Benin: Union elections give hope of real social dialogue in the education sector

published 15 April 2024 updated 31 May 2024

Education International welcomed the elections held in the education sector in Benin from March 29th to April 1st. Organised by the Minister of Pre-School and Primary Education, the vote marked a crucial step towards social dialogue and teacher union representation.

High turnout

The electoral process required a minimum representation of 20% for each sector in order for unions to be officially recognised. Electronic voting, used for the first time in this context, meant teachers could participate using a secure platform. Nonetheless, there were some technical challenges and questions raised around the legality of the vote.

Gaétan Kponoukou, General Secretary of the Syndicat National des Enseignants des Écoles Maternelles du Bénin, SYNAEM- Benin (National Union of Pre-school Teachers of Benin), welcomed teachers’ engagement: “There is strength in unity. We are committed to defending the interests of all teachers, particularly those in pre-school.”

Stronger social dialogue

The government of Benin also expressed its desire to reestablish social dialogue, essential for industrial relations in the education sector, and to work with strong unions. It distributed digital keys and passwords to the unions for them to access the results online. Despite the efforts aimed at strengthening trust and social dialogue, it must be noted that the government did not promote the elections sufficiently well, prompting unions to step in and use their social networks to inform their members.

Sectoral union elections are essential for establishing which representative unions will sit on the Joint Administrative Committee. The committee plays a vital role in decisions regarding recruitment, transfers, teaching careers and disciplinary measures, which can even include termination of membership.

A question of representation

With 155 pre-school and primary school unions, 55 secondary school unions, and 4 higher education unions, union pluralism in Benin makes social dialogue more complex. In 2019, the government established the Joint Administrative Committee to facilitate this dialogue.

With the committee’s mandate coming to an end, the aim of the elections was to identify the most representative unions to give them new mandates and to reactivate social dialogue in each sector. Unions must now work together to improve teachers’ working conditions and defend their rights, including the right to strike, limited to 10 days a year in Benin.

Victory for Aube Nouvelle Alliance

Aube Nouvelle Alliance brings together several grassroots unions such as SYNAEM-Benin, the National Teaching Union for Public Primary Education (SNEP-Benin), and the National Teachers’ Union for High School and College (SYNAPROLYC) – three organisations that are members of Education International. The Aube Nouvelle Alliance won a significant victory with 45.12% of the votes, thus obtaining a majority of seats in the Joint Administrative Committee.

SYNAPROLYC, an Education International member, was the most representative union for secondary education and will take part in social dialogue for 5 years.

Mr. Kponoukon thanked the teachers for their overwhelming support: “We made commitments, and we intend to fulfil them. You will judge us at the end of our term, and you will see positive effects as soon as we have a say in the Joint Administrative Committee.”

Unions remain vigilant

Rodrigue Djidohokpin, General Secretary of the National Union of Secondary School Teachers (SYNAPES), expressed some reservations around the use of electronic voting. He stated: “We had asked for these union elections and despite some irregularities, this process represents a necessary step towards ensuring proper union representation.”

M. Djidohokpin also highlighted the importance of a transparent and credible voting process in ensuring that all stakeholders accept the results: “It is essential to ensure that the elections are seen as fair and equitable by all parties.”

Union elections in the education sector in Benin were a landmark for trade unionism. Attention has now shifted to the new teacher representatives in the Joint Administrative Committee. Social dialogue, transparency, and commitment to workers are the priorities for the coming years.

You can listen to the radio programme Educ’Action, on union elections for pre-school and primary school teachers in Benin, by clicking here.