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Labour Minister says “good basis” established in University of Belize union talks

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Posted: Thursday, August 20, 2020. 6:40 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: De facto Minister of Labour, Senator Dr. Carla Barnett, mentioned the ongoing showdown between the University of Belize (UB) and the UB Faculty and Staff Union (UBFSU) in the context of the debate over the Labour (Amendment) Act in the Senate on Wednesday.

The University and the Union have been at loggerheads over financial challenges suffered by the University and the Union’s defiant decision to refrain from teaching until course assignments and issues of management were finalized.

But Dr. Barnett said that the two sides are talking, and trying to work out their issues without recourse to her office. There was a four-hour meeting held on Tuesday, at which she said she told them, “It’s their discussion; it’s their relationship, they are figuring it out; so I won’t speak to the meat of the matter, they will discuss it in their own time.”

The Minister continued, “…it appears that we are realizing that we agree on more than we disagree on. And so a good basis for further discussion, for further review of the issues on the table, I believe, has been laid; and we are going to see it play out as we move ahead.”

Senator Elena Smith, representing trade unions and civil society, said after the Senate meeting that the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) awaits a report from the UBFSU concerning the meeting. She added that per the Union, they felt they did not have enough time to prepare for the introduction of online classes by August 17, and so had asked for more time – by September 7. She expressed her hope that the discussions were as fruitful as Dr. Barnett asserted.

And she charged the chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, G.A. Harrison Pilgrim, with “making threats” concerning the necessity of mass redundancy of lecturers if the Union does not accept its proposed salary cuts.

“I trust that the Chairman would understand that threats don’t help situations, and the President and whoever is making the decision – that any threats given to employees would not help the situation. And I hope that they can understand how making such a statement would amplify the concerns for the employees wanting to take action, based on those kinds of threats. So we are hoping that they can come to some sort of an agreement, and they would then understand and respect the role that the Union plays, and come to the table and sit with them and have meaningful discussions to come to an amicable solution to this issue,” Smith said.

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