The Council of Pacific Education, an Education International-affiliated umbrella body of teacher organisations in the Pacific, has released the latest issue of its journal, highlighting the wide-ranging work undertaken last year by education unions.
Pacific teacher unions have been actively engaged in advocacy and training across the region. That’s according to the latest journal from the Council of Pacific Education (COPE). “The publication includes reports, activities and issues from 17 affiliates in 11 countries,” said COPE Secretary General Govind Singh.
He highlighted key conferences in the region:
- The 2016 Youth Conference, which included training programmes on leadership, organising and campaigns, centred on the theme, “Trade Union Training on Creating Strong, Democratic and Independent Unions”
- The 2016 COPE Triennial Conference, whose theme was “The Role of Pacific Teacher Organisations towards the 2030 Education Agenda and Framework: A New Vision for Education”. The event was designed to build knowledge and skills necessary for trade union work, and provided an opportunity to understand the socio-political, culturally distinct, slow economic growth and typical Pacific geographical challenges in which Pacific communities live
- The COPE conference also put particular emphasis on the COPE Women's Network, reviewing the focus, direction and strategy for women teacher unionists. The theme for the women’s conference was “Campaigning Together for Change and Justice”
Papua New Guinea
Among other countries and issues, the Journal of Pacific Teacher Unions reports that the Papua New Guinea Teachers’ Association (PNGTA) is confronted with challenges around tuition fee free education, with issues around disbursement of funds as well as the distribution of teaching and learning materials. While enrolment figures in urban schools have increased significantly, with a growing teacher-student ratio and a strained existing school infrastructure, teacher deployment in rural areas continues to be problematic, with incentives needed to attract teachers to these areas.
The PNGTA has resumed discussions with the Teaching Service Commission and negotiated progressive salary increases for its members within the 2017-2019 Wage Fixation Agreement. The union is also an active member of the Parliamentary Review Committee charged with reviewing teacher salaries and entitlements.
The PNGTA further lobbied the government to develop a comprehensive human resource development policy in the country and in education. It has also urged the government to attract and train more teachers and make the rural environment more conducive for teacher deployment.
In Fiji, 2015-2016 was another challenging year for teacher unions, as the Ministry of Education continued to initiate reforms without consulting with unions. The Fiji Teachers’ Union (FTU) drew the Minister for Public Service’s attention to the concerns regarding lack of consultation, and individual teacher complaints are now being pursued through the Employment Relations Tribunal.
The Employment Relations Promulgation (ERP), the national labour law, was amended by decree in 2010, eliminating the public sector unions from the ERP. This resulted in the abolition of teachers’ rights to seek compensation and to collective bargaining. After six years of struggle, spearheaded by the Fiji Trade Union Confederation, the International Trade Union Confederation and Education International (EI), the International Labour Organisation (ILO) intervened and facilitated an agreement between social partners that the amendments would be repealed to comply with the ILO Conventions 87 and 98.
The Fijian Teachers’ Association (FTA) is also facing increasing numbers of suspensions of affiliates and terminations of their contracts for inflicting corporal punishment. The union believes that the Education Ministry has been very harsh on teachers and reluctant to hear both sides in violence issues, often terminating teachers’ contracts and not paying salaries without proper investigation being conducted. The FTA has urged the relevant public authorities to follow properly instituted procedures.
In Kiribati, the Kiribati Union of Teachers (KUT) received assistance from COPE to carry out an outreach programme to three different islands. Site visits focused on updating members on current KUT issues and providing fundamental information, including terms and conditions of service and leave for teachers during school break.
COPE also carried out two workshops for KUT members on issue-based campaigns, ILO Conventions and their application for decent work in Kiribati, and the Sustainable Development Goals, and teacher union roles.
The KUT also made its first-ever attempt to provide social security to members, and FTU helped in setting up a credit union so that KUT members could find a collective way of helping each other to achieve sustainable living conditions.
Women and gender issues
COPE development programmes has increased women’s confidence, writes COPE Women Coordinator Hilda Takarobo in the COPE Women supplement. She is “deeply touched by the power of COPE to transform networks in some affiliates and it has helped women to stand up for their rights”.
She also pays tribute to the men who vigorously campaign for women’s rights. “For women to have dignity, we need the support of our brothers too,” she notes.
On gender violence, she insists that violence against women “is a serious matter” and statistics presented at the 2016 Women’s Network Conference are “most alarming”. She urged COPE and EI to do a lot more against gender violence in the Pacific.
The Journal of Pacific Teacher Unions can be read in its entirety here