School teachers across Belgium have intensified their agitation over long pending demands including higher salaries, staff recruitments, and smaller classrooms and to oppose the government’s proposals to reform teachers’ evaluation. On March 29, educators’ sections in several trade unions including the General Union of Public Services (CGSP), Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (CSC), and Free Civil Service union (SLFP), among others, were involved in massive demonstrations in the city of Mons. Approximately 5,000 educators took part in the demonstration.
Teachers have expressed feeling exhausted by the COVID-19 crisis, the unbearable workload, unending glitches in the hybrid mode of teaching, deteriorating conditions of school buildings, weak and inconsistent sectoral agreements, and the insensitivity of the government. Teachers and other sections have now been pushed to the brink by the worsening cost of living crisis marked by higher energy and fuel costs triggered by the ongoing war in Ukraine and profiteering by monopolists. In Belgium, like in other European countries like the UK, Spain, and Albania, mobilizations by the working class are taking place across the country on a daily basis to protest the rising cost of living crisis.
Earlier, on February 10, around 10,000 teachers had marched in capital Brussels to push for their demands. The unions have given a call for another round of mobilization and school strikes on May 5 if the government does not agree to their demands. Political parties like the Workers Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA) and the Communist Party of Belgium (PCB/CPB) expressed solidarity and support to the protesting teachers and participated in the mobilizations.
The trade union common front of the educators has demanded the government to refinance higher education, increase their wages and recruitment of staff, introduce lighter workloads and smaller classrooms, and to abandon the staff evaluation system proposed in the ‘Pact For Excellence in Teaching’ which is leading to job losses and eliminating support resources. The protesting teachers have also decided to mobilize for the upcoming protests called by major trade unions in the country for a revision of the 1996 Wage Margin Act. The act establishes a strict procedure for the Belgian social partners to negotiate a maximum average wage increase and thus effectively prevents any real increase in wages in the country. The protests by the trade unions will start from mid-April.
Regarding the mobilization on March 29, the PTB/PVDA stated that “education staff remain mobilized despite the government’s contempt. More staff, fewer students by class and a raise in salaries: their claims are clear and essential and it’s time the government took action to show them they are aware of it.”
The PCB/CPB stated that “the Pact For Excellence in Teaching which has been discussed for the past 10 years aims to permanently install private management in education with pilot plans that will increase the workload, meaning increase the workload, exploitation of teachers and divert them from their educational missions. The evaluation of teachers, planned in the pact, is a real attack against the teacher and it subjects them to the will of the bosses and the needs of the market with the threat of dismissal at the end of two negative assessments.”