Last week, 450 charter schools in the Valencia region of Spain threatened to close their doors, leaving 250,000 pupils on the streets. The reason: they can no longer pay their bills for basic, essential services such as electricity and water because they have not received any funding from the local authority for the last six months.
The Valencian Local Authority owes these schools around €50 million. Some centres have sent parents a bulletin warning of their imminent closure. In others, teachers have been asked to forfeit their Christmas bonuses or take a cut in salary to cover the salaries of other school workers, such as administration staff, cleaners and janitors.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. Schools in other autonomous regions, such as the Balearic Islands or Castile, are also suffering from financial difficulties because their local authorities have not paid them, either.
The main Valencian teaching unions, CCOO-PV, UGT-PV and FSES (regional branches of EI’s affiliates, FETE-UGT, FECCOO and STES) have called for a protest march on 26 January as a unanimous show of strength in view of the gravity of this situation.
On top of this, the UGT-PV is filing a lawsuit denouncing the misuse of public funds by the Valencian Local Authority ex-president, Francisco Camps, whom they blame for the region´s enormous debts. The trade union will base its arguments on those highlighted in the ongoing trials taking place elsewhere. In the Ukraine, Yulia Timoshenko has been condemned to seven years in prison for abuse of power and corruption. And in Iceland, its ex-head of state, Geir H. Haarde, stands accused of negligence in the banking collapse that the country suffered in October 2007.
In the meantime, trade unions and professional associations are immersed in negotiations over controversial labour reform laws currently under debate in Spain. The main topics are changes to contracts, collective bargaining or participation by private agencies in labour mediation. The previous reform approved in September introduced a new “learning contract” for young people up to the age of 33, requiring only 25% of training time, that does not state who is going to be taught and how. Moreover, it removed the limits on renewal of temporary contracts established in 2006.
Up until now, there has been little agreement between the parties involved. Faced with this situation, the recently appointed Conservative Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has implied that he will pass a unilateral labour reform law by Friday. However, he has disclosed little or nothing about the content of such measures.
EI has joined the Spanish education unions to support their defence of quality education and to protest against the loss of trade union rights brought on by the economic crisis.