DUTCH teachers are on strike, demanding decent salaries and a normal workload, and urging the government to clearly and firmly address burn-out and a shortage in teachers in primary education.
The first regional strike of the planned Code Rood (Code Red) sequence was held in the provinces of Groningen, Friesland and Drente, in the Netherlands, on Wednesday, 14 February.
As reported by Education International (EI) affiliate, the Algemene Onderwijsbond (AOb), the current flu season supports the Front for primary education (PO-front) in staging the series of protest actions to reduce workload and increase salaries.
AOb commented: ‘It makes the shortage of teachers extremely visible in the Netherlands.
‘Since the beginning of February, schools report about their struggle to cope with the absence of their colleagues on sick leave. ‘Among other things, there are no teachers available for replacement, classes are sent home, retired teachers are begged to help out, education personnel employed on a part-time basis work extra days, school leaders teach the whole week and not-yet-too-sick continue teaching, even if they shouldn’t.’
Following earlier protest actions in June 2017, October 2017 and December 2017, the Dutch government started to take small steps. The Minister of Education, Arie Slob, decided at short notice to announce the budget publicly which he had planned to release in 2021. The budget is oriented towards measures to reduce the workload. The unions and employer organisations in the PO-front welcomed the decision. They see it as a first meaningful step.
‘Workload can only be reduced effectively when there are enough teachers, and in order to attract more people into the profession, only a substantial salary raise can help. Therefore, the announced series of strikes is to take place as planned,’ AOb added.
Susan Flocken, European Director of EI’s European region, the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), welcomed the agreement reached. She stressed: ‘It is high time for education authorities to seriously commit to quality education and improving the status of the teaching profession. ‘In times of demographic change, retaining and attracting highly qualified teachers into the profession is crucial.’
Indeed, the provision of quality education depends on decent salaries and working conditions for the retention of qualified professionals and the recruitment of young qualified teachers, she noted.
She concluded: ‘ETUCE supports AOb in this action and is convinced that this action will lead to meaningful and bigger steps forward for teachers in the Netherlands.’
• An international delegation of ITF railway unions has joined their French colleagues to discuss the next stage of the campaign to keep a single, integrated public company on France’s national rail system, the SNCF. The 20 trade unionists from Norway, Japan, the UK, Spain, Hungary and Belgium met with members of France’s CGT federation railways section in Paris on 8 February. Laurent Brun, the newly-elected general secretary of the CGT rail section, addressed the meeting and Øystein Aslaksen, chair of the ITF railways section, also took part.
Laurent Brun told the delegates: ‘The French government has failed to reduce the huge debt in the railway system. ‘It has already reduced the French rail network and is now trying to create an open market and reduce workers’ social protections as a solution to the debt.
‘We believe that the government intends to fully privatise the SNCF and create a new economic model. ‘The CGT can and will mobilise public service rail workers to protest against the government’s plans. We welcome the solidarity and support of the ITF’s family of railway unions.’
Since France’s freight market was opened up in May 2006, freight traffic has fallen by 30 per cent.
In 2006 the SNCF carried 40 billion tonne-kilometres (t.km); by 2017 the 15 rail companies between them carried only 28 billion t.km. This accounted for 10 per cent of the overall freight market in France, down from 20 per cent in 2000.
Aslaksen commented that the ITF stood by the CGT and its members, as part of its campaign for public transport based on public ownership, public investment, secure jobs and union rights for workers. Next month, the CGT will distribute 500,000 copies of a free newspaper to metro passengers across France to alert them to the planned reforms. It is also organising a national public demonstration on 22 March, after bad weather forced the cancellation of the one planned for 8 February.
Meanwhile, room cleaners and other outsourced workers at the Holiday Inn in Clichy, France ended their 111-day strike on February 8 by signing an agreement with the hotel’s subcontractor Héméra.
The agreement signed by the unions puts an end to piece rate payment of housekeepers, mandates strict control of agreed working hours, guarantees two consecutive days of rest per week, eliminates contracts of less than 130 hours monthly and stipulates payment for time changing in and out of work clothes, among other important gains.
In the course of their long fight, the Holiday Inn workers held protest rallies and demonstrations with union support in French and European cities targeting parent company Intercontinental and highlighting the exploitation and lack of rights which characterise outsourcing in the hospitality industry.
• Nearly 200 workers from the Nestlé-Galderma research centre near Nice in the south of France travelled overnight by bus to demonstrate in front of Nestlé headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland, on 9 February, says the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF). They came to protest at the announced closure of the research centre, Nestlé’s lack of transparency regarding plans for the site and the unacceptable settlement proposals on offer.
The demonstrators were supported by their union, the FCE-CFDT, by the FGA-CFDT, which represents Nestlé food workers in France, and by the Swiss trade union UNIA in addition to the IUF.
While the group shouted slogans, sang, chanted, marched and carried out flash mob actions, Nestlé and Galderma management agreed to meet a delegation comprising Galderma union delegates and IUF representatives.