Teachers in French community schools across Belgium have taken strike action on 5 May. This is the first time in 15 years that francophone unions which are members of Belgium’s CSC and CGSP union confederations have taken joint industrial action. Their grievances include inadequate investment in the country’s French community schools and plans to increase teachers’ retirement age, as well as curbs to their conditions of service.
After a failed attempt to negotiate with the French Community Government in April, the confederations condemned the decision to increase the retirement age of teachers from 55 to 58, because it means that instead of stopping work at 55, they will be made to work part-time until they reach 58. During this time they will also face a salary cut that will take them from 65 per cent of normal pay to 50 per cent.
The confederations also claim that the 30 million euro budget which has been allocated to education by the French Community Government is inadequate, especially to support under-achieving students. The confederations state that this fails to guarantee the principle of a quality public education for all.
Other demands that the union confederations have raised concerns about include teachers’ salaries, sickness leave cover, and health and safety conditions within schools.
Eugène Ernst, General Secretary of CSC-Enseignement, said: “Teachers are a bit like raw materials: the more we are exploited, the scarcer we become. If the government’s claims that being a teacher is so cool, why are there fewer candidates applying to teach every year? Why are so many young people, and even experienced teachers, wanting to stop teaching? We have a chance of attracting young people to the profession, but we are missing it with these policies.”