Mauritania: teachers strike for a decent life and better working conditions

published 23 February 2022 updated 25 February 2022

A coalition of Mauritanian education unions called for a strike from 21-25 February. The widely supported action aimed at “wresting the rights” of teachers from the Minister of Education and underlined the unity of teachers.

Five secondary and primary education unions in Mauritania, under the umbrella of the joint coordinating body of primary and secondary education unions, submitted notice of a five-day strike on 19 January. The unions concerned were: the Syndicat national de l’enseignement secondaire (SNES) – a member organisation of Education International –, the Alliance des professeurs de Mauritanie (APM), the Fédération générale des travailleurs de l’éducation (FGTE), the Syndicat Indépendant des professeurs de l’enseignement secondaire (SIPES) and the Syndicat libre des enseignants de Mauritanie (SLEM).

A successful first day

Information gathered by the unions about the first day of industrial action, 21 February, shows that teachers largely followed the strike call, with a rate of 100% in some schools.

They report: 7,787 striking teachers in 2,702 primary schools (out of 3,306), a 67% strike rate; and 4,528 striking teachers in 307 secondary schools (out of 363), an 86% strike rate.

The trade union coalition recalled that under national legislation:

  • The right to strike is recognised for civil servants to defend their collective interests.
  • Teachers in charge of classes have the right to go on strike.
  • Strike action is prohibited for school principals and for the supervisory and managerial staff schools.
  • All employees have the right to strike and according to Article 16 a worker cannot be replaced while on strike.

The coalition condemns the fact that teachers have nevertheless been replaced in some schools by service providers and supervisory staff (general managers, heads of studies and supervisors). “The ministry has recruited service providers, while the law forbids it,” lamented the secretary general of SNES, Amadou Tidjane Ba.

Trade union demands

The education unions are asking the authorities to meet the following five main demands:

  1. The revision of teachers’ salaries and allowances to ensure a decent living and enable them to fully perform their duties;
  2. The introduction of bonuses for teachers, and payment of all bonuses continuously on the pay slip throughout the twelve months of the year;
  3. The abolition of the corps of assistant teachers, which has been frozen for years, as part of a general review of the status of teachers in primary and secondary schools;
  4. The fair treatment of all secondary school teachers on permanent contracts, so that all receive the same bonuses and rights; and
  5. The allocation of land to teachers while developing an effective and progressive housing policy for the benefit of teachers.

On the first day of the strike, teachers in the inland wilayas (regions) held sit-ins in front of the regional education directorates and departmental inspectorates. At these demonstrations, they presented their five key grievances. A sit-in in front of the Ministry of Education was planned in Nouakchott on 23 February.

As the joint coordinating body of primary and secondary education unions announced the good news about the success of the strike to activists, it also saluted “their spirit of determination, as demonstrated in the face of all kinds of intimidation and tempting proposals”.

Inviting them to persevere and to become even more united in their action, it reiterated:

  • Its condemnation of “the violations committed by the administration and its auxiliaries, which will only serve to sharpen the will and determination of the teachers to remain committed to recovering their lost rights”;
  • Its invitation to the Ministry of Education “to break with its policy of lack of concern towards the teachers' mobilisation by opening immediate negotiations on the five demands of the strike”; and
  • Its appeal to “public opinion, as well as to all parties interested in education, to understand the reasons for the teachers’ strike which has been going on for four years, without it being given any real consideration from the competent government authorities”.

Ministerial attitudes criticised

The SNES leader insisted that during the month of legal notice, “the authorities did not move, even though this is supposed to be a period for negotiations to progress and let the strike go ahead.”

He also denounced the attitude of the Minister of Education, Mohamed Melainine Ould Eyih, during this period, who warned that “the strike will achieve nothing”.

He added that the ministry definitely has the financial means to increase the number of teachers and provide them with decent working and living conditions. “The Ministry of Education has seen its funds increase by 7 billion. So I don't believe that there is no money for teachers.”

According to him, the Ministry should at least give a timetable for negotiations for next year.

Ba also regretted that “at present, money is used to recruit service providers and to build educational infrastructure, but there is not a school, a college, or a high school that doesn’t have a teacher shortage. Recruitment is badly needed.”

The union coalition is thinking of filing a new strike notice on 24 or 25 February, for a two- to three-week strike to be held at the end of March 2022. And two other unions not involved in the current strike are considering joining the other five for the strike in March. In addition, the Coalition of Mauritanian Organisations for Education (COMEDUC) supports the action of the joint coordinating body of primary and secondary education unions.

Support from the teacher trade unionists of the DRC

The Fédération nationale des enseignants du Congo-UNTC (FENECO-UNTC) of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has expressed its full support for the strike by Mauritanian teachers.

It has called, “for a balanced social dialogue, without further delay, between the two parties, the Government of Mauritania and the teachers’ unions. The only legal way to find a compromise acceptable to all is through negotiation. It is time to begin.”

The Congolese union also called for the unity of Mauritanian teachers’ unions “so as not to divide your energy during the negotiations.”

Many negotiations fail because of divisions among the unions, the weakness of the unions, the government’s control of some unions, or their lack of autonomy, it noted. For their trade union colleagues in the DRC, “only unity for a single cause will help to find a real compromise”.

“If education is a right for our children, better treatment of teachers is another,” FENECO-UNTC said.