A hundred and fifty thousand teachers joined in a demonstration led by education unions in Lisbon demanding respect for the teaching profession.
“It was probably the largest teachers' demonstration ever held in Portugal,” according to Federação Nacional da Educação (FNE) National Secretary Joaquim Santos.
The demonstration, held on February 11th in the capital city Lisbon, brought together all Portuguese education unions. When the front banner of the demonstration reached the main stage, thousands of teachers had not yet left the starting point, Santos noted.
International education union solidarity
Susan Flocken, Director of the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) – Education International (EI) European region –, took part in the demonstration at the invitation of the ETUCE Portuguese member organisations and encouraged the demonstrators to continue to fight to demand that education and its professionals be valued.
Manuela Mendonça, member of the EI Executive Board for Europe, read the solidarity message sent by EI General Secretary David Edwards stressing that the demands of the Portuguese teachers and those of EI new campaign “Go Public, Fund Education!” could not be more in tune.
The Secretary General of the Trade Union Confederation for Education of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP-SE), José Augusto Cardoso, also addressed demonstrators, emphasising the relevant role of education and teachers.
Portuguese education policy
The demonstration took place in the middle of a negotiation process between the trade unions and the Ministry of Education, which is not bearing the desired results.
Issues affecting teachers’ working and living conditions are endangering the future of the profession and the quality of public schools in Portugal, the FNE leader said.
He added that Portuguese teachers have reached the limit of their discontent, and their demands are centred around respect, improvement of living and working conditions of education professionals and a salary increase, which is increasingly urgent at a time of high inflation.
Santos explained: “For unions and teachers, support for mobility, performance evaluation without quotas and vacancies, the end of precariousness, the respect of working time limitations, the end of excessive bureaucracy, the rejuvenation of the teaching profession, a dignified retirement and a valued and recognised profession are urgently needed.”
There is one demand that teachers will not give up, he warned, namely “the fair recovery for career purposes of 6 years, 6 months and 23 days of service time frozen during the time of the Troika” – the financial rescue programme that Portugal was subjected to between May 2011 and May 2014.
Santos went on to state that the continued lack of recognition and the devaluation of the teaching profession is having a very negative effect on young people in Portugal who, for the most part, do not see any attraction in becoming teachers. He also mentioned that, due to the age factor, a high percentage of teachers will retire in the next ten years. “From this, we assume that the danger of hiring unqualified teachers – which is already occurring today – could become extremely acute in the coming years,” he said.
As a form of pressure, between 13 and 17 February, the trade unions promoted a Week of Struggle and Mourning in schools, with daily protests. Black banners were posted on walls and railings, with teachers gathering themselves in front of their schools to highlight the demands and the multiple reasons for discontent.
On February 15th and 17th, a new round of negotiations between unions and the Ministry of Education about the new Rule for Recruiting Teachers was organised.
The unions are ready to call for another two days of strike and demonstrations: the first one on 2 March 2nd, impacting northern Portugal (demonstration in Porto), and the second one on March 3th, concentrated in southern Portugal (demonstration in Lisbon).
Santos concluded: “Here is one of the messages giving the reasons for these protests, which have stirred the public debate in the media and Portuguese society: ‘If you want better education, take care of teachers’ well-being’.”