One year later: Strengthening Teachers' trade unions in Africa
In 2006, EI in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), a German political foundation, launched a project on Strengthening the African Teachers Trade Union Movement.
This 3-year programme on capacity building features research, policy development and budget tracking. The programme, with its national, sub-regional and regional dimensions, is being implemented in three stages: in Anglophone countries in 2006, in Central Africa in 2007 and in East Africa in 2008.
The project started one year ago with a one-week training seminar on capacity building, held in Accra, Ghana, with teacher union leaders from Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Gambia.
The seminar focused mainly on trade union unity, research, policy development and analysis, information and communication technology and strategies aimed at enhancing leadership roles with a view to strengthening the unions and enabling them to respond effectively to changes in their sector of activity and the challenges to teachers and their unions.
With resource persons from trade unions and NGOs such as ActionAid International Ghana, participants tackled these issues through a pragmatic and participatory approach. A SWOT (strength, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis was undertaken and revealed that all unions face similar problems and issues. With the exception of the Sierra Leone Teachers Union and the Ghana National Association of Teachers, all unions lacked a collective bargaining certificate; there was inadequate knowledge of ICT among all the leaders; effective communication was a problem and a cross-cutting issue for all the unions.
The training therefore exposed the leaders to skills in communication, policy development, and the concept of evidence-based negotiation.
Today, one year later, the EI-FES training programme is bearing fruit. The communications skills of the union leaders have improved significantly. All of the participants are now computer literate. Union leaders have also begun reviewing their internal structures, making the unions more democratic and accountable to their membership. For example, in Liberia, a new, more democratic constitution has been approved by the union's congress. In Nigeria, the Nigeria Union of Teachers launched an organisation-wide renewal strategy by implementing an all-leadership training program aimed at developing new structures, skills and working methods in order to cope with the new demands from their members and society. The Secretary General of the Gambia Teachers Unions was appointed National Manager of the country's credit union cooperative after developing a viable teacher's credit union deemed to be the best in the country! The Sierra Leone Teachers' Union is now developing a union policy document and a Code of Ethics for its members. Now convinced of the importance of ICT, the union has put in place a computer network at its headquarters, and made internet access available to all its staff members.
In the course of the year, the unions have also started to rely on evidence-based negotiations. Research is currently being undertaken by all the unions, and the results are being channeled into policy development and advocacy.
Overall the first workshop has had a considerable impact on the unions involved. Thanks to both EI and FES for making possible this opportunity for development!