Happy Holidays

A blog post by Uffe Rostrup, Chairman of the Teachers' Union for Danish Independent Schools

D 18. december 2018

Status: Almost 10,000 members, the OK18 negotiations completed with a muddy result, the salary campaign continues, the working-hours campaign has started, the freedom to create independent schools will become even more limited – there is still a lot of work to do for the Teachers' Union for Danish Independent Schools.

This is how short you can make a Twitter post, if you sum up some of this year's highlights. However, even if you can make it short, deeper knowledge and understanding make the complexities of the cases more comprehensible. Thus, in this year’s holiday greetings, I will elaborate a bit more on the above headlines, and then it is up to you to pick out the most exciting parts, if you do not want to read it all.

10,000 Members
In the spring, we passed 10,000 members (again). However, as opposed to the first time – which was in the spring of 2013 – we did it without including the leaders this time. It is fantastic that our organization has so many members. There is room for more, and we will continue our fight to get more members in our community where we will continue our tireless struggle for good terms of employment, salary, maternity/paternity leave, care days and much more. It is important that we have a high number of members. In addition to the fact that it requires a lot of hard work to negotiate and implement the collective agreement – i.e., to ensure that the agreed employment and working conditions for the teachers at the independent schools are kept – our legitimacy as a union increases when we grow. It matters that a lot of members are joined in one union. Just as it matters at your school. It is much easier for the union representative to negotiate when all the teachers stand behind her/him – the same applies to the union. So, it is wonderful to see that in the spring we passed 10,000, and at the moment we are just a few short of that number.

The statement that each and every collective bargaining has its own life proved correct for OK18. We did get a result with a reasonable salary increase, an agreement about the teachers’ working hours in the local government sector and a right to paid lunch breaks for the groups of employees, who already had that right, were secured by the collective agreement – perhaps. However, there was not time to negotiate all the special conditions of the independent schools, which we had spent quite a long time to prepare. There was no solution to the decentralised salaries; to the status of the leaders of preschool classes; to the design of the step-four supplement; or to future old-age schemes. However, we are in the process of negotiating several of these issues with the Agency for Modernisation, and hopefully we will reach a result in the course of next year.

As regards the lunch break, the Agency for Modernisation has suddenly cast doubt on what was agreed, and we expect that it will take at least one year before we have an arbitration award stating what has actually been agreed. It is very frustration. Especially because we have many unanswered questions that await interpretation of the agreement text, which we cannot answer before the arbitration award is a fact.

The Salary Campaign Continues
For how long does it makes sense to call a targeted effort a campaign? I am not sure, but we have chosen to keep this focus area – at least until OK21. The reason is that we think that the salary should not be the factor that sets apart the independent schools and the municipal primary and lower secondary school (the Danish Folkeskole). It should be the educational content. At the same time, we can see that our common efforts in the entire union, from union representative to chairman, actually work. At lease as regards the primary and lower secondary schools. Thus, the most recent salary statistics from the ministry show that the difference between the salary of a teacher at an independent primary and lower secondary school and the salary of a teacher at a municipal primary and lower secondary school (the Danish Folkeskole) is now less than DKK 1,000. Unfortunately, the difference remains bigger at the independent boarding schools (the Danish “efterskole”). We do not know exactly how big the difference is at the moment, because the Agency for Modernisation has not yet published the updated salary statistics for the independent boarding schools (the Danish “efterskole”). So, we have to wait for the statistics before we can say anything about the independent boarding schools (the Danish “efterskole”). Here, I would like to make an official request: It should be mandatory for the schools to use the state's salary system so that the numbers could be ready sooner and the statistics would be more precise.

Working-Hours Campaign
This autumn, the union started a working-hours campaign. Up until OK21, we will focus on the fact that the independent schools must follow the rules about working hours that the Danish Parliament (“Folketinget”) agreed on with its legislative intervention after the lockout in 2013. And it is important that the working hours are under control. It is a lost cause if we and the schools do not want to follow the rules about working hours because we do not like them! The rules we have apply.

The working-hours campaign is all about getting the working hours right at the schools where they are not already. Therefore, let me give you a short summary of the rules. There are three ways in which you can organize working hours: The time can be fully planned. With this method, the working hours of each employee is fully planned so that everybody knows when they are on duty and when they are off duty. The other way is local agreements. With this method, the working hours have been planned in agreements between the union representative and school management. And with the last method, the leader informs the teachers about their tasks, and the individual teacher plans and is responsible for part of her/his working hours. Management ensures that the performed working hours are counted and that a statement can be created at the end of the year.

In addition, with all three methods, the teachers must receive a task list before the school year begins and a statement of the performed working hours at the of the school year. These are the rules – neither more nor less, and we must make sure that all schools work according to these rules. This is what the working-hours campaign is about.

There is no doubt that it has become increasingly difficult to start up new schools, and it has also become more difficult to fully use the original degrees of freedom.

People often ask me why the Teachers' Union for Danish Independent Schools spends so much energy on defending the freedom to create schools and why we interfere in school politics. Why don’t we just leave that to the school associations? The answer is that there is often a reason why teachers choose to work in the independent school sector, and that is connected with the freedom to create schools. So, in addition to defending the teachers’ work places, we also defend our constitutional right to use the freedom we have been granted and which is necessary in order to be an alternative to the schools in the public sector. But it is getting increasingly difficult to use the freedom. In 2009, the law governing the independent schools constituted a little more than 5000 words. Today, it is approx. 10,000 words, which is due to tightened laws and regulations. The reason why is the increased focus on our school type which is attended by almost every fourth pupil in primary and lower secondary schools, if we include the independent boarding schools (the Danish “efterskole”). The fear of Muslims and the Muslim values is huge in our society, and this fear is currently being used to justify any kind of tightening of the law – also for the independent schools. We have taken up the battle for the independent schools to retain their rights to freedom so that in the future we will have the right to create the schools we think are best for our children.

So, again this year we have worked with many different areas, and we will definitely continue to do that. At any rate, we will continue to work with unabated commitment. Also next year, we will do what we can to live up to the union's motto: “We take care of you and the independent schools”.

Happy Holidays and all the best to you in the year to come!

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