Education trade unions representing state-subsidised private education in France have made history by uniting to put forward their demands and call for “decent and peaceful working conditions for all employees”, as “a matter of survival and dignity”.
In January 2019, an interunion association, formed from seven out of the ten unions representing private sector teachers, was set up following the formation of a teachers’ collective calling themselves the “Red Pens”.
These unions, upon realising that a number of colleagues were ready to take action, pointed out that some of the demands made by these “Red pens” were exactly what they themselves had been calling for, for a very long time.
These demands include:
- Immediate salary increases;
- Refusal to accept a second hour of compulsory overtime;
- Better working conditions (smaller class sizes, creation of much-needed positions, recognition of teachers’ workloads);
- Equal treatment for primary and secondary teachers;
- An end to job insecurity (new tenure plan for insecure jobs); and
- The cessation of any reforms underway that entail job losses and fail to take account of teachers’ views.
Private sector teaching unions do not want additional overtime forced on them, nor do they want more students or classes, as they believe that “pupils in primary and in lower and upper secondary education are at the heart of their concerns and deserve to have more time dedicated to them”. They are demanding “decent and peaceful working conditions for all employees”, and “teaching and learning conditions that respect every pupil’s needs”.
For these unions, “Education must be a Government priority: it will be the base on which the world of tomorrow and its emancipation is built”.
Two meetings with the teachers’ line ministries took place in February. But, according to Bruno Lamour, the General Secretary of the Fédération Formation et Enseignement Privés – Confédération française démocratique du travail (FEP-CFDT), the talks that took place with the Ministry of Education were “very disappointing”, leading the interunion association to organize a day of strikes and action on 16 May.
While the initial demands were indeed presented on that day, Lamour added that “it was also about making the voices of private sector teachers heard, given they have been largely ignored since France changed its government in 2017”.
The 16 May was a success in terms of its preparation and the initiatives undertaken by the interunion association in the academies:
- As is the case at the national level, the unions in the field are not especially used to working together, which is why this union is historic. The CFDT for example had not joined forces with the Confédération générale du travail (CGT) at the national level since 2015.
- There were gatherings throughout the country, including in the Overseas island territories such as Polynesia.
On the day, many teachers came out on strike and, on the instruction of the private sector interunion association, assembled in every academy.
In addition, the representatives of the seven trade unions were given an audience with the Ministry and were once again able to communicate teachers’ expectations, with the unions noting “a better reception during this meeting than during that which took place last February”.
In a statement published after their meeting at the ministry, they describe 16 May as “a mobilisation unprecedented in the private education sector that the Minister of Education cannot ignore”.
They nevertheless regret that “the responses they received on salary issues, job insecurity, working conditions and the effects of the reforms cannot be deemed satisfactory, especially given there is clearly a lack of familiarity, on the part of the Ministry, with how private schools with state-funded financial support work”.
Regarding the social dialogue between the Ministry and the representatives, they recognise that “commitments have been made in order to better connect them with the work undertaken at the Department of Education and of course with that directly affecting private sector workers”.
The member unions of the interunion association warn that “this will of course be assessed on the basis of what actions are taken. If promises are not kept, the interunion association, which will again be convened to assess the historic day of action, can without delay affirm that this would be a casus belli.”
Future actions have yet to be validated by the interunion association which is set to hold another meeting shortly.
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