The meeting was attended by affiliates from the Kenya Universities Staff Union (KUSU), the Non-Academic Staff Union of Education and Associated Institutions in Nigeria (NASU), the National Association of Academic Technologists in Nigeria (NAAT), the Tanzania Union of Government and Health Employees (TUGHE), the Researchers, Academicians and Allied Workers Union in Tanzania (RAAWU) and the Uganda National Union of Educational Institutions (NUEI).
The meeting discussed several issues. Notable among the discussions and presentations from the country reports were the challenges of privatisation, increase in private institutions, outsourcing, contracting and violations of trade union rights especially on the right to strike that was on the rise. Support workers were facing job insecurities in many countries.
Unions had explored dialogue with their various employers in vain including on the issue of delayed salary payments. As a result, some had opted for industrial action. However, the affiliates observed that majority of their government were no longer moved with workers strikes. For instance, Nigeria universities and tertiary institutions had been on strike for close to five months, but their government was still adamant in resolving the issues that led to the strike. In Tanzania, the attempt to go on industrial strike by the support staff was met with threat of sacking by the government.
In terms of PPPs, it was observed that governments and the management were still outsourcing a number of support services in education institutions. This had given rise to several private employers who do not permit their employee to be unionised. Additionally private institutions were also resisting unionisation of their workers. It was recommended that unions should use existing laws to compel the private institutions to recognise the right to organise and collective bargaining. Additionally, the campaigns against PPPs should continue both at national and global level.
On security issues, Nigeria informed the meeting that Boko Haram, one of Nigeria’s Islamic extremist organisations, was now targeting schools since 2014, providing insecure environments for learning. One of NASU’s State Chairman had his two daughters kidnapped. The impact of Covid-19 was also brought to the attention of the meeting. A majority of support workers lost their jobs. The digital divide in terms of access to online learning and the internet between rich and poor, urban and rural, was greatly manifested. An increase in mental health challenges was recorded among the educational support workers during the Covid-19 peak, with some attempting to take their lives.
The meeting also decried the discrimination within learning institutions between teaching and educational support staff in terms of salary disparities despite similar qualification, lack of/unfair distribution of capacity development opportunities, promotion opportunities were cited. It was agreed that affiliates should explore stakeholder dialogue with the various actors in the education sector including at national, sub-regional and even regional level to amplify the challenges and the voice of educational support workers who are also critical partners in the provision of quality public education. Networking and solidarity support from CSOs and other actors was going to be critical in attaining equitable and just treatment of all education workers.
The failure of many countries in the region to implement the 25% national budget allocation to the education sector has led to dilapidated infrastructure, poor pay and low levels of research in high institutions of learning. This narrative needs to change. The affiliates agreed to call upon their respective governments to increase funding for the education sector. The key to a country’s development is its human resource capital, that can only be attained through a well-funded educational sector.