Belgium: Education unions join forces to end teacher shortage and austerity

published 26 April 2024 updated 31 May 2024

“Enseignant, pas en saignant” (Teaching, not bleeding). This was one of the slogans used by the 8,000 educators who came from all over Belgium to the capital Brussels to call on politicians to increase funding for public education and put an end to the teacher shortage. The protest took place ahead of federal and European elections scheduled for 9 June.

Similar problems in the north and south of the country

The fact that Flemish and French-speaking teachers are demonstrating together is rare enough to merit a mention. In fact, this hadn’t happened since the major strikes that shook French-speaking education in 1996. Since the reform of the State, which entrusted the Flemish, French and German-speaking communities with the management of their own education systems, the education unions in each of these communities have had to address a different government. The North and South of the country manage their education systems as they see fit.

However, all Belgian education unions are faced with the same difficulties, including the need for smaller classes (maximum 15 pupils at the start of compulsory education), more funding for under-served schools where pupils with difficulties are concentrated, more money for education and measures addressing the increased pressure at work.

This is why Flemish unions have decided to support the demands of French-speaking teachers by sending a delegation to the streets of Brussels. The Centrale générale des services publics - Enseignement (CGSP-FGTB), the Confédération des Syndicats Chrétiens de l'Enseignement (CSC-Enseignement), the Syndicat Libre de la Fonction Publique (SLFP), ACOD-Onderwijs (ACOD), the Christelijke Onderwijscentrale (COC), the Christelijk Onderwijzersverbond (COV) and the Vrij Syndicaat van het Openbaar Ambt (VSOA) marched together.

In May, three of the four Flemish education unions, ACOD (socialist), COC (Christian) and VSOA (liberal), will be organising several days of joint strikes and demonstrations.

Teacher union solidarity

This demonstration of strength by the Belgian unions echoes Education International's global campaign Go public! Fund education. This campaign is an urgent appeal to governments around the world to invest in public education, a fundamental human right and a public good, and to invest more in teachers, the most important factor in achieving quality education.

At European level, education unions were keen to show their support for their Belgian colleagues.

In France, the Syndicat général de l'éducation nationale-Confédération française et démocratique du travail pointed out that “the shortage of teachers is not just a reality in France, but in most countries in the world, including Belgium. Remuneration, recognition, working conditions, autonomy - these are all issues that governments need to listen to.”

From Hungary, the Hungarian Teachers' Union (SEH) announced its support for the struggle of its Belgian partner organisation CSC-Enseignement, “because we are also fighting for similar objectives in Hungary! Today, our Belgian colleagues are defending objectives such as reducing class sizes, which improves children's learning conditions, reducing administrative burdens, protecting jobs, improving working conditions and increasing public spending on education”.

For the SEH, “every state should stop considering subsidies for education as a burden and start considering them as an investment! Without knowledge and education workers, there is no future anywhere in the world!”

In addition, the Fédération des étudiants francophones (the Federation of French-speaking Students) has decided to join the demonstration to defend “its vision of quality education, accessible to all and funded in line with its needs.” According to the federation, public funding for education must therefore be a priority for the next government, whichever it may be.