Trade unionist teachers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have called on the public authorities to respect a promise to pay “new units” teachers since April 2020.
Teachers categorised as “new units” in the public or state schools in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and whose salaries are not paid directly from the state budget, have been left without pay for the last number of months.
These “new unit” teachers are dying a slow death, according to Jacques Taty Mwakupemba, national coordinator of the Fédération nationale des enseignants du Congo (FENECO-UNTC).
This comes in the context of the closure of schools and educational institutions in the DRC due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All teachers have been on compulsory leave since DRC President Félix Tshisekedi declared a state of emergency in public health.
However, while the State has guaranteed that teachers paid from the public purse will be taken care of, this does not include the “new units” category of teachers.
These teachers were in line to benefit from the almost-complete integration of lists of “new units” into the State budget – a process overseen by the Minister of Primary, Secondary, and Technical Education, Willy Bakonga. As of 20 April, they could be paid the salaries that had been halted by the COVID-19 epidemic which deprived the DRC state of financial resources.
Pledge, but no disbursement, of funding
According to Mwakupemba, in March 2020 President Tshisekedi had obtained a firm pledge of about US$1 billion to invest in basic education. However, no disbursement has been made by the World Bank and the “new units” teachers in question continue to wait for their salaries.
And while the financing agreement approved on 15 June was signed on 24 June in Kinshasa, according to Mwakupemba, no-one at local expert level is sure the disbursement plan will be respected. This was even remarked on by President Tshisekedi in his speech to the nation on 30 June, he added.
Mwakupemba also highlighted that, under the terms of Order No. 91-232, salaries are a right: “No teachers may be deprived of their salary if they have not been placed in a position where they have been forbidden from serving or if they have not ceased their services permanently.” He added that “education is an important pillar in the Human Development Index, and staff working in that field must be treated with dignity”.
While acknowledging that the current crisis linked to the COVID-19 pandemic had had a significant impact on the economic environment, he emphasised that it is important for the government to anticipate the creation of other internal mechanisms that can bring sufficient financial resources to the public coffers. He cited the following examples of “innovative financing”:
- Allocation of a portion of airport tax revenues to supplement teachers' salaries
- Abolition of certain State budget structures, which no longer have a reason to exist
- A levy on mining and petroleum taxes, e.g. one per cent of each mining transaction to go to the education budget
Peaceful resumption of classes
Trade unions in the DRC affiliated to Education International believe this situation must be treated as a priority in order not to compromise free primary education on which the President has already decided.
They have urged “the competent services to lead the government party in the process of social dialogue in order to resolve all the problems facing our education system for a peaceful resumption of classes, especially in this period of health crisis linked to COVID-19”.