DRC: Collaboration of education trade unions in the production of a guide on COVID-19 in schools

published 3 November 2020 updated 13 October 2023

Education International affiliates in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have embarked on a project to develop a guide on COVID-19 intended for teachers and to organise workshops on how to use it. The project has also raised awareness among teachers on the importance of unionisation.

The project brought together the Centrale de l’Education Nationale et de la Recherche Scientifique(CSC-Enseignement), the Fédération nationale des enseignants du Congo(FENECO-UNTC) and the Syndicat des Enseignants du Congo(SYECO). It has also received the combination of support from the Centrale des syndicats du Québec/Canada for the development of a guide and support from Education International for the organisation of workshops using the guide. Twenty-four meetings of 20 persons were held in July and August in all neighbourhoods of the capital, Kinshasa.

A dual objective of this trade union project

The aim of the project was twofold:

  • Providing information on the health crisis and showing that trade unions are furnishing fundamental information which has not been sufficiently provided by the authorities; and
  • showing the importance of union organisation at a time of crisis, including to present demands period to remind teachers of the importance of unionisation and the important role of trade unions to present demands to the authorities.

The text of the project states that “Governments, as has been observed throughout the world, have taken advantage of this period to disregard social dialogue. National level bodies are working seriously on this and would not want to appear any longer to be cut off from the grassroots. It is important for grassroots leaders to take ownership of this process to give their full support to the trade union position.”

The guide developed by the affiliates(in French) and distributed/used during the workshops is 20-pages long and consists of two parts, one dealing with concepts relating to COVID-19, the other with trade unionism in the context of COVID-19. The second part contains EI’s recommendations for reopening schools.

The importance of unionisation and social dialogue

In particular, the guide concludes that, “as true partners, it is more than important to formalise the dialogue between stakeholders in the education system and especially regarding collaboration between government and trade unions in the public sector. This formalisation remains linked to the set of rules organising the partnership: the nature of the exchanges, the frequency of committee meetings, the representativeness of the parties, the moral recognition of the role that each stakeholder is called upon to play and, more particularly, the arrangements for holding meetings (study circles) in the workplace, the creation and operation of specific joint subcommittees, the various trade union communications and training courses and the arrangements for the deduction of union dues at source.”

The guide emphasises that “in this way, trade unions will work effectively to contribute to the development of the education system in the Democratic Republic of Congo”.

Teachers are very motivated by the project

Cécile Tshiyombo, Secretary General of SYECO,  made a point of emphasising that “while everyone was in their homes due to containment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, large numbers of teachers were keen to participate in this training session”.

She added that short scenarios have already been created, including “Don't touch, you will leave a stain. Don't touch my school before washing your hand.”

The guide, a powerful tool for social dialogue

For his part, the Secretary General of FENECO-UNTC, Augustin Tumba Nzuji, stated that the activities carried out were in line with the strengthening of trade unions during the crisis.

“While learning about COVID-19, the members understood that they need the unions, just as the unions need them, especially during the crisis,” he explained, saying that “compliance with the barrier measures has been achieved partly thanks to these workshops and programmes that were organised. During the crisis, we have been able to continue to put forward our demands with the support of everyone.”

He also pointed out that these activities enabled the trade unions to be at the forefront of the actions and various meetings conducted by the government: “By popularising our guide, we have become experts in the dialogue forums”.

Strengthening trade union cohesion

For his part, Valery Nsmupi, Secretary General of CSC-Enseignement noted a strengthening of the unity of the three Education International trade unions in the DRC and of the cohesion between members of those trade unions.

Following these workshops, he said, the messages and strategies received by the teachers were then promoted throughout their schools and lessons on hygiene and morality were prepared based on the trade union guide.

He also emphasised that the teachers' unions were consulted by the Ministry with a view to adopting strategies to prevent illness.

“This joint project places the unions on an equal footing, develops positive competition and strengthens our confidence in belonging to a single trade union family,” concluded Nsmupi.