Rwandan education workers’ union SYPERWA organised a tour to meet teachers from private schools and help them solve the problems encountered. Thanks to Education International’s COVID-19 solidarity fund, the union has been able to map the issues for teachers affected by COVID-19, provide legal assistance to teachers suspended as a result of the pandemic and to mobilise, recruit and train new members.
SYPERWA’s action plan to support education workers
From the very onset of the COVID-19 crisis, SYPERWA responded by developing an action plan to inform and support education staff. With the support of the EI solidarity fund, the union took on the task of identifying education workers affected by the crisis and providing legal assistance to teachers whose labour rights have been violated as a result of the pandemic.
The union also took advantage of the tour to raise awareness and recruit new members.
During the tour undertaken in August and September 2020, SYPERWA focused on teachers in the private sector, visiting the larger cities where private institutions are concentrated: the capital, Kigali, Musanze, Huye and Rubavu.
The help of the local school authorities was sought to make contact with teachers. Identifying and meeting staff affected by COVID-19 has been more difficult given the travel restrictions imposed by the authorities. SYPERWA was, nonetheless, able to meet with education workers hit by the health crisis.
SYPERWA strengthened by its work on the ground
The action taken by SYPERWA has helped it provide a practical illustration of its proximity with the profession.
Thanks to its direct contact with education staff, a number of concrete problems were resolved, and the information gathered during the visits enabled the union to develop an advocacy plan.
The legal assistance offered by SYPERWA, with the help of lawyers, has been very much welcomed by teachers in difficulty. The legal advice was a great help, as some members did not know how to put together a case to present their grievances. This work has enabled the union to build credibility with the profession and government bodies.
The activities also gave SYPERWA the opportunity to appear in the media. 457 new members were recruited.
The consequences of the health crisis on education
Rwanda experienced a full lockdown from 23 March to 4 June 2020. Classroom education was suspended until September 2020.
Teachers working in the private sector have been the hardest hit by the authorities’ decision to close classes in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Most have had their employment contracts suspended or their hours cut. The teachers were not financially prepared for this, having been unable to put aside savings from their meagre wages. Some of those suspended said that they were no longer able to cover their families’ basic needs, such as rent, food and health care. Others have also seen their mental health affected by the sudden measures taken by the government to slow the spread of the pandemic, such as the quarantining of family members.
SYPERWA itself has been severely affected, having had to suspend its activities during the entire lockdown.