After weeks of breached agreements, violent protests and continued strikes, teachers have agreed to temporarily return to the work—on the condition negotiations with the government continue.
Rabat – April has been the most turbulent month for the ongoing teachers’ movement in Morocco.
In the last 30 days, the capital city of Rabat has experienced nearly a dozen teachers’ protests, more than 60 injuries, several inconclusive meetings, and the collapse of an agreement that was supposed to bring an end to it all.
The month began with Minister of Education Said Amzazi threatening to begin firing protesting teachers and ended with the unions announcing a short “break” to the months-long strike.
But both the length of this break and what it means to the movement remains uncertain.
At the core coalition are the “contractual teachers” who make up the majority of the protestors and are represented by the Coordination of Teachers Forced into Contracts (CNPCC).
The government hired teachers within the union under renewable contracts. Their initial main demand was to be integrated as public sector employees, which would allow them more job stability, health care, and a pension plan.
However, as the months have drawn on their stipulations have increased. Additional demands now include the protection of the right to strike, periodic pay increases, increased teacher training, improved student transport, the construction of more schools, wages for the months of protests, and the re-employment of suspended contractual teachers.
While the contractual teachers, as well as other teacher groups, having been taking to the streets since February, the month of April was the most tumultuous.
End of April: Teachers suspend strike for ‘student rights’
National, regional and local meetings between teacher unions filled the last weekend of April, during which representatives from all 12 of Morocco’s regions debated the future of the movement.
Following a majority-rules vote, the CNPCC announced on Sunday, April 28, its decision to take a “break” from the months-long strike and return its teachers to the classroom temporarily.
Eleven of the 77 regional CNPCC representatives, roughly 14%, opposed the decision to suspend the strike—fearing it would paralyze the movement’s momentum.
In an attempt to avoid this, the statement also explained that teachers would be wearing black badges throughout the work week to continue to show solidarity with the movement and “to mourn the dignity of teachers.”
“The black badge is a message to the Ministry of Education and to all of those responsible that teachers are still at battle and will continue to express our dissatisfaction,” Latifa Aitali, the regional coordinator for the CNPCC’s Marrakech region, told Morocco World News (MWN). “Putting on that black badge is as significant as the protests and demonstrations in the streets.”
According to the CNPCC, the suspension decision was motivated by the teachers’ desire to “preserve student rights.”
Sent on Thursday, April 25, the letter, translated from Arabic, stated, “We hope to prevent the continued incitement between elements of the education system that is detrimental to the interests of teachers, students and the kingdom … On behalf of the students of this country and their parents, we renew our call to suspend the strike and apply the promises of the April 13 agreement.”
The temporary end to the strikes comes days after riot police used water cannons and batons to disperse hundreds of protesting teachers.
Week four: Water cannons and batons
The final full week of April marked the month’s first violent clash between police and protesters.
On Wednesday, April 24, teachers attempted to hold an overnight sit-in by the Parliament in Rabat, but were dispersed by riot police and water cannons.
Throughout the night and into the next morning, teachers trying to regroup at the Parliament were continually disbanded by riot police.
According to the CNPCC, 65 demonstrators were injured during the nearly 12-hour protest that began at Rabat Agdal Station and ended in side-streets all throughout Morocco’s capital city.
Riot police at the march and representatives from the National Security Headquarters declined MWN’s multiple requests for comment.
In the afternoon of Thursday, April 25, teachers held a silent march in front of the Ministry of Education to show solidarity with the injured and protest the violence inflicted by police forces the night before.
The silent march was the end of that week’s three-day protest—which began on Tuesday, April 23.
Khalid Bourhda, deputy coordinator of the CNPCC’s Rabat district, told MWN that the protests during this week were some of the largest he had ever seen.
As the deputy coordinator, Bourhda sits in on all of the local CNPCC Rabat meetings and then helps coordinate the marches with the use of popular social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook.
Unions organized the protests after Amzazi suspended the dialogue between the ministry and the teacher unions.
In a statement, Amzazi claimed the unions had “breached the obligations” of their previous agreement by not returning to the classroom. He added that the ministry would only “resume dialogue on the condition that teachers return to work.”
Unions retorted by releasing a statement claiming the ministry had breached the obligations of the agreement first by “continuing to take legal actions against striking teachers.”
Amzazi denied all of the CNPCC’s claims and said, “The ministry adhered to what was agreed by suspending all administrative and legal measures taken against the teachers.”
The agreement that was reached on April 13 may have officially lasted 10 days, but did nothing to stop the ongoing back-and-forth between the ministry and the union during the third week of April.
Week three: A very brief return to work
Following the April 13 agreement, several groups of teachers began to trickle back to their schools over the weekend leading up to Monday, April 15—the agreed upon day teachers would return to work.
Several of the early-returners claimed that despite the Ministry of Education’s promises, the government was still pursuing legal action against them. These legal measures include not paying teachers’ suspended wages, the postponement of professional qualifying exams, and the re-examination of unsigned teacher contracts.
