Understanding the teachers strike in Colombia

In March 2017, a series of debates took place between Fecode (Colombian Educators Federation) and the Ministry of Education, led by Yaneth Giha. These debates had as a primary objective the discussion of the annual petition requested by teachers of all grade levels.

The specific issues that were addressed by Fecode were those including educational policy, careers, and social benefits. But the salaries and the health regime were the main reasons why the national strike began on May 11th, 2017.

Based on a press release by Fecode in May 2017, the three main reasons for the strike were:

First, the budget cut in Education that started as a temporary measure during Andres Pastrana’s government in 2001 and then become permanent during Alvaro Uribe’s administration. Second, in the 2015 Ministerial Act stated an additional bonus for all State officials and workers but failed to include teachers, leaving them without government benefits.

This, along with the 12% increase for one or two minimum wage employees, felt like an insult for Fecode and various teachers around the country. Finally, according to the federation, Juan Manuel Santos’ administration removed regional and extralegal bonuses, decreasing teachers’ salaries by 25%.

Since the beginning of Juan Manuel Santos’ administration, seven years ago, there have been three similar situations -being this the longest strike- with the teaching community and Fecode.

In June 2017, President Santos informed that his government’s priority was education and that the increase in 2015 was the best arrangement made in 20 years for the teaching community, upgrading the budget for public schools, increasing salaries, improving the physical conditions of the facilities, among others. He also mentioned that in 2017 and 2018 the salary leveling would continue as planned for all State officials, including educators.

Santos also stated that since children are the priority and cannot be affected by this crisis, teachers would have to make up for the classes they failed to provide during the course of this strike in order to receive their full paycheck. In addition, the president of General Workers Confederation, Julio Gomez, predicted that there were going to be numerous strikes from all the public sectors throughout this year due to the government’s lack of efficient politics and mediocre measures.

Around 40 thousand teachers protested in Bogota and 380 thousand more stopped providing classes around the country. 8,5 million children failed to receive an education during the 37 days of strike and an approximate of 40 million pesos were lost every day due to payrolls and transportation fees that were paid but not provided. Several streets were blocked in Bogota and many confrontations took place between protesters and the Esmad (Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron).

On June 16th, it was announced the conclusion of the teacher’s strike. The government committed to give Fecode a more active participation in the General Participants System and providing them, as well, with a special bonus of 15% by 2020. The full agreement consists of 15 points and includes upgrades on the health regime and labor union guaranties.

Only time will tell if the current government will apply these agreements responsibly, and if the next government will continue to abide these negotiations in a transparent manner.

LatinAmerican Post | Juan Felipe Guerrero C.
Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto