Colombia’s Teachers Union Ends 36-Day Strike After Pledge of Raises and Education Investment by Government
Colombia’s teachers union ended a prolonged strike yesterday that will allow classes to restart after reaching a labor deal with the government that includes significant pay raises and investments in education.
Nationwide, teachers have held demonstrations and conducted public campaigns for the past 36 days as protracted negotiations proved unable to end the impasse. But the battle, which was elevated on February 28 when the Colombian Education Workers Federation (FECODE) submitted a petition of grievances to the government, ended yesterday with an agreement signed in Bogotá by Education Minister Yaneth Giha and FECODE head Carlos Rivas.
Photo: Education Minister Yaneth Giha and FECODE head Carlos Rivas sign an agreement in Bogotá to end a national teachers’ strike that lasted more than a month. (Credit: Presidencia de la República)
As part of the agreement, teachers will receive salary increases of 6% in 2018, 11% in 2019, and 15% in 2020. “This is an effort,” said Giha, “to continue closing an historical gap that the country has had with our teachers,” who she called “the backbone of education.”
The top official in the Ministry of Education also called on the country’s education secretaries to adjust the school calendar to ensure that “the eight million children and young people affected by this strike” will make up all the class time they missed. Giha, who took over last year after former education minister Gina Parody resigned following the failure of the “Yes” peace vote campaign she helped lead, said that FECODE ensured the government that its members are prepared to teach the lost hours of class time.
Additionally, the government also pledged to invest more into early-childhood education, including a mandate that all public schools must offer free preschool by 2024, and help consolidate the peace process through human rights and civics-focused coursework in the a new program called “School as a Territory of Peace.” In a statement, Giha also pointed to 15 unspecified initiatives in the agreement to address education policy, union guarantees, teachers’ health, welfare, and the creation of a new education commission.
Other concerns previously raised by FECODE, however, have not been addressed, including the teachers’ call to overhaul Colombia’s prevailing two-shift daily schedule for students in favor of a full-day system. Matters may further be complicated by the fact that two-term President Juan Manuel Santos has less than a year remaining before the 2018 presidential election, which means new leadership will arrive well before many of the softer, non-binding intentions of the agreement can come to fruition.
Comments from the Ministry of Education highlight the need for an ongoing dialogue between the department, FECODE, and Congress to continue addressing the flaws in the nation’s education systems. She said that this must “be a broad, unprecedented discussion, which will also involve the Congress, mayors, governors, and other actors in the education system.”
Ultimately, the current leadership of the Ministry of Education proved willing to do enough to end the strike while not over-committing future resources that the current administration will not control. “The priority of the national government was always to reach an agreement that recognizes the work of teachers and the indispensable role of education in the development of the country and that, at the same time, would be responsible with public finances,” said Giha.