©Fred van Diem/AOb
©Fred van Diem/AOb

Netherlands: Red is still the colour of primary education!

published 12 September 2018 updated 14 September 2018

The Dutch educators’ Code Red action demanding decent salaries and a normal workload, and urging the government to clearly and firmly address burn-out and a shortage of teachers in primary education has continued with a strike covering South Western regions of the country.

Despite several national actions and strikes followed by four regional strikes, in December 2017, February, April and May 2018, the Algemene Onderwijsbond(AOb), one of Education International (EI) Dutch affiliates, strongly criticises the lack of improvement in primary education.

Another regional strike, the fifth in the series, is taking place on 12 September in the South West region of the Netherlands, which includes the provinces of South Holland and Zeeland, where almost all of the primary schools will be closed. Thousands of teachers and other workers in education are marching through Rotterdam, crossing the iconic Erasmus Bridge, and asking, together with school directors and education support personnel, for higher salaries and a reduced workload.

Teachers deserting the profession

Long and difficult negotiations held a few month ago have resulted in a collective agreement foreseeing a 2,5% salary raise and a small bonus fee. However, while teachers who have not left the education sector are pleased to receive a slightly higher salary, this is only  covers many other increased costs. In addition, it does not provide a solution for the massive teacher shortage, which is already taking a toll after the return from the summer break. Schools, especially in more urban regions, have begun the school year understaffed and maintain daily school life by finding temporary solutions. Moreover, a shortage of teaching assistants is now emerging. Dubious practices are also reported: recruitment bureaus are “buying” teachers away from schools to fill vacancies somewhere else, then offering to find a new teacher for the school and charging a huge fee. Teachers also offer their services as independent workers, who can be contracted for substantially higher fees than regular teacher salaries.

Massive gaps between salaries of primary teachers, and salaries of secondary teachers and other workers

Recent data published by the OECD in its 2018 Education at a Glance show huge gaps in the Netherlands between teacher salaries in primary education and in secondary education. It also shows a major gap of 27%  between the salaries of primary teachers and other, similarly qualified professionals in the public and private sectors.

The AOb deplores the national Education Ministry’s lack of reaction. Worse, the Minister is even playing down the urgency, according to the AoB.

The Front for primary education (PO-front), reuniting AOb, several trade unions as well as employers’ organisations of the education sector, is asking for structural solutions to guarantee the quality of education for the future. The 12 September strike takes place just before the yearly parliamentary session where the budget for the next year is discussed. If a higher budget for education is not announced, actions will be scaled up, possibly extending to the whole public sector. If so, it could be a “hot autumn”.