Tunisia: the government must respect the trade union rights of primary school teachers

published 17 July 2023 updated 13 October 2023

In a letter of protest dated 13 July 2023 addressed to Tunisian Education Minister Ali Mohamed Al Boughdiri, Education International (EI) condemned the salary penalties imposed on teacher trade unionists calling for better funding of education in their country.

EI has strongly and formally protested against the withholding of one month's salary imposed on 11 July on more than 17,000 primary school teachers in Tunisia. All of them are members of the EI-affiliated Fédération générale des enseignants de base (FGEB) and refused the government's proposal.

In addition, 500 school headmasters have been dismissed. "This humiliating measure is also aimed at undermining union activism," EI General Secretary David Edwards deplored in his letter.

Stressing that the FGEB continues to call for, among other things, tenure to be granted to thousands of teachers, approved by the government in an agreement concluded in 2018, he also noted that Tunisian teacher trade unionists note that Tunisia continues to move away from achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) "Ensuring inclusive and equitable access to quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all" and 4. c "Increase the number of qualified teachers".

"We regret the notable absence of a Declaration of National Commitment from the Tunisian government following the last UN Summit on Transforming Education. The government did not even take part in the UN meeting on education", David Edwards emphasised.

He also reiterated: "Adequate funding of the public education system, which guarantees equality and equity, remains essential to achieving SDG4. As you know, UNESCO's Education 2030 Agenda, for example, calls on all governments to devote four to six per cent of their gross domestic product and at least 15 to 20 per cent of public expenditure to financing their education systems".

David Edwards believes that improving teaching and learning outcomes requires, among other things, the recruitment of a sufficient number of qualified teachers to fill staffing gaps, and that it is essential to provide them with good working conditions while involving trade unions "in an institutionalised and bona fide social dialogue".

EI therefore calls on the Tunisian government to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally suspend the withholding of one month's salary from thousands of primary school teacher trade unionists;
  • Cancel the demotions of more than 500 school headmasters;
  • Resume and institutionalise constructive social dialogue with FGEB representatives, so as to involve them positively in improving the education system;
  • Regularise the situation of contract teachers;
  • Honour all the commitments formally made with the education unions;
  • Increase the structural budget allocated to education;
  • Resist the solutions put forward by the international financial institutions based on austerity measures, which only serve to reinforce inequalities in education and restrict teachers' fundamental rights; and
  • Respect international labour standards in all circumstances.

The global union federation of teachers and educational support personnel will continue to closely monitor the situation in Tunisia and has informed the International Labour Organization and the International Trade Union Confederation of the anti-union measures implemented by the Tunisian government.