Education unions’ success in improving working conditions and status for the profession despite COVID-19 crisis

published 7 May 2021 updated 2 July 2021

Around 170 education unionists from 55 countries shared success stories in ensuring decent working conditions for education workers in an online meeting organised by Education International.

On 6 May, Education International invited member organisations to explore how unions have won additional rights for educators during the pandemic.

Moderating the virtual event, the executive director of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa(NAPTOSA), Basil Manuel, stressed that while extra activities are required from educators during COVID-19, it is also a good time for them to reclaim their autonomy and professional growth.

Four speakers from member organisations presented successful local campaigns. They detailed how they managed to negotiate progressive agreements resulting in improved working conditions and status for the profession.

Sweden: Social dialogue is crucial during the pandemic

“Talking about success is good for the spirits nowadays”, said Lärarförbundet’s president and member of Education International’s Executive Board, Johanna Jaara Åstrand.

Underlining the importance of maintaining social dialogue during the pandemic, she said that Swedish educators had demanded three things primarily:

  1. Going to work without fear of being infected.
  2. Safety measures to be carried out in all schools.
  3. Reasonable expectations, aligned with existing resources.

Union representatives had called for protective closures of schools when needed, she added.

Among other successes, her union was able to secure compensation for education workers unable to work, to get training and counselling for members, more ICT support, and more cleaning personnel.

Lärarförbundet also demanded that COVID-19 be considered as a workplace injury.

“As we foresee this will continue until the second half of the year, we will make sure that social dialogue will continue to benefit educators, schools, and children and make the teaching profession an attractive one,” Jaara Åstrand insisted.

Argentina: Agreement for educators to be extended to all workers nationally

“In Argentina, we made a huge leap forward,” said Eduardo Pereyra, international relations secretary of the Confederación de Trabajadores de la Educación de la República Argentina(CTERA).

“From March last year, teachers had to work online, we had to learn something we were not familiar with. So, teachers saw their workload increase tremendously and did not have enough time for everything,” he said.

CTERA decided to work on an agreement with the Government and the Education Minister. Among other issues, the agreement recognises the increased workload for teachers in the context of the pandemic. It guarantees that teachers will retain their jobs; guarantees that teachers can take leave if sick; recognises that teachers need time to disconnect; covers for any risk due to the profession, so that educators can take leave; guarantees that teachers can be members of trade unions and organise themselves; guarantees that teachers get enough resources and training; and guarantees that teachers have adequate ICT/Internet infrastructure.

Pereyra explained that this agreement contributed to a wider national agreement to be applied to workers in the entire country.

“We will go back to on-site education but, before that, we will get together with public authorities to guarantee the health and safety of educators – and students – in the workplace,” he added. In early 2021, his union agreed that a priority of the country should be the vaccination of teachers.

Bahrain: Use of social media beneficial for educators’ terms and conditions

The vice-president of the Bahrain Teachers' Association and member of Education International’s Executive Board, Jalila al-Salman, underlined that the use of social media was the main instrument for campaigning and advertising BTA’s policy on reopening schools. The union managed to make major breakthroughs although the EI affiliate has been illegal for the last ten years in Bahrain. Through networking with like minded allies, BTA managed to push policies within the Bahrain’s Education Ministry, even on the distribution of students in classes.

She highlighted how Education International’s COVID-19 Solidarity Fund has been used to buy laptops and Internet connections, supporting remote education in the country.

Mexico: educators’ proposals to reinforce the union and building a strong base for the future

Raymundo Valdivia of the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación(SNTE) described how his union joined forces with colleagues throughout Mexico to ensure educators’ health and safety. SNTE tried to find ways for teachers and students to return to school safely, he said.

SNTE’s goal “was to go back to the basics of trade unions movement in Mexico, promoting and defending basic rights of all teachers in Mexico”.

The union raised awareness about the challenges brought to education by the COVID-19 pandemic, and parents also got involved in its activities

“We decided to reinforce our union. We tried to concentrate on strengthening social dialogue in the whole country, and on building a key foundation for the future,” Valdivia acknowledged.

He said that SNTE members made one million proposals, which were then sent to the President and relevant ministries.

He was pleased that his union could contribute to increasing educators’ salaries, achieving social security for teachers, ensuring that all teachers are vaccinated, and enhancing ICT structures for them.


Participants then engaged in thematic conversations through six group sessions:

  1. Guaranteeing COVID-related healthy and safe workplaces
  2. Training and supporting with digital teaching, guidelines around technology introduction, issues of workload
  3. Improving employment conditions, wage protection, benefits
  4. Defending professional autonomy and academic freedom
  5. Negotiating with private employers
  6. Teachers reaching out to each other

In his conclusion, the moderator highlighted that the pandemic increased teachers’ workload and also increased the challenge of providing quality education for all, e.g., learning how to use new tools and technologies to teach, ensuring safe working environment.

Positive lessons are sometimes overshadowed by other issues, but teachers could look back and say that COVID-19 did some good for the profession, he said.

“Suddenly, we do not feel alone anymore, as more and more of us have been in touch with colleagues from the other side of the world. This webinar allowed us to shed a light on things colleagues are doing and did so well around the globe,” he concluded.

This was the third in a series of Education International webinars to take place in recent months on issues related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education.

The previous webinar in the series focused on ways COVID-19 continues to affect terms and conditions in education.