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Nepal: Education union fights for private teachers and education staff unpaid or dismissed during pandemic

In Nepal, the Sansthagat Vidyalaya Schickshak Union Nepal (ISTU) has issued demands to the government, highlighting how the COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to new challenges for teachers and education staff in the private sector, and how to respond to them.

On 20 September, the ISTU called for the payment of private teachers and education staff, the reinstatement of dismissed teachers, and increased investment in education. The union made its demands at a press conference which received widespread coverage in the media.  
 
“COVID-19 has adversely affected the education sector, as well as other sectors of the country,” said noted Hom Kumar Thapa, President of ISTU. “Institutional (privately funded) schools are not immune from this impact.” 
 
The ISTU is a national-level union created to promote quality education, the professional rights and duties of teachers and staff working from early childhood education (ECE) to secondary level in institutional – private - schools. It is affiliated with the Confederation of Nepalese Teachers (CNT), Education International, and the SAARC Teachers’ Federation (STF).          
 
Private teachers and education staff not paid for months
 
In Nepal, private schools have not paid teachers and educational staff since January. 
 
Hom Kumar Thapa added that the government has failed to provide adequate support to the teachers in the private schools, while the private school owners are evading their responsibilities by saying that they cannot pay salaries to the teachers and education staff because schools have to pay building rents and instalments on the school vehicles. “Either the teaching staff must be paid immediately, or the government should nationalise all the private schools,” he said.                  
 
Salaries not included in budget
 
However, the federal government’s budget and the guidelines for 1 June and 2 September do not mention anything about the salary allowance of teachers and staff working in private schools. Thapa said the government has ignored the teachers and education staff’s issues by stating in Article 30 of the Student Learning Facilitation Guideline that “school fees will be subject to the prevailing law as approved by the local level”.
 
He underlined that that “teachers and educational staff do not have money to buy food and clothes, and the government and school administrators are not paying attention to that pressing issue”. 
Increasing numbers dismissed
 
The ISTU President also condemned the fact that schools have been dismissing more educators - over 3,000 teachers and education staff have been dismissed across the country. Most of those dismissed were ECE teachers, contract teachers, part-time teachers, and school staff. Permanent teachers have been dismissed as well. 
 
ISTU’s demands
 
ISTU therefore demands that:
A way must be found to collect students’ tuition fees through advice, communication, and discussion with the parents. 
Private schools which have not paid the salaries of teachers must pay their salaries within seven days.
Dismissed teachers and education staff must be reinstated unconditionally, and their due salaries paid.
The data of all private schools, teachers, and education staff should be managed by the Education and Human Resource Development Center.
ISTU should be represented on all government bodies’ working groups, discussions, negotiations, communication, etc. in relation to private schools.
Private educational institutions should be monitored, regulated and become service-oriented. This would increase the government's investment in education as mentioned in the constitution. 
Enrolment in a contribution-based social security fund should be made mandatory for schools, teachers, and education staff.
All agreements reached with the Ministry of Education and the CNT must be implemented. 
 
Further actions planned
 
The Nepalese education union plans to:  
Send an ultimatum letter to the Human Resource Development Center and Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and the Ministry of Labour by 27-29 September.
Send an ultimatum letter to the Ministry of Social Development in each province.
Hold a one-day sit-in at local level on 1 October.
Hold protest rallies in major cities across the country on 4 October and local meetings will be held, provided they are not prevented by the COVID-19 outbreak. 
 
Education International’s COVID-19 Solidarity Fund
 
The 20 September press conference and the other planned activities are part of an action framework financed via Education International’s COVID-19 Solidarity Fund. This arose out of a notification to Education International by ISTU about the non-payment of teacher salaries by some private school employers, the psychological impact of the lockdown on students, and the challenges of online teaching.
 
Education International is using part of the fund to help ISTU survey and train educators in the seven Nepalese provinces, and lead a publicity/media campaign.