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Education unions rally members to strike over pay and working conditions
Citing their dissatisfaction with salaries and government support, trade unions representing French-speaking teachers and educational operations staff in Belgium announced that their members would strike on Thursday and participate in a demonstration in central Brussels.
The march, which will start at 11.00 on 10 February in front of the headquarters of the government of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, Place Surlet de Chokier, will be attended by unhappy staff working from all levels of the Belgian education system, from nursery to higher education and university education. Such a mobilisation is exceptional; the last one took place 11 years ago.
Meetings held last week revealed an education sector that is fed up with the conditions it is forced to work in due to the health crisis, the under-appreciation it suffers and the “peanuts” that it is offered in pay negotiations with the government, according to Roland Lahaye, secretary general of the CSC Education union. Educational staff demand concrete actions, he said.
"We have been told for almost two years now that education in society is essential, that we must make it a priority,” Lahaye said. “Then, when we reach the end of the sectoral negotiations, we have a government that puts peanuts on the table. Where is the recognition in that?" Educational staff who expect, we are told, concrete actions.
Joseph Thonon, community president of the education wing of the CGSP union, said that the situation in schools would improve if the politicians stopped changing the health rules “every three days”, which "put parents, teachers and principals in difficulty."
In addition, Thonon said that the negotiations with the government over salaries must be concluded every two years, but the latest adjustment was currently eight months overdue. “What they propose now is to spread it out over four years, not two," he said.
The discussions focus on improving salaries and working conditions, but also measures within the education system that would cost nothing to implement. The government of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation is proposing to set up working groups to ease the impasse on these issues, but Roland Lahaye remains sceptical. "Even if the intention is laudable, we know that the danger of working groups is that they exist on paper, but as long as they are not convened, they do not exist," he said.
The CSC union also pointed out that the last increase in teachers' salaries (excluding indexation and the end-of-year bonus) was in 2010. Joseph Thonon revealed that due to the financial situation of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, bonuses for educational staff had long been smaller than those of other civil servants.
Additionally, there is a common grievance among the unions that their members are under increasing pressure in their work due to the shortage of teaching staff, which the CSC described as a “scourge.”
The CSC added that proposals have been made to improve the teaching profession in all its aspects and that the government has not understood the message. The demands include better working conditions, a campaign to improve the attractiveness of the profession and an increase in support to ensure that young people who choose this career path are able to stay in it for the long term.