Education unions start series of action days, what’s going on?


May 6, 2024
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Three of the four teaching unions are planning a series of actions from Tuesday to protest against plans for radical reform of the teaching profession. What is going on?

The education unions ACOD Education, COC and VSOA Education plan five days of action from Tuesday to express their dissatisfaction with the report of the Commission of the Wise, with Antwerp as the first stop. They want to send a signal before the elections that they do not agree with the reforms proposed in the report.

What’s the problem?

Flemish Minister of Education Ben Weyts (N-VA) ordered a report at the end of 2022 from a Committee of Wise Men led by former OECD education expert Dirk Van Damme. That report had to focus on a future HR policy in education that would put an end to the teacher shortage and the decline in the quality of education. That report was presented at the end of December and was immediately met with loud protests from the trade unions.

They fear that the new measures will lead to favoritism and a higher workload. Among other things, the proposal to introduce a 38-hour week – instead of working with an assignment of, for example, 20 lesson hours – is very sensitive. The unions fear that a 38-hour week sounds nice, but that there are no guarantees that teachers will actually only have to work 38 hours. “We want clear boundaries, not only for teaching hours, but also for the other tasks that a teacher has to perform, such as supervision and substitutions,” says Koen Van Kerkhoven of COC.

It is better to inform the politicians now than for them to say afterwards that they knew nothing.

The abolition of certificates of competence has also met with criticism. Anyone who wants to teach now must have the right diploma and have completed teacher training. From now on, the committee only wants to impose a minimum qualification level and give school managements more freedom in who they want to hire. According to the unions, this will not only lead to a loss of quality, but also give school managements too much power, with a risk of arbitrariness and favoritism.

Other sticking points are the abolition of the permanent appointment of directors – ‘who risk becoming a puppet of the school board’ – and the discouragement of part-time work by abolishing certain leave systems. ‘Many people now work part-time in education because they cannot handle a full-time job,’ says Van Kerkhoven. ‘We must first guarantee that their assignment is feasible.’

Where are actions planned?

The first demonstration will take place in Antwerp on Tuesday. According to the Christian Education Center (COC), more than 2,000 demonstrators are expected. This mainly concerns teachers, but also staff from student guidance centers and learning support centers.

After Antwerp, actions will follow in Ostend, on Wednesday, May 8 at 10 a.m. on Sint-Petrus-en-Paulusplein, and Leuven, on Monday, May 13 at 10 a.m. on Martelarenplein. On Tuesday, May 14 at 1 p.m. there will be a demonstration on the Molenpoortplein in Hasselt, and on Wednesday, May 15 at 10 a.m. in the Citadelpark in Ghent.

What are the consequences of the actions?

According to the COC, the consequences for education in Antwerp are significant on Tuesday. ‘Some schools will organize emergency accommodation, while others will be forced to switch to full distance learning due to the lack of teaching staff.’ It is unclear exactly how great the nuisance will be. Teachers who want to participate in the protests do not have to report this in advance. Both the umbrella organizations and the individual school groups are therefore sailing blind.

Why are the unions taking to the streets now?

After the publication of the report at the end of December, the unions first consulted their members. At the same time, a series of hearings took place in the Education Committee of the Flemish Parliament, in which the experts, the umbrella organizations and the trade unions were heard. According to the unions, the time has come to make their voices heard loudly on the streets, to provide a warning shot for the June 9 elections. “It is better to inform the politicians now than for them to say afterwards that they knew nothing about it,” says Van Kerkhoven. “If we react now, they will say we are too early, but if we react after the elections, we will be too late.”

The fourth education union, COV, is not participating in the actions for the time being. He insists on social dialogue. “After consultation with our members, the COV has decided not to take action against one report from one committee,” says general secretary Marianne Coopman. ‘But if there is no proper social consultation in the next legislature, we do not rule out actions.’

The article is in Dutch


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