Worlds of Education

Photo: Chantal Rigaud/GPE
Photo: Chantal Rigaud/GPE

#UDHR70 – “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: its respect is not automatic”, by Augustin Tumba Nzuji

published 14 December 2018 updated 14 December 2018
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The right to work is one of the basic human rights. From this follows the right to defend and improve your working conditions, a task which is carried out by trade unions through the right to "associate" and join workers' organisations. In the 70th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in my country, it remains a distant aspiration.

The Fédération Nationale des Enseignants et Educateurs sociaux du Congo, (FENECO/UNTC) is a trade union organisation and a founding member of Education International. In the latest elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), FENECO won two of the seventeen seats at the Central Services level of the Ministry of Primary, Secondary and Vocational Education.

Instead of this success being seen as something that would give the organisation a real voice in the Ministry’s affairs, FENECO/UNTC has continued to be the victim of anti-union discrimination over the years, which is why the defence and the promotion of trade union rights remains at the very heart of its concerns.

As General Secretary of this trade union, I can give you some examples of cases of trade union rights violations in the Primary, Secondary and Vocational Education sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Bargaining rights

In 2018, for the first time in the history of trade unionism in the DRC, an inter-union coalition was cobbled together by Gaston MUSEMENA, the Minister of Primary, Secondary and Vocational Education. The EI-affiliated unions in the DRC, denouncing the government’s interference in the internal affairs of the unions, declared that this inter-union coalition was founded on poaching and dissent!

From the trade union point of view, this organisation, which groups all the unions together for negotiations, should be as independent in order to carry out its role in a proper manner. But by setting it up in the way it did, the government seems to want to use it more as a tool to squeeze out any organisations that are not to its liking.

Another example: as it took its seats FENECO saw its grant suspended by the government for several months. And even now, its participation in joint meetings is still not completely guaranteed.

The paradox is that, while many countries are trying to restrict the creation of unions by setting up a smoke screen of complex procedures, the DRC is trying to achieve the same goal by using less representative organisations; some that are not registered or organised into trade unions, to maintain a stranglehold over trade union activities in the education sector.

Joint meetings between teachers' unions and the government are sporadic, non-inclusive, and do not discuss many urgent topics. The law regarding the status of teachers, for example, proposed by the government acting alone, awaits a vote in Parliament without having had any input from the teachers themselves. So, teachers have not been able to express an opinion, even on matters that concern them directly.

Freedom of association

Government representatives, in particular in the faith-based, subsidised private school sector, are attempting to force teachers, by imposing severe penalties on those that refuse, to join the ranks of a trade union organisation approved by the government, and have issued official directives to this effect.Many of our members have been forced to disaffiliate from our organisation to keep their jobs; the threatened penalties often do the trick even when illegal sanctions are not imposed.In this atmosphere of repression, without an independent and strong union, we are seeing such acts as deductions at source of a so-called tithe, a faith tax, etc.

In spite of all the guarantees granted to us by law, it is regrettable to note that the proliferation of trade unions is intentionally being encouraged by the government. This has the effect of eroding trade union rights, damaging labour relations, and reducing the effective freedom of association to the detriment of education itself.

As far as I am concerned, the application of the provisions of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers, much of which is written into law in the DRC, should be an inalienable right for those in the education sector. Teachers should be free, through their unions, to contribute to the advancement of education by participating in the management of the education system including the development of education policies and the management of schools.

It is not easy to promote trade union rights in a country where basic public freedoms are not yet guaranteed. The struggle continues...


10 December 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Declaration remains a relevant inspiration for educators and trade unionists worldwide, as it guarantees the right to form unions, freedom of expression and the right of all to quality education. Human rights requires an informed and continued demand by people for their protection. For this special occasion, Education International is releasing a series of blogs bringing voices and thoughts of unionists reflecting on struggles and accomplishments in this domain. The blogs reflect the continued commitment of education unionists, in every part of the world, in every community, to promote, defend and advance human rights and freedoms for the benefit of all.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.