Colombian teachers win concessions after two-week strike

After a two-week strike for better working conditions, teachers in Colombia are finally heading back to their classrooms after the government agreed to make concessions early on May 6.

Early on Wednesday morning, government officials came to a “tentative agreement” with the Colombian Federation of Educators, or Fecode, the national teachers union. The government was hoping that the agreement would stop a huge march, called “Occupy Bogota,” from taking over the nation’s capital. Nonetheless, thousands of teachers still marched in Bogota.

The strike began on April 22 when about 300,000 Fecode teachers walked out of their classrooms and refused to return until their demands for better working conditions were met. The teachers demanded increased investment in public schools, salary increases, improved healthcare and an end to the examinations currently used to evaluate teachers.

Luis Grubert, president of Fecode, explained that the strike was necessary after weeks of negotiations with the government had gone nowhere.

“We want to tell the country that we were ready to negotiate, but, on not seeing results, we had to adopt this means … to make them listen to us,” Grubert told TeleSur.

Government officials were hostile towards the strike at first with Colombian Minister of Education, Gina Parody, criticizing the teachers and their attitude.

“Neither a raise of 10 percent, nor taking away the written evaluation, nor a bonus to those who are in their last year of service, nor the offer of better health care is good enough for them,” Parody told TeleSur. “Really we don’t known what they want, but what is clear is that all those proposals that we made to Fecode we will take away from the negotiation table.”

But after a two-week strike that affected some nine million students across Colombia, the government offered to make modifications to the exams teachers must pass in order to get promoted and also offered teachers a 12 percent raise. The teachers agreed to meet the government at 12 percent after initially demanding a 28 percent salary increase.

Currently, according to union data, the average monthly salary for Colombian public school teachers is 1.2 million Colombian pesos, or $507.

But Fecode still wants the teacher evaluation exams, which they claim are demeaning and based on unfair guidelines, to be eliminated entirely rather than merely modified. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, on the other hand, disagrees with the teachers, insisting that the exams were “essential to progress and to have better quality in education.” He stated that his negotiating team would continue working on convincing the teachers of the exam’s benefits.

Despite the agreement made earlier that day, an estimated 50,000 teachers still marched in Bogota on Wednesday. Teachers, along with millions of primary and secondary school students, are expected to return to class on May 7.