The General Secretary of EI, Fred van Leeuwen, sent a letter of protest to the President of Benin, denouncing “the way in which the government of Benin has been disregarding trade unions and their members rights for some months now.” He also sent a letter of support directly from EI to the member unions in Benin.
Kindergarten, primary and secondary school teachers have been on strike in this West African country since 24 January to demand in particular the indexed salary increases agreed between the government and the labour federations for all public sector employees.
“Verified information in our possession shows that you and your government have opted for threats, intimidation, and repression against several thousand teachers and teacher trade unionists, in disregard for the law and the pertinent international treaties that your country has signed or ratified freely,” Van Leeuwen wrote.
Brutal government measures
The government tried to break the strike by announcing the systematic removal from the civil service of any transferred and contracted teachers who continued to strike. It also announced that it was suspending the transfer formalities underway for former community teachers, followed by the removal of the parties concerned from the civil service. They were also suspended from their duties and then all officials were removed systematically from exercising functions of authority. Permanent State employees were alleged to be guilty of dereliction of duty.
Deploring the context of extreme brutality against the teachers on strike, whose sole crime was their attempts to defend their rights, as recognised by the laws and regulations of Benin and the international legal instruments ratified by the country, van Leeuwen declared: “In acting this way, you and your government ignores the fact that the right to education is a fundamental human right and that trade union rights are essential for the expression of freedom and democracy.”
Indispensable social dialogue
Van Leeuwen added that “EI calls for the immediate resumption of dialogue with the trade unions representing the teaching profession to find a way out of the current crisis and to proceed to prepare through a process of consultation a ‘National Action Plan’ by all education stakeholders, which has to be presented by Benin to the Global Partnership for Education. EI regrets that the involvement of teachers’ trade unions in the local education group planned by the partnership is being impeded in Benin.”
The EI regional coordinator, Samuel Ngoua Ngou, declared: “It is incomprehensible that the Government does not want to commit itself firmly in favour of quality education, which stands as a guarantee for the success of the economic and social emergence of Benin. This country, like many African nations, must invest in schools and quality staff to run them, in order to achieve the Education for All goals by 2015.”
Strike suspended to hold negotiations
Reiterating that the trade unions had given assurances of good will to avoid being responsible for a “lost year”, Ngoua Ngou pointed out that, on 27 March, they called for a return to the classrooms as of the next day, and to a suspension of the strike until 25 April, the final deadline given to the government to meet the following conditions:
- Moral redress for the insults, violence and arrests to which teachers had been subjected
- An end to threats of withholding salaries, dismissals and other forms of reprisals
- frank and candid negotiations
The EI General Secretary’s letter can be read in full here(in French).
The EI letter of support to our Benin colleagues is available here(in French).