Burundi: Teacher trade unionists improve their social dialogue skills

published 21 February 2022 updated 3 March 2022

Under a capacity building programme funded by Education International, the Syndicat des travailleurs de l'enseignement du Burundi (STEB) was able to organise a series of training sessions on social dialogue in the different provinces of the country.

The union is doing its best to carry out its activities and find a space to do union work. As STEB president Rémy Nsengiyumva explains, his union therefore approached Education International for social dialogue training.

This request was made following the STEB National Congress in September 2021, which elected new leadership teams at national and local levels. The need was then felt to provide training on social dialogue for the activist leaders, said the STEB leader.

Social dialogue training is an integral part of trade union mobilising and organising strategies

Nsengiyumva also emphasises that STEB's Strategic Plan for 2021-2026 identifies mobilising and organising as priorities for the union, and wants the union to carry out activities to:

  1. Organise recruitment campaigns;
  2. Train committees in planning and management;
  3. Strengthen the capacity of grassroots and district committees in organising and mobilisation;
  4. Develop a strategy for the good management of the union's resources;
  5. Develop a support and retention strategy;
  6. Strengthen existing partnerships and seek new ones;
  7. Use informal opportunities to promote the strengths and achievements of the STEB.

This one-day training brings together about 20 people in each province and is based on a well-structured, 30-page training document based on the experience of its designers.

The document recognises, among other things, that “a teacher, as well as his or her union representative, is affected by their social environment (family and territorial, administrative and political entities) and their work environment (school and other sectors of activity such as health, public service, parastatal companies and the private sector), which influence him or her and which he or she must influence in order to ensure that the decisions taken are in line with the principles of human rights and standards [mentioned in the document]”.

A trade union’s strength comes from its ability to interact with all its partners

He adds that “one of the criteria for assessing the strength of a union is its ability to interact with all its partners but also the number of policy decisions it has taken”, and says the role of the unions is to:

  • Fight for workers' rights;
  • Fight to improve working conditions;
  • Fight for decent pay;
  • Train workers to know their rights;
  • Train workers in non-violent communication;
  • Training in negotiating techniques; and
  • Raise teachers' awareness of the concept of dispute management.

Participants in this training course, which was designed to help teachers improve their negotiating skills and initiate spaces for dialogue, were also able to share their concerns: overcrowding in classrooms, health and safety at work, salary policy, curriculum changes, etc.

They were then invited to relay the training in their communities and schools. Each of them needs to be able to participate in their own context/on their own level and implement part of the training.

Nsengiyumva believes that a culture of social dialogue is useful at all levels: school, ministry, province.

Furthermore, this social dialogue training maintains the links between the national and local levels, improves communication and understanding between them, motivates local activists, encourages them to become involved in the union at the local level and to seek to increase union membership.

In addition, STEB trade unionists have different WhatsApp groups, bringing together the national executive board with provincial officials, and members of the national executive board, to talk about this issue of social dialogue.

Follow-up is needed, says Nsengiyumva, particularly through an annual session of the national committees which will allow for a review of what has been done in relation to this social dialogue work.

He also mentions provincial education councils, with administrative officials, union leaders, parents, religious leaders, where issues related to labour standards, teaching materials, staffing, etc. are discussed.

Soon, district social dialogue councils will be set up, he says.

Complementarity between different international trade union development cooperation projects

Nsengiyumva also points out that this training, financed by funds from education unions around the world, is complementary to other development cooperation projects organised under the aegis of Education International.

In particular, he cites the project on child labour, “which contributes to the good image of the union”, the one carried out with the help of the Syndicat national des enseignements de second degré- Fédération syndicale unitaire in France on issues related to health and safety at work, and the one supported by the Danish Union of Teachers in Denmark on unionisation and recruitment.