Mário Nogueira, secretary general of Fenprof.
Mário Nogueira, secretary general of Fenprof. Image: António Cotrim/ Lusa

Teachers’ union walks out of negotiations during minister’s address

Further ‘strikes’ and strife in pipeline

Portuguese teachers’ trade union Fenprof walked out of a meeting with the ministry of education last night, claiming there is no democracy in the negotiation process.

Minister João Costa was actually speaking at the moment that Fenprof delegates left the room. The so-called ‘supplementary negotiation meeting had been going for more than two hours’, explains Lusa.

Outside on the street, and next to delegates who protested throughout the meeting, Fenprof’s secretary-general Mário Nogueira explained what happened – accusing the ministry of having an anti-democratic attitude by accepting that disciplinary proceedings should be brought against teachers who joined a public service strike in March.

At issue is a strike called by the Common Front on March 17, which for schools coincided at the time with the open-ended strike called by the All Education Workers Union (S.T.O.P). Minimum services (meaning the stipulation that three hours of education have to be given per day during strikes) were in place for the S.T.O.P strike (sic), but not for the Common Front strike – thus the ministry’s insistence on ‘disciplining’ teachers who took part is, technically, on dodgy ground.

“We’re going to the courts” , Nogueira insists – and so this situation has become just another open wound in the battle with the government that has affected schools since the start of the academic year.

The wider issues remain (teachers’ perception that they are neither valued nor respected) – while the government doggedly refuses to give way.

As Lusa explains, “the document on the table (yesterday) was the same as the one presented in the first meeting, at the end of March”.

Said Mário Nogueira: “After what happened today, and the way the issues were handled by the minister of education, we sincerely have major doubts that he has the necessary conditions to continue governing this ministry, even for democratic reasons”.

Classifying the meeting as “indecent, unacceptable, revolting and disgusting“, Nogueira vowed that his members’ strike against national assessment exams “is still on the table”. 

Fenprof remains available to negotiate, he said – but in the face of how negotiations are being handled, there is no good news on the horizon.

Says Lusa, Monday’s meeting was held at the request of the trade unions. It focused on a government proposal “to correct imbalances arising from teachers’ career freezes, through a set of measures that allow accelerating the progression of teachers who worked during the two freezing periods, between 2005 and 2017.

“Initially, it was planned that the minister would make statements at the end of the meeting, but João Costa, in Brussels (today) to attend the Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council, ended up not speaking to journalists”.

Mounting issues behind scenes

Behind the fiasco of negotiations between the education ministry and teachers’ unions other issues are jostling for attention, not least the holding of annual pupil assessments.

Filinto Lima, president of the national association of directors of school groupings, explains that the instruction manuals for 8th grade assessments arrived two working days ahead of them. As a result, he refutes the government’s “assurance that all conditions have been met” for the tests to take place from today, saying a number of schools will be delaying them.

Lima has also stressed he is not in any way supportive of the ministry’s plan for ‘digital assessments’ of 2º year primary school pupils (children often of 6 and 7), saying in his opinion, paper and pens are the tools this age group should be mastering.

SIC Notícias further reports that IAVE (the institute for educative evaluation) has seen a number of members of staff tender their resignations, citing conflicts with the education ministry.

Back in September, João Costa said he foresaw a ‘tranquil’ start to the school year, and hoped for “great normality and tranquility” in the months ahead. There has been a dearth of tranquility throughout the school year, due to close next month with many parents wondering ‘when will things ever return to normal?’

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