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).
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 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.
Hundreds of union leaders and members, including at least 250 teachers, have fled Burundi while dozens more have been jailed, as the east African country roils in widespread violence. In October, a journalist and his family were shot dead at their home by security forces, according to the International Federation of Journalists. Broadcast media workers also were attacked with heavy weapons in May.
“I was part of a teacher’s union and because I was helping teachers fight for their rights, I was seen as an opponent,” according to one teacher, now in internal exile in the country’s Makamba Province. “A friend in the police told me that I was on the ‘list’ to be arrested so I had to flee.”
The refugee’s story is among those collected in a Refugee International report which found that Burundians were threatened by police due to their membership in civil society organizations perceived not to be supportive of the government, such as human rights organizations and unions.
Unions and their members also are being targeted in other ways. For instance, the Syndicat des Travailleurs de l’Enseignement du Burundi (STEB), which represents teachers, reports that its bank account was ordered closed last week.
Over the weekend, 87 people were killed. Since April, some 220,000 people have fled Burundi and 15,000 people have been displaced within the country. The violence stems from protests that began after President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term.
The United Nations Human Rights Council approved a resolution yesterday calling for the quick deployment of experts to Burundi to look into abuses amid the growing violence. The UN high commissioner for human rights has called on Burundi’s leaders to disarm pro-government militias, halt torture and resume political dialogue, saying that sanctions, asset freezes and travel bans should be imposed on those responsible for abuses.
Leaders of the Bahrain Teachers Association were awarded the 2015 Arthur Svensson Prize for Trade Union Rights this week. The international honor recognizes Mahdi Abu Dheeb and Jalila al-Salman for “their encouragement of strike actions among teachers despite the personal risks they faced, including imprisonment and torture.”
Abu Dheeb, association president, was arrested in 2011 and sentenced to five years in prison. Charges against him included calling for a teachers’ strike. His health is deteriorating, and he is not receiving essential medical aid, according to the foundation.
Al-Salman, now acting union president, was arrested three times for exercising her right to freedom of assembly, for demanding reforms in Bahrain’s educational system and for protesting the killing and suppression of protesters, many of whom were students. Since her release from prison in November 2012, she has been banned from employment and her freedom of speech is restricted.
The Svensson Prize, established by the Norwegian union, Industri Energi, in 2010, is awarded annually to a person or organization that has worked predominately to promote trade union rights and/or strengthen trade union organizations. The announcement occurred as activists and unions around the world participated in a global day of action to support the right to strike.
Napoléon Gómez Urrutia, general secretary of Los Mineros, the National Miners’ and Metalworkers’ Union of Mexico (SNTMMSRM) received the prize in 2014, and Valentin Urusov, the Russian electrician and trade unionist unjustly imprisoned for years in a Siberian penal colony, received it in 2013.