THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – Chilly temperatures and rain didn’t stop teachers from striking in the Netherlands on Friday.
“We’re doing something important and that should be recognized,” said Kim van Strien, a French teacher and one of the 40,000 educators from all over the country who turned out in The Hague.
The teachers, ranging from primary school to university level, demand more money from the government for education.
“It’s fantastic that that the whole education section, from primary school to university are together fighting for good education,” Han Busker, the chairperson of the civil servants union FNV told the crowd on the Malieveld, a field in the city center that is frequently used for demonstrations.
Busker’s union and others, including the AoB representing primary school teachers, want 4 billion euros to be invested in the sector to increase pay, reduce workloads and to fill teacher shortages.
This isn’t the first teacher’s strike in the Netherlands. Teachers held two nationwide strikes, the first bringing out 50,000 teachers though organizers had only expected around 30,000. Two months later, teachers went out on strike again after negotiations with the government failed. Both closed schools across the country.
In 2018, primary school teachers participated in strikes across the country. Some 6,000 teachers in the provinces of Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe picketed in February 2018, followed by 15,000 primary school teachers from the provinces of Utrecht, Noord-Holland and Flevoland in March 2018. They sought to eliminate the pay gap between primary and secondary school teachers.
Campaigners in the 2018 strikes demanded 1.4 billion euros in extra funding for schools but the government had only offered 750 million euros. In June 2018, both sides reached an agreement giving teachers a 2.5 percent raise and a bonus.
But in October 2018, leaders from the primary school organization PO in Actie wrote an open letter in the national newspaper the AD calling for all public sector workers to join in a strike to combat the government’s lack of action regarding the problems of “broken regulatory pressure, red tape and a shortage of colleagues which causes increasing work pressure.”
The organization was particularly upset by the government’s plan to scrap the dividend tax, a 15 percent tax on dividend payments made by Dutch companies. The government claimed scrapping the tax would stimulate business in the Netherlands. Prime Minister Mark Rutte argued that by not abolishing the tax, large companies would leave the Netherlands.
“That risk is unacceptable to the structure of our economy,” he said in a debate about the tax in parliament last year.
The tax cut would have cost the Dutch government 1.9 billion euros, but lawmakers dropped the idea following public outrage. Teachers unions argued that if the government could do without the nearly 2 billion euros, it could afford to increase school funding.
Now educators want 4 billion euros across the entire education sector. Previous demands only focused on primary and secondary education.
Not all teachers support the strike, however. The union CNV did not call for its members to strike. Andre Laurens, the director of a school in Rijswijk, said teachers should wait for the outcome of the current negotiations.
“Strikes are difficult for parents. We participated in the first two strikes and the parents were applauding us outside the school when we returned,” he said. But so many strikes make it difficult for parents, he said. Some 2,600 schools were closed around the country due to the strike.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands also as a problem with teacher shortages. Recent research by the country’s statistics office CBS showed one in three primary school teachers in the country are over the age of 55.
“We need the job to be attractive,” said van Strien, the French teacher.
The number of students enrolled in teacher training dropped by half between 2003-2004 and 2017-2018.
Nationwide, teacher shortages have forced schools to drop subjects, reduce the school week and even use civil servants as substitutes when teachers are ill. Previous flu seasons have seen parents standing in for teachers and children being sent home when no one was available to teach.
“It is very fragile,” Joke Middelbeek, board member of the Amsterdam primary school umbrella BBO, said of the staffing situation in the national newspaper the Volkskrant this past fall.