Jordan Teachers ‘Will Not Back Down’ in Face of Assaults on Union

Jordan Teachers ‘Will Not Back Down’ in Face of Assaults on Union

Teachers in Jordan are “insisting on their legal rights to have an association” and will not give up after the government dissolved their union in July and imprisoned union activists, says Kefah Abu Farhan, a board member with the Jordan Teacher Association (JTA).


“Teachers, male and female, stress day after day that these measures are not acceptable for us and we will not back down until the teachers association goes back to its legal standing,” said Abu  Farhan, speaking recently with the Solidarity Center through a translator.

The JTA, representing 140,000 active members, waged a month-long strike in 2019 when the government failed to respond to its demand for a 50 percent salary increase. As a result of the strike, teachers received a 35 percent wage increase and 14 additional improvements, the most important of which was the union’s participation in managing the teachers’ savings fund, with its assets totaling more than $141 million.

In July 2020, police raided JTA headquarters in Amman, the capital, and 11 of its branches across Jordan and jailed thousands of teachers, including JTA chairman Nasser Nawasreh. The teachers, some of whom went on a hunger strike, were released after spending a month in prison. Many are still being prosecuted in court, says Abu Farhan. In addition, the government forced 62 teachers to take early retirement “as punishment for expressing their views,” said Hala Ahed, a lawyer on the JTA’s legal team, speaking with the Solidarity Center. The government dissolved the JTA for two years in December 2020 and imprisoned its board members for one year.

Crackdown on Union Freedom Dangerous Road for Democracy

The Jordan government’s move to shut down the JTA was denounced by the global labor movement and human rights organizations worldwide. The United Nations Human Rights Commission said the action is “emblematic of a growing pattern of suppression of public freedoms and the restriction of civic and democratic space by the Jordanian government, including against labor rights activists, human rights defenders, journalists and those who have peacefully criticized the government.”

In October, Jordan authorities barred the JTA from holding a press conference to discuss the conditions teachers are experiencing, a ban implemented by security forces delivering an order from the Amman governor.

Jordanian civil society organizations and unions drafted a solidarity letter condemning measures targeting the right to form unions and other civic freedoms. The JTA’s success in winning the government’s agreement to sign a collective bargaining contract, and the strong stance of teachers demanding their rights, attracted broad public support. The government shut down the JTA in part because it “has become ground zero for those who want to gather, for the middle class to voice their dissatisfaction,” says Ahed.

“There is a symbolic message sent here: Officials can encroach upon constitutional freedoms and escape punishment,” she said. “This could be indication that the upcoming period will be one of oppression, suppression, restraining freedoms in very blunt manner. This is very dangerous.”

Reversing the Gains of the 2011 Arab Uprising

The teachers’ union was established in 2012 after the Jordan monarchy issued a royal decree, reviving the union suspended in the 1950s. Expanded freedom to form unions was among some of the civic freedoms working people championed and won during the 2011 Middle East and North Africa Arab uprisings. In 2011, Jordan amended its constitution, giving political parties and unions the right to form.

Teachers had fought for their rights to form unions and collectively bargain for decades, with many imprisoned in 1975 for setting up committees to create a union. After a new teacher’s movement arose in the 1990s, they were barred again from unionizing when the government cited the constitution to justify its refusal to recognize a teacher’s union.

The victories of 2012 “occurred because of the sacrifices of workers,” says Abu Farhan. “It’s very dangerous, very dangerous, for unions to lose their rights.” Although the country’s constitutional court has recognized International Labor Organization Convention 87 on the right to freedom of association, the government has not yet ratified it.

The government shuttered the JTA after it asked members on Facebook to weigh in on how to ensure the government follow up with its promised pay increases. One of the suggestions called for sit-ins and demonstrations, and proposed activities also included thinking about participating in or boycotting national elections.

The JTA did not commit such a violation of the law because it did not call for an election boycott and calling for demonstrations is not illegal, says Ahed. “There was no criminal act,” she said. “The criminal act under this count only applies to physically preventing people from coming to vote.” During the court trial of JTA Board members, no witnesses were allowed for the defense, she said.

“When the JTA is no more, we go back to pre-2012 days,” Abu Farhan said. “Teachers have to claim their rights, lobby, advocate for their rights. On top of that, we have deteriorating conditions of teachers and their difficulty in retaining top-notch performance. We go backward regarding future reforms in Jordan.”

Yet as Abu Farhan said, teachers will not be silenced: They protested in January even as Jordanian security forces barricaded the roads leading to the Jordan legislature in Amman. The government also placed a metal fence around an open area opposite the parliament in an attempt to prevent large gatherings.

Throughout their protests, teachers carry signs supporting the freedom to negotiate for better wages and working conditions through their freely formed union: “My union is a national achievement that Jordanian teachers will not give up on,” and, simply, “Bring back the teachers’ union.”

Morocco Teachers Protest Limits on Strikes

Morocco Teachers Protest Limits on Strikes

Teachers carried out protests throughout January against a government crackdown on their fundamental freedom to strike, with rallies at the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training in the capital, Rabat, and across the country. Teachers also are protesting the working conditions of contractual teachers and the Ministry of Education’s refusal to engage in social dialogue.

