For the first time ever, education trade unions in Niger have called for a national strike to demand the integration of contract teachers into the civil service, and the payment of wage arrears.
On 28 November, the Convergence pour une action unitaire des syndicats de l’éducation au Niger(CAUSE-Niger) and the Syndicat national des agents contractuels et fonctionnaires de l’éducation de base(SYNACEB), displaying total teaching union unity in Niger, called for a march authorised by all major cities and districts on 6 December. They also called for a 72-hour strike that began on 7 December, which 5 national Education International (EI) affiliates will be taking part in. The latter, with around forty other unions, are demanding that the government fulfil its commitments.
The call is supported by all of the central trade union groups in Niger. The National Committee for social dialogue, the Parents and Teachers Association, The Christian Association of Niger and the Muslim Association of Niger intend to meet with the federal public authorities to make proposals supporting the teachers, followed by a statement of the civil society of Niger, on 4 December, also in support of the teachers.
Education Minister Daouda Marthé already announced on 8 December that the government “will start paying salary arrears for September and October as of next week, and finish paying all salary arrears by the end of December so contractual teachers can start their work in January 2017 with good conditions.”
SNEN: economic reasons invoked by government rejected
Eighty percent of primary and secondary education teachers work on a contract basis, reminded the Syndicat National des Enseignants du Niger (SNEN) General Secretary and CAUSE-Niger coordinator Issoufou Arzika Nanaijé.
All of the education unions are primarily demanding the payment of wage arrears, as some teachers still have not been paid since August 2016.
“The education sector has had to absorb the impact of the country's economic crisis,” said Arzika Nanaijé. The government says that the arrears will increase the payroll, which is prohibited by the International Monetary Fund and other international donor organizations, he explained, adding that even should there not be enough money, “the impact of the economic crisis must be shared by all in Niger, and not borne only by teachers”.
Despite the intimidation and the public authorities' threats to terminate the teachers' contract, the latter remain highly mobilized, added Arzika Nanaijé. He expects the strike to be held up by a large number of teachers, and believes that it worries the public authorities: “We can expect up to 50,000 closed classrooms”.
SNEB: against the politicisation of education
The Syndicat National des Enseignants de Base(SNEB) General Secretary and other CAUSE-Niger coordinator Alio Hassane Samna, wished to thank EI, its regional office for Africa and the Swedish Lärarförbundet for having made this possible, as “the core of teacher union unity has grown today”.
He stated that the country is lagging behind as regards the number of teachers in civil service. The government has not fulfilled its commitment to hire 4,220 primary school teachers in the civil service per year in 2012, 2013 and 2014. To date, 476 teachers have yet to be recruited in order to reach the promised number. The government also stated that it cannot and will not hire teachers in the civil service for 2015 and 2016.
Hassane Samna also denounced a “discriminatory civil service”. For the time being, teachers have less favourable wage scales than other civil servants. The government had promised a special wage scale for teachers, before arguing the fact that international organisations prohibit the creation and implementation of such a revised scale for teachers. Compensation is neither paid nor regularised, he noted.
He also argued that at a time when the government is appointing advisors to the position of minister and increased the number of MPs from 113 to 171, “it is intolerable that we cannot be paid”.
Some areas have a major shortage of teachers due to the increasing politicisation of education, Hassane Samna observed, before concluding that: “We demand to be paid and to obtain the minimum decent conditions for teaching and ensuring that our students receive a proper education”.