Education International
Education International

Netherlands: Dutch Educators are “tired”

published 30 January 2012 updated 1 February 2012

Nearly 22,000 Dutch secondary school teachers joined in a successful strike called by one of EI’s national affiliates, the Algemene Onderwijsbond (AOb), on 26 January. This strike opposed the latest government Bill imposing new additional classroom hours for students.

AOb said the turnout was much larger than expected, teachers gathering under the motto: “We're tired!” Nearly 200 secondary schools were closed as a result of the action.

The previous week, ABVA-KABO, the union for civil servants, which includes education support staff as well as some teachers among its membership, and EI’s other affiliate in the Netherlands, CNV Onderwijs, also decided to participate in the action in response to their members’ concerns. A delegation from the German union and EI affiliate, the Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft (GEW), was present to support its Dutch colleagues.

The reason for the strike is a Government Bill presented in the Dutch parliament concerning the number of hours for which students have to be taught which, AOb believes, is badly conceived. To get the Bill passed, the Dutch Education Minister, Marja Van Bijsterveldt, is only tackling the number of teaching hours, even though schools are not able to offer a higher number of teaching hours, because of the lack of teachers. The strike is aimed at influencing the law-making process at parliamentary level.

Half-way measures

When schools had been obliged previously to offer more hours, they could only resort to half-way measures, e.g. classes without qualified teachers, or where class periods where students had to work unsupervised. This situation led to huge student protests about the quality of these “educational” hours. The AOb supported the students’ complaints.

The teachers, however, are not just striking because of the Bill, but also because of their long-time frustration about their extensive workload, and the way the Education Minister is treating them.

Educators also criticised the salary freeze implemented by the government, which has prevented salary increases for several years, and protested against severe cuts in the budget dedicated to inclusive education. Many special education teachers will lose their jobs, and the remaining ‘regular’ teachers will have to cope with larger numbers of students with learning difficulties and behavioural problems, without extra-training or support.

Performance pay

Dutch education authorities are also keen to impose performance pay on educators, even if they cannot establish a clear link between performance pay and improved educational quality.

In his closing speech to 20,000 demonstrators gathered at the Utrecht Convention Centre, Walter Dresscher, AOb President and Treasurer of the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), said: “According to Minister van Bijsterveldt, there is ‘great uncertainty’ about the Bill on classroom hours. On the contrary, I believe there is no ambiguity about it. This Bill represents an attack by the Minister on the collective agreement. The set standard of 1,040 hours is unattainable, and we agreed on 1,000. That you came in such great numbers shows that the Minister is totally wrong. This Bill has an unrealistic aim and is frustrating a solution to the high workload issue in education.”

Dresscher also announced actions to follow. “We will seize the opportunity to talk about quality education at the parliamentary hearings in the Senate and the House of Representatives on the Bill on school hours,” he said.

EI supports its Dutch affiliate in its struggle to improve educators’ working conditions, in order to help them to provide students with quality education. It urges the Education Minister to respect workers’ collective bargaining rights, and engage in genuine negotiations with the educators’ unions.

AOb video shot in Utrecht: