The “indefinite” teachers strike lasted one day before labor leaders reached a deal with Colombian’s government, putting an end to work stoppages.
Announcements from President Juan Manuel Santos’ office and Colombia’s national teacher union (FECODE) confirmed that negotiators signed an agreement late Tuesday evening that will send striking teachers back to work starting Thursday and begin initiatives to address their grievances immediately.
Included in the deal are a payment plan to reduce Colombia’s massive outstanding debts to its public school teachers by $500 million in the coming months and a clause holding the government fully responsible for the negligence of its intermediary healthcare providers (EPS services), which teachers say have been witholding contributions to pension and health benefit funds, leaving the teachers to carry the full burden of a financially insolvent system.
The government also agreed to step up enforcement of a decree designed to protect teachers under threat from neo-paramilitary and guerrilla organizations.
President Santos, who signed the deal as its guaranteer in front of the President of the Senate and the Ministers of Health, Labor, Education and Finance, called the government’s new commitments “investments” in Colombian society, claiming an end to the strike as a sign of his government’s openness to dialogue and peaceful protest.
Labor leaders have a different take on the negotiation process, however.
FECODE Secretary General Rafael Cuello Ramirez told Colombia Reports that “the whole was unnecessary. It could have been easily avoided if the government had fulfilled its previous promises, or shown a willingness to dialogue before we went on strike”.
Still, the negotiations, he said, are a promising step forward, assuming the government can be counted on to comply with the terms of the resulting deal.
“We are glad we could come to a place where we could end the strike. For us as teachers, it was a difficult position to be in, because the children are the ones who would have been most affected. Now we are hoping the government is serious about what we agreed to, so that we don’t have to take measures like this again. The last time we made a deal, nothing changed, and that’s part of why we were on strike this time.”
The contract, which Cuello said calls for further negotiations to derive long-term solutions to among other things, the debt problem, is available for review on the FECODE website.
- Interview with Rafael Cuello Ramirez
- FECODE website
- Presidential website