.

It is to be noted that whenever a the BNTU calls a meeting or other activity that it is a common practice of some principals to send notes to parents and guardians through their children informing that there would be no classes because of the planned union meeting or activity. Everyone’s attention is being drawn to the fact that principals have no such authority unless approval has been given for such meetings or other activity. Any principal who does so would be committing an offence and be liable to appropriate disciplinary action.

The President of the BNTU in a letter to the Prime Minister, dated September 12, 2016 put forward eight (8) demands. The Prime Minister in a letter to the President of the BNTU, dated September 14, 2016 responded to each of these demands. The Prime Minister also expressed his willingness, indeed his desire, to meet with the Council of Management as he did not believe that ‘a mere written response can do full justice to your [the BNTU’s] issues.’

The BNTU nevertheless is proceeding with planned industrial action. Indeed, they have sent out notices to members one of which states that: ‘We proceed with this demonstration on Monday, regardless of the response we get from the PM…’.

Given the Prime Minister’s response and willingness to meet with the BNTU’s Council of Management, it is our considered view that the position of the BNTU as reflected in that statement is not only unreasonable but also a display of bad faith. The BNTU’s demands and the Prime Minister’s responses to them can be viewed on the GOB’s website for side by side comparison for all to see.

Within the above context then, the MoEYSC hereby informs all parents, guardians, students, teachers, principals, and the wider public that in accordance with the Education Rules, Managing Authorities will take necessary measures to ensure that schools and institutions are kept open for classes and to ensure that there is safety for students and teachers present at a school or institution during the industrial action planned by the Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU) for this Monday, September 19, 2016. Parents, guardians, students, teachers, principals, Managing Authorities and school bus operators are informed that school buses will run their normal schedules on Monday, September 19, 2016.