Morocco, CDT union calls for nationwide protests Feb 10, 2021, Solidarity Center

The CDT is calling for nationwide protests February 10 around education worker demands. Credit: CDT

Morocco’s constitution has protected the right to strike since 1962, but the government seeks to revise the country’s labor law by adding significant obstacles to the right to strike, in violation of Morocco’s international legal obligations. Unions are calling on the government to engage in real social dialogue to develop legislation consistent with international law.

“These abusive measures constitute a flagrant violation of the constitution, of the guarantee of the right to strike and of national laws, as well as against international conventions that consider the right to strike a fundamental part of freedom of association,” the Democratic Labor Confederation (CDT) wrote in a December letter to Educational International. The global federation, Education International, strongly supports the CDT and the National Union of Teachers (SNE) in their efforts to push back against the government’s moves to limit essential worker rights.

The government also barred a planned December 22 sit-in on at the Education Ministry headquarters in Rabat, citing exceptional circumstances and the law on health emergencies. Union members and leaders called the ban illegal and said security service used force to disperse them before they could reach the Ministry’s headquarters.

The January actions follow a series of rallies and sit-ins across Morocco last fall, including a national general strike on December 1 and 2, as teachers protested the government’s move to reduce their seniority and promotion opportunities and its replacement of full-time teachers with teachers on contract who are paid lower wages and have no job security.

Education Officials Refuse to Meet with Teachers

Morocco’s workers and their unions have been left out of discussions regarding management of the COVID-19 crisis and educational continuity, according to the SNE-CDT. The union says the ministry has not fully addressed health and safety conditions for teachers, education support staff and pupils.

Education ministry officials have frozen dialogue with teachers, last meeting with them in February 2019. One of the union’s fundamental demands is for the government “to open a serious and responsible dialogue on the outstanding demands from 2014 to today, and the respect of trade union freedoms and the right to strike.” Among the unresolved issues are improved wages, a voice for teachers in the education reform process, investment in public education, teacher training and more staffing to lower classroom size.

In early January, the CDT also spoke out against the ministry’s unilateral decision to cancel upcoming examinations for middle and high school students due to the pandemic, highlighting another example of how the education ministry fails to involve the representatives of teachers and other employees of the public school system in decision making.

More Teachers on Contract, with Few Rights

In early 2019, a government decree removed the option of workers with renewable two-year employment contracts to integrate into the public sector, a move that means contract teachers have no access to fair wages and social benefits like pensions, health care or job security. The CDT has sought to replace fixed-term contracts with permanent employment.

The number of fixed-term teaching contracts is increasing in Morocco and undermines the core notion of public service. The change grants the government a waiver on its obligations, according to a recent CDT field study on the future of work in the education sector, carried out in collaboration with the Solidarity Center.  “Some of the direct results of casualization, as identified through the study, include instability, precariousness, dissatisfaction and lack of confidence in the profession’s future,” the CDT notes.

The study also finds an increasing number of women in all levels of the education system, and the future of work in the education sector must address this shift, says Younes Firachin, a member of the National Office of the National Education Union. That requires unions “to fully grasp these transformations” to effectively reach them and address their concerns, he says.

Employees throughout the public education system, frustrated by the lack of attention to their terms and conditions of employment, increasingly are joining the protests. On January 27, many who provide assistance to young children in kindergarten and primary school rallied in Rabat.

The CDT also announced a series of nationwide protests set for February 10 to mobilize administrative and technical assistants to call for their recognition by the Ministry of Education and Morocco’s public school system.

Teacher Protests for Decent Jobs: Key for All Moroccans

Teacher Protests for Decent Jobs: Key for All Moroccans

Recent massive teacher protests in Morocco demanding the government create permanent employment contracts is not an issue confined to the education sector—the extent to which decent jobs are available affects the future of the country, say leaders of the Democratic Labor Confederation (CDT).

A recent government decree making it no longer possible for workers with renewable two-year employment contracts to integrate into the public sector as before means workers have no access to fair wages and social benefits like retirement. The move “outlines the direction and policies of the state to dismantle the public service as a right of citizenship and to disengage from its responsibility towards citizens,” according to a CDT statement.

At least 10,000 teachers protested Sunday in Rabat, Morocco’s capital, to demand the government replace renewable contracts with permanent jobs that offer civil-service benefits, including a better retirement pension.

The Sunday protests came hours after police used water cannon to disperse an overnight demonstration. Many teachers had spent the night in the streets of Rabat after the first event before marching on Sunday from the education ministry to Parliament.

The weekend protests follow nationwide strikes in the education sector on March 13 and 14, and union leaders say more protests are likely.

More than 25% of Young Workers Are Employed

While overall unemployment hovers around 10 percent, more than one-quarter of young people in Morocco are without jobs.

Half of Moroccans who have jobs work in the informal economy, generally in precarious positions with low wages on farms, in construction, textiles and in the food and tobacco industry.

