A teacher union in Nepal called for a three-day hunger strike to demand that the Nepali government answer the trade union’s 11-point demand for improved terms and conditions of employment.
The Sansthagat Vidyalaya Schickshak Union of Nepal (Institutional School Teachers’ Union-ISTU), one of the three Education International (EI) member organisations in Nepal, initiated a number of different professional and trade union actions since its creation on 15th January, 2004.
As a result, it concluded an agreement on 2nd April, 2007, with the Education Ministry, in the presence of the other stake holders, including the private school owners’ umbrella organisation.The spirit of the agreement, however, has not been implemented. While teachers and non-teaching staff working in institutional private schools are increasingly aware of their trade union rights, little has actually been achieved. The few improvements in the agreement have not been implemented in private schools at all levels throughout the country.
The 8th amendment of the Education Act excluded private school teachers from under the single umbrella of the Confederation of Nepalese Teachers (CNT), stating that “there shall be a confederation of community school teachers for their professional rights”.
After the ISTU 4th General Convention held between the 30th April and 1st May, 2016, the education union launched a series of industrial and trade union actions, one of which was the relay hunger strike, held from 24th to 26th September.
ISTU policy and professional demands
The ISTU key demands are two-fold:
· At the policy level: all the private schools should be regulated under the same Act as Educational Trusts; either the Education Act should be amended so as to include ISTU in the CNT, or ISTU has to obtain a separate identity in the Education Act.
· At the professional level: the 25 percent salary increase planned in the budget of the fiscal year 2016/17 should be implemented for private school teachers and non- teaching staff; private school teachers should be given professional training: there should not be additional contracted services to those provided by the regular teachers and staff, except for post-school extra classes.
On the first day of the hunger relay strike, ten central committee members, led by ISTU President, Mukunda Gautam, participated. On the second day, ten other central committee members were led by ISTU Vice-President, Aruna Koirala. ISTU Senior Vice President, Hom Kumar Thapa, led ten other central committee members in the hunger relay strike on the third day. A number of other ISTU activists joined the strikers every day, without fasting.
Representatives from political parties, teacher organisations, trade union organisations of other professions, journalists and of the Education Ministry demonstrated solidarity by being physically present at Maitighar Mandala, the venue for the hunger strike in Kathmandu. Moral support and solidarity of teachers and people of other walks of life was demonstrated on social networks, in text messages, in emails, etc.
The Nepal Teachers' Association (NTA) and CNT President, Keshav Niraula, the Nepal National Teachers' Association (NNTA) President, Baburam Thapa, and the State Education Minister, Dhana Maya Bika, also displayed solidarity with the ISTU movement.
The relay hunger strike achieved the following goals:
· Stakeholders in private school education and teachers/non-teaching staffs in the private schools became aware of the ISTU demands in greater numbers than in the past, as the news of the strike was well covered by national daily newspapers, radio and national television.
· The action contributed to the trade union’s union capacity-building and expansion.
· The private schools’ umbrella organisation is willing to enter into a dialogue about the ISTU demands.
· The State Education Minister vowed to address the trade union demands at the policy level.
· The relay hunger strike has been seen as a stepping stone for the ISTU’s next series of actions.
EI: great display of teacher union solidarity towards quality education for all
“The EI Asia-Pacific regional office notes that ISTU has received support from sister organisations, including other EI Nepalese affiliates, the NNTA and the NTA, CNT as well as from representatives from political parties, trade union organisations, journalists, the Education Ministry, teachers and students during the relay strike,” said EI Chief Asia-Pacific Regional Coordinator, Shashi Bala Singh.
“This, indeed, shows a great level of solidarity demonstrated for the just demands of ISTU,” she stressed.
“It is clear”, she underlined,” that fulfilling ISTU demands on policy and at the professional level will have a positive impact in terms of education privatisation and commercialisation, by regulating private schools, forcing them to offer better salaries and conditions of service and security of tenure to private school teachers. And it will help provide quality education for all as a whole”, Singh said.
She went on to say that she was hopeful that ISTU demands would soon be met by the authorities concerned.