The claims went viral throughout the half-dozen teacher union Facebook pages that form the base of the movement’s communication.
The posts sent a wave of dissent through the protesting teachers, many of whom immediately refused to return to classrooms that Monday.
In the span of two days, the government informed the protestors of their agreement, the union instructed them to return to work, and colleagues told them to rally for more strikes.
Confusion ensued and led to several days of meetings between union representatives.
On Thursday, April 18, CNPCC announced the coalition’s protests would continue until the end of the month.
The other unions that make up the coalition represented by the CNPCC include the Democratic Confederation of Labor (CDT), the Democratic Labor Federation’s National Education Union (FDT), the National Teaching Federation (FNE), the General Union of Moroccan Workers (UGMT), and the National Federation of Teachers (UMT).
The following day, the unions stated if the government continued to “not act in favor of the contractual teachers [by not integrating] them into the public sector” the protests would extend indefinitely.
After the April 28 announcement of the strike suspension, the CNPCC’s threat of a blank year, a full year without work, no longer applies.
Week two: A promising agreement
The end of the second week of April was the closest the teacher unions and the Ministry of Education came to resolving the teachers’ issues.
Following several rounds of negotiation between the largest five unions and the ministry, the parties reached a resolution. The government announced the April 13 agreement over the weekend, and many prematurely celebrated the news as the official end of the teachers’ strikes.
In an effort to pressure the ministry into taking the negotiations seriously, the unions hosted a three-day protest in Rabat April 8-10, prior to the meeting.
The largest protest that week was on April 8—protesters outside of Rabat’s Parliament made it clear the government would have to meet their terms if they wanted the strike to end.
Chants of “We won’t give up, we won’t give in” and “No integration, no peace” blared through megaphones into the faces of the police officers surrounding the building.
“We have been protesting for too long to accept half of our terms,” Nabril Chamssi, a 28-year-old English teacher from Sidi Ifni, approximately 700 kilometers south of Rabat, told MWN. “If all of us go back to our jobs than all that we have done will have been in vain.”
Days before attending the protest, Chamssi received a warning letter from his principle stating if he did not return to class within 60 days he would be fired.
Chamssi claimed all 150 of his colleagues from Sidi Ifni, who attended the three-day strike with him, received the same notice.
These warning letters issued by the ministry is what sparked the three-day protest.
Week one: Under threat of firing
During the last days of March, Amzazi vowed to begin firing protesting teachers if they continued their demonstrations into April.
Betting on Amzazi’s threat being a bluff, teacher unions protested into April, marking the third month of continuous demonstrations.
According to Amzazi, Morocco has 240,000 teachers in all of its education sectors, 35,000 of whom are contractual teachers.
The CNPCC claims that more than 10,000 of these teachers are participating in the national strike. While the Ministry of Education disputes the union’s calculation, it has not released its own version of the numbers.
Unions scoffed at Amzazi’s threat of firing nearly 30% of Morocco’s contractual teachers. The ministry’s hiring of contractual teachers began in 2016 and was done in order to fill the already existing shortage of teachers.
The firing of the teachers would also increase Morocco’s already high unemployment rate. According to Inside Arabia, 80% of contractual teachers are under the age of 30, and 23.2% is the current unemployment rate of that age demographic.
Double the support
The “Cell 9 Coordination” has been alongside the contractual protesters since the beginning of the movement in February. The name of the group is a pun on the famous Moroccan book “Tazmamart Cell 10” and a reference to the government’s ninth pay grade.
The members of the group are a part of this pay grade and feel they are long overdue for a promotion to the 10th. The average difference between the two grades is MAD 1,500 per month ($155). According to the Ministry of Education, there are more than 4,560 teachers within the ninth pay grade.
The Cell 9 Coordination has agreed to abide by the CNPCC’s decision to suspend the strikes.
The “Coordination of Teachers with High University Degrees” has also joined forces with the Cell 9 Coordination and the contractual teachers.
In a similar fashion, these teachers are demanding a promotion and the redesign of the current framework, which they claim makes it difficult to achieve a promotion.
Capital of protests
Three other groups with no direct ties to the teacher causes have also taken to protesting in Rabat this month.
Protests began happening in Rabat and Casablanca immediately following the April 5 decision of the Casablanca Court of Appeals to uphold the one-to-20-year sentences given to 54 Hirak Rif activists.
Led by the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) and several Amazigh (Berber) rights groups, the largest march with hundreds of protesters demanding the immediate release of the imprisoned activists took place on Sunday, April 21.
A day after the CNPCC announced its strike suspension, doctors replaced teachers in front of the Parliament in Rabat. The Independent Union of Moroccan Public Doctors (SIMSP) has been hosting protests and organizing strikes since December 2018.
The doctors are demanding better wages and work conditions for all medical professionals working within the public sector.
According to organizers from the AMDH, many of the disenfranchised groups are attempting to coordinate a unified national Labor Day march on Wednesday, May 1, in Rabat.