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Burundi: Striking teachers urge the government to pay wages

published 21 April 2010 updated 21 April 2010

Teachers in Burundi have gone out on strike in protest at the government’s non-payment of two years worth of wages totalling US$43 million.

In a letter to Education International’s General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, the President of Syndicat des travailleurs de l’enseignement du Burundi (STEB), Eulalie Nibizi, explained that 42,000 teachers in Burundi have been on strike since 8 March, 2010. STEB members have been joined by others from the National Council for Personnel in Secondary Education, and the Free Trade Union for Burundi Teachers.

The dispute revolves around an agreement signed between the trade unions and government in July 2002 which was meant to improve the working and living conditions of Burundi’s teachers.

However, in attempting to renege on that agreement, the President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, has called on striking primary and secondary school teachers to end their action, saying that they should accept the difficult economic reality. He has also warned striking teachers that they will not be paid while they remain out on strike.

Despite this pressure, EI’s affiliate member, STEB, has reaffirmed that strike action will continue and has expressed its regret that earlier attempts at arbitration were ignored by the public authorities.

Denouncing the government’s stance, STEB President Eulalie Nibizi said: “Unilateral impositions by the Government of Burundi are not a strategy for conflict resolution. Punitive measures and use of intimidation are not acceptable either, especially when it is the Government that has reneged on negotiated agreements.”

“Having realised that teachers will not accept being burdened with the cost of the public authorities’ mismanagement of national budgets, the Government of Burundi is now attempting to impose a new General Status for Civil Servants. The idea behind this is to bundle together the distinct issues of teachers with those faced by the wider community of civil servants.”

“The Government is also trying to undermine trade unions by expecting us to meet unacceptable conditions, such as setting-up new membership lists and agreeing to government interference in our core organisational functions. At the same time, the Government has created and funded puppet unions whose purpose is to prevent any positive resolution to negotiations by sending contradictory messages that destabilise negotiations.”

Nibizi pointed to Article 40 of Burundi’s current General Status for Civil Servants which stipulates that a ‘salary is the financial counterpart for work done, which is given to civil servants on a monthly basis. It includes the basic salary and, where the case arises, any allowances and indemnities.’

Despite this, the Government of Burundi has extended the length of the school year without paying appropriate salaries.

EI sends its full support and solidarity to the teachers of Burundi in their struggle to protect trade union rights and demands that the authorities comply with fair national and international labour standards.