France: newly elected representatives will carry the voices of teachers and education support staff

published 12 December 2018 updated 13 December 2018

In an election with increased participation, French teachers and education support staff have democratically elected, with stable scores for the unions, for a term of four years, their representatives from the trade unions to various bodies linked to education during the 2018 professional elections.

UNSA Education: elections are a democratic system for measuring trade union representativeness

The elections, held from 29 November to 6 December, concerned “all education staff in France and served to measure the representativeness of the various trade union organisations standing at local and national level”, explained Christian Chevalier, General Delegate for European and International Issues of UNSA Education (Union nationale des syndicats autonomes–Education) and member of Education International’s Executive Board. “They enable the government to precisely measure each organisation’s influence and determine those with which it will conduct negotiations.”

He considers the benefit of this particular system of the election of representatives by all education staff, a typically French system, the fact that “it is a democratic system: that of an election which grants legitimacy to the unions chosen by the staff. Consequently, the government does not decide with which trade union it will negotiate. It negotiates with the trade unions selected by the voters.”

Mr. Chevalier considers that “the absence of an election does not prevent competition”, but “nevertheless, trade union unity may exist on common issues as was the case on 12 November when the government’s budgetary policy in the field of education was denounced”.

He believes that “joint bargaining committees are very important in terms of social dialogue and transparency in decision-making concerning the staff and structures of the education system”, as they “recently made it possible, for instance, to implement a new career and teacher assessment system which will see the latter’s wages increase significantly. The system will only be limited by the government’s willingness to conduct a sincere social dialogue with the representative trade union organisations. Negotiations remain a struggle in France, unlike in other European countries where social dialogue is rooted in democratic practices.”

In an official statement, the UNSA Education also welcomed the fact that “despite the first day of the elections being marred by a breakdown of the voting system, participation is up. In a particularly tense social and political context, this increase reflects the commitment to trade union representation. The Minister must see this. It is time to use a different method and to give more importance to negotiations with the trade union organisations.”

SNUipp-FSU: combining students’ and teachers’ interests

The SNUipp-FSU (Syndicat national unitaire des instituteurs, professeurs des écoles et PEGC) also noted that “after seven days of voting marred by severe malfunctions, the colleagues have not lost their enthusiasm. Participation is up, demonstrating education staff’s commitment to parity, despite the fact that voting was not possible on the first day.”

The National Secretary of the SNUipp-FSU, Michelle Olivier, described the professional elections as “an important time for social democracy and the appointment of representatives defending teachers’ rights and a true project for education. Supporting a given trade union priority delivers a message. A priority aimed at combining teachers’ and students’ interests, which is based on values, rather than a priority only aimed at either one of those aspects.

In her view, it is “an important moment of democracy which will define a facet of teachers’ social culture. The democratic spaces that enabled them to be heard, to assert and defend their rights, did not pop up in a day.”

Ms. Olivier also recalled that those democratic spaces “are the fruit of over a century of determination to be recognised as interlocutors by their administration and the government. Progress was made gradually, and the latest fairly recently. The National Education Department’s Hygiene, Security and Working Conditions Committees (CHSCT) were only created in 2010. It is high time for the government to open real negotiations and to change its policies.”

FEP-CFDT: joint bargaining and technical committees, established forums for social dialogue

“Will there be less abstention than in the two previous elections?” asked General Secretary of the FEP-CFDT (Fédération Formation et Enseignement Privés) Bruno Lamour. “This is the case, which means that staff’s confidence in their representatives has increased, which is excellent news”, he went on to say.

“The fact that staff can xelect their representatives every 4 years is a very healthy democratic principle”, said Mr. Lamour, agreeing with his colleagues, and adding that “this grants trade union representatives the legitimacy to act and the obligation to stay in contact with the staff at the risk of being ousted if they fail to do so”.

He also acknowledged that “an election obviously exacerbates competition between organisations, but it is mainly the country’s historical context and the antagonism between a “reformist camp” and the opposing camp which cause disunity and trade union fragmentation”.

Taking stock of the functioning of the joint bargaining and technical committees, both at regional and national level, over the past years, Mr. Lamour emphasized that “they are established forums for social dialogue with the State that employs the agents of the Ministries of Education and Agriculture. Thanks to those bodies, the agents’ representatives are acknowledged.”

Although he welcomes the fact that “social progress and progress relating to wages and conditions for exercise has been made in recent years”, he nevertheless deeply regrets the fact that “unfortunately, this is no longer the case since 2017, as trade union organisations have been neglected by the Macron government”.