In 1945, the Persatuan Guru Republik Indonesia (PGRI - "Teachers' Association of the Republic of Indonesia") was established as a teachers' trade union.
When President Suharto came to power in 1968, the PGRI was weakened from a trade union to a professional organisation. For 32 years, PGRI was a submissive, government-dependent and non-democratic organisation headed by bureaucrats from educational departments at all levels.
Membership in the PGRI and dues payment were compulsory for the 1.7 million teachers across Indonesia. The organisation no longer played an effective role as a union dedicated to promoting the welfare and status of teachers. Members' salaries were very low and a number of compulsory deductions were made. Furthermore, teachers often did not receive their salaries on time.
One year after the fall of Suharto in 1997, the PGRI Congress decided to rebuild the PGRI as a teachers' trade union promoting both the professional rights and economic welfare of teachers. The congress decided that in order to bring about the necessary changes, it would request assistance from Education International.
In 1999, EI put together a consortium consisting of Lärarförbundet (Sweden), Utdanningsförbundet (Norway), Japan Teachers' Union (Japan), Australian Education Union (Australia) and National Education Association (USA). Together, they agreed to cooperate with PGRI to become an independent, democratic and effective teachers' organisation.
A pilot project was initiated in two provinces in 2000, and within seven years gradually increased to 26 out of 33 provinces. The programme is ongoing in all 26 provinces.
The programme mainly targets provincial and district level leaders. As of 2007, more than 5800 leaders, 46% of whom were women, received training in a series of seminars and workshops. The activities initially covered the problems faced by the 350 district branches when education was decentralized in 2001. The project also covered topics on trade unionism, leadership, empowering women, capacity building, training of trainers, improving organisational and financial aspects, and improving skills in editorial work and quality of education.
A meeting is held annually to evaluate and plan for each subsequent year with representatives from the five cooperating organisations. As a result of the project, significant changes can be observed:
Most of the bureaucrats who were leaders of the organisation at all levels have been replaced by teachers.
At all levels the leadership is becoming pro-active in promoting human and trade union rights and making serious efforts to improve the quality of education.
PGRI was able to remove a mayor who was against teachers being pro-active and demanding their rights.
Since 2006, PGRI has been demanding the implementation of a clause within the constitution of Indonesia that requires 20% of the national budget to be allocated to education. The PGRI mobilized and campaigned actively to achieve this. In the past, the government allocated only about 9% of the budget to education. However, funding was increased to 12% in 2007 after PGRI took the government to the Constitutional Court and was twice successful in obtaining a positive result. PGRI is continuing its campaign to get the court award implemented. PGRI also held many rallies and demonstrations when their demands were not met.
More teachers are involved in the Global Campaign for Education and World Teachers' Day, and more than 15,000 teachers celebrated PGRI's 62nd anniversary in Pekanbaru on 25 November 2007.
More women are now in the leadership of PGRI at all levels and Dr. Anah Suhaenah Suparno was elected as a member of EI Asia Pacific Regional Committee at the Regional Conference in 2006.
PGRI is now playing an active role in the labour movement in Indonesia especially in the Indonesian trade union congress KSPI, where the Secretary General is from the National Board of PGRI.
PGRI has been campaigning to get 400,000 temporary teachers confirmed as permanent government-employed teachers.
As there is no more salary deduction allowed, dues payment is now done voluntarily. Because of the many obstacles and problems faced, there is more to be done to improve the financial situation of PGRI.
Thanks to the cooperation between PGRI and the consortium, PGRI is developing into a strong, democratic and sustainable teachers' union. All consortium partners have contributed to the success of the project which has been achieved so far through their continued efforts and commitment.