Teacher unions are staging protests in Bogota today over unfulfilled government agreements and to call for safe conditions in order to return to classes following school closures due to the pandemic. Teachers will stage a rally outside the Ministry of Education, where they will present a series of conditions over the reopening of schools.
Unions say that many schools lack decent sanitary and protections. While district authorities have said 123 schools are safe to reopen, others have not been well-maintained due to the chronic underfunding in public schools. There are also concerns over working conditions, with teachers potentially facing twice the workload in the event that some students attend physical classes and others continue to study virtually. Unions are calling for all teachers to be vaccinated before they can return to work, particularly given that close to 10,000 of the capital’s roughly 32,000 teachers are over the age of 60 or suffer from health issues.
‘We are going to prioritise the right to life of students and teachers over that of the economy. We are not arguing for more hand gel, masks or bathrooms. It is an issue where not only infrastructure and conditions must be improved, but everyone’s lives must be defended,’ said William Agudelo, the director of the District Association of Educators, which represents teachers based in Bogota.
Investment in the public system is a core demand in the long-running campaign coordinated by FECODE, Colombia’s main teachers union, in which teachers across the country have held multiple strikes in recent years, including a 37-day stoppage in 2017. Other demands include improved conditions and health coverage.
Teachers continue to face threats and attacks over their trade union activity, with around 35 killed since the start of 2018. On 24 February, FECODE denounced threats sent to Carlos Rosero of the SER teachers union based in the department of Risaralda and called on the government to guarantee his safety. British and Irish trade unions, as well as the international trade union organisation Education International, have condemned the high levels of violence faced by Colombian teachers.