Cameroon: The government must respect the unions as partners in social dialogue
Faced with the rise of anarchic and disorganised teacher protest movements on social networks, Cameroon's education unions are stressing the urgency of holding social dialogue in good faith. They have asked the public authorities to respond as quickly as possible to the many teacher demands and to keep their promises.
Mounting demands and pressure on social networks as unions feel the strain
“We have recently seen the emergence on social media of a movement called “We have suffered too much” (‘On a trop souffert’ - OTS). It stems from the problems faced by young teachers who work for three even four years without pay, then for years more on only two thirds of their salary, without any of the various allowances” explained the General Secretary of the Fédération camerounaise des syndicats de l'Éducation (FECASE), Thobie Emanuel Mbassi Ondoa.
The OTS collective has called for an indefinite strike, demanding payment of all sums owed, which amount to nearly 200 billion CFA francs (about 305 million euros). Mbassi Ondoua noted that as time goes by, more demands are being added to the initial list. “It is a group without direction whose leaders do not know each other and communicate through Facebook. They refuse to give up their anonymity because, they say, they want to avoid the repression and corruption of those in power. So, they refuse to take part in any dialogue, since they want to remain anonymous, and simply demand an immediate and total solution. Of course, we have been reluctant to follow anonymous people who insist we must be with them or against them,” said the union leader. “Given that this movement has really mobilised teachers and opinion, we had to respond to the calls of our members, while not following the anonymous movement that launched an indefinite strike that will only end when all demands are met.”
Respecting the legal rules on union demands
In line with law and convention, the unions submitted a formal strike notice to the government on 21 February, which contained several points in common with the collective's demands. At the meeting with the Prime Minister on 1 March, the unions agreed on a phased settlement and another meeting was scheduled for 4 March to agree on the payment schedule.
On 3 March, the unions called on teachers to hold on to all administrative documents until the actual implementation of the measures at the end of the current month. Again, OTS told teachers to reject this offer. New demands were made, for new bonuses with unrealistic amounts. Now, not only must payment be made to match the initial demands, but also the new demands must be met before classes can resume.
A regime of administrative tolerance for trade unions
Roger Kaffo, General Secretary of the Syndicat national autonome de l'enseignement secondaire (SNAES) and Deputy General Secretary of the Fédération des syndicats de l'Enseignement et de la Recherche (FSER) - a member organisation of Education International and to which SNAES is affiliated, pointed out that “we have been without a law on trade unions for years. The unions participated in the elaboration of a text that was supposed to serve as a draft for this law, but this text never went before the National Assembly. Unions that had filed a declaration of existence were waiting for a receipt and did not receive one. We are therefore in a regime of administrative tolerance.”
He also said that it is the capacity of the unions to mobilise teachers that forces the authorities to give them de facto recognition and to come to the negotiating table.
Trade union demands
In their joint letter of 17 February to President Paul Biya, eleven teachers' unions, including Education International's national affiliates - FESER, FECASE and the Syndicat des travailleurs des établissements scolaires privés du Cameroun (SYNTESPRIC), warn that “over the past ten years, the living and working conditions of teachers have continued to deteriorate, reaching a point of intolerable degradation. Teachers, especially those at the grassroots and secondary levels, have had enough, they have already ‘put up with too much’.
They ask that a meeting be organised as soon as possible to examine and find appropriate solutions for their demands, which include:
- Immediate and total coverage of teachers’ salaries, both basic and secondary, as soon as they are recruited, and the settlement of the situation of those who have been struggling on two thirds of their salary, some of them for more than five years;
- The payment of the state's debt to teachers due to the systematic delay in the payment of allowances;
- The signing of the collective agreement for private education which has been ready for more than three years as well as a guarantee of respect by the supporters of private education of the law on the organisation and functioning of private education in Cameroon;
- The appointment of education leaders as deputy heads of department in the central administration; and
- The recruitment of trained, unemployed technical education teachers, while schools have been suffering from serious teacher shortages for years.
Support from the international education community
Education International's General Secretary, David Edwards, said, “Unions are the conveyors of legitimate claims and demands. They are the voice of the profession. They collect the grievances, organise them in such a way as to present coherent and realistic demands to the authorities. They respect laws and principles such as transparency and internal democracy. They must be recognised and respected as the natural negotiating partners of the authorities, in line with international conventions.”
Education International will continue to stand by its Cameroonian affiliates in their struggle for a quality education for all and for the defence of the status and working conditions of education personnel.