“Despite the strong opposition of the unions, the government is determined to continue hiring with contracts in the education sector and in the public sector in accordance with the recommendations of the international financial institutions, which demand a reduction in the wages,” the Moroccan Labor Union (UMT) says in a statement.

International lenders are pressuring Morocco to trim civil-service wages and cut back on public-sector services.

In addition to CDT and UMT, other unions supporting the march include the Democratic Federation of Labor (FDT), General Union of Moroccan Workers (UGTM) and the National Teaching Federation (FNE).

Georgia Teachers Sign Historic Pact

Georgia Teachers Sign Historic Pact

Tamar Barisashvili, Georgian language teacher and ESFTUG member, in the classroom. Credit: Lela Mepharishvili

In a precedent-setting move, the union representing teachers in Georgia signed a pact with the education ministry last month, signaling the new government’s willingness to partner with teachers—although unions in other sectors, including the railways and postal sector remain under attack. Unions in Georgia have struggled for their right to organize for more than a decade now, including under former president Mikheil Saakashvili.

“The decision of the Minister of Education and Science to sign the sectoral agreement shows clearly how democratic processes are developing and the democratic management in the education sector is being established,” said the president of the ESFTUG education union, Maia Kobakhidze, representing teachers.

Committing the ministry to work in partnership with the ESFTUG, the agreement sets a path for cooperation on laws and regulations affecting teachers, collective agreements with the union regarding teachers’ compensation, work conditions and benefits, as well as any new education initiatives.

The agreement reverses more than a decade of an anti-union campaign by the former administration, as a result of which the country’s labor federation, GTUC, lost more than 100,000 members, and the teachers’ union came close to collapse.

In recognition of the significance of the agreement, the signing ceremony in Tblisi on March 16, 2017, by ESFTUG’s Kobakhidze and Education Minister Aleksandre Jejelava was widely covered by media, and gathered together 300 guests. Attendees included representatives of the teachers, ministry officials, members of the diplomatic corps, including the U.S. Embassy, the International Labor Organization (ILO), the global union federation Education International (EI) and several nongovernmental organizations.

Jejelava thanked ESFTUG during his speech for giving his ministry the opportunity to work with the union to create better conditions for teachers and defend their rights, so they may better serve Georgia’s children.

The Solidarity Center has partnered with Georgian trade unions for almost two decades, providing programs that support legislative research and training in defense of worker and union rights, promote activities designed to increase union integration and coordination, help unions represent their members and reach out to unorganized workers, and educate workers about principles of democratic trade unionism.

In Violence-Torn Nigeria, Teachers’ Union Goes Beyond ABCs

In Violence-Torn Nigeria, Teachers’ Union Goes Beyond ABCs

In northeastern Nigeria, where violence has terrorized communities over the past several years, the Nigerian Union of Teachers is going beyond the difficult task of ensuring students continue to receive an education and teachers get the support they need. Union leaders and members have taken on the enormous job of providing housing, food and medical assistance to some of the thousands of teachers and their families displaced by the upheaval.

In Borno state, where the teachers’ union includes members from 2,000 schools, the union converted nearly all of its conference space into housing for those displaced by the violence. The union has provided food, clothing and shelter to some 200 union members and their families in the past year. It also has created a database of Borno-based union members killed in the insurgency. The union has tallied 388 teachers killed in Borno as of January, the majority of the more than 600 Nigerian teachers killed by suspected Boko Haram in the northeast.

“Teachers are traumatized and hence hold lessons in fear,” says Bulama Abiso, chairman of the Borno state branch of the Nigerian Union of Teachers and a former teacher and principal. “They fear suicide bombers’ infiltration of the school.” Over the past six years, Boko Haram has targeted public and private schools in northeast Nigeria, dousing the facilities with gasoline at night and setting them ablaze. Militants have also hurl homemade bombs at the concrete classrooms.

Across the country, some 19,000 teachers have been displaced, Michael Alogba-Olukoya, told the International Business Times. Alogba-Olukoya is president of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, a Solidarity Center ally.

Despite the incredible personal risk, teachers continue to their jobs in the classroom. To encourage students to return to school, Suleiman Maina, the state representative of the National Union of Teachers in Borno state, says the union is partnering with the government and other stakeholders to keep as many schools as possible open in and around the state capital.

“Our state governor has formed a high-powered committee” which includes representatives of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, principals and other stakeholders,” he says. “Out of about 1,000 primary schools, now 400 in Maiduguri and outskirts are running. It is so encouraging because now in schools, teachers are performing their jobs,” he says.

Adamu Wakawa, principal of Government Girls College in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital,  leads a school that also serves as a camp for internally-displaced people. “Managing students and displaced persons is the greatest challenge that we are now facing,” he told the Nigeria Union of Teachers. “As far as I’m concerned, together with the government, effort is being made to see that students do not lose.”

In addition to raising awareness about political violence as a workplace health and safety issue for front-line workers, Abiso, who also serves as vice chairman of the Nigeria Labor Congress for Borno State Council, says the union has opened a door to conversations linking civil society with government, and is a member of key committees considering policy on resettlement of those displaced. Union leaders also are planning for opportunities for youth when the conflict ends.

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