The five most representative education unions in the Democratic Republic of Congo have put out a joint appeal for strike action to take place between November 5 and November 12, with clear support from educators, to express the high level of dissatisfaction of the county’s teachers.
A trade union front acting together and mobilising its members
The Centrale de l’Education Nationale et de la Recherche Scientifique (CSC-Enseignement), the Fédération nationale des enseignants du Congo and the Syndicat des enseignants du Congo (SYECO), all affiliated to Education International (IE), along with the Syndicat national des enseignants des écoles catholiques (SYNECAT) and the Syndicat des enseignants du secondaire (SYES), which together cover a large part of the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), have consulted with their officers to agree on the date of the strike and its demands. The delay between the announcement of the strike, on October 15, and the starting date of the stoppage across the country, was chosen so as to effectively mobilise members.
This five-union consortium announced the unconditional suspension of teaching activities. The initial demand of the strike is compliance with the September 2, 2017 Protocol of Agreement signed by the government and the primary, secondary and professional education sectors.
A joint statement gives several other reasons for the stoppage:
· The non-payment of 120,000 Congolese francs (approximately US$76) per teacher (from August 2017 to the present day)
· The non-payment of 248,033 teachers
· The non-payment of 400 million francs in arrears between August and September 2017 owed to the Mutuelle de Santé des Enseignants (teachers’ health care social security scheme).
Many teachers, even though they are, technically, public employees, have not been paid for years. Negotiations took place in 2017 but there was a delay in the implementation of the agreement, which was put into force in some locations but not others. For example, in the capital Kinshasa, teachers have not yet obtained anything concrete.
A large general assembly is planned for 6 November in Kinshasa, one day after the beginning of the strike on 5 November. The assembly is expected to rally support for the strike and take action.
Extensive mobilisation expected
The mobilisation is expected to be extensive, with 40,000 teachers from Kinshasa on the front-line of the strike. Unions are, of course, open and ready to negotiate with the authorities, but not under any conditions. The motivated union base will not be satisfied with another minimal agreement. NGOs working in the field of education or human rights will be kept informed and called upon to support the demands.
The general public is supportive of the strike, especially parents who have to pay large sums up front for their children’s education. Support has also been received from a group of church pastors.
"We are determined to rise to this challenge", said FENECO General Secretary, Augustin Tumba Nzuji, summing up the strong commitment of the unions.
For SYECO’s General Secretary, Cécile Tshiyombo, this combined trade union action makes complete sense, because "We can do nothing alone. We must come together, if only to give each other moral support."
She added that "teachers must become fully-fledged state employees and be paid". Tshiyombo also deplored the fact that a teacher can never retire and is expected to carry on teaching into their 80s: "Congolese teachers can no longer be ignored!"