Netherlands to pump €460 million into education; Teachers cancel planned strike

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Update, 13:45, 3 Nov. 2019: Two days later the country's largest teachers union, AOb, decided the strike should go ahead as planned and that its deal with the government should be severed. The union chairperson resigned.

The Dutch cabinet announced on Friday it had reached an agreement with teachers unions and employers to boost government spending in education by roughly 460 million euros, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in an interview on broadcaster NOS. The deal puts an end to a planned November 6 strike by primary and secondary school teachers and special education instructors teachers union AOb told the broadcaster.

"We had already said in the general debate after Budget Day  we are going to try to find money. A good amount has since been found, 460 million" Rutte said. "A small part of which is structural money," he added saying that further details "still need to be worked out."

The money would be put mainly towards conditions being negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement with the teachers, but also to reduce their demanding workload. It will be spread out over a few years, he said, and includes a promise of cash from Arie Slob, the minister currently handling the education issue, who had committed to a 285 million euro boost to the sector, but only once the a bargaining agreement was in place. 

The agreed upon amount exceeds the 423.5 million euros demanded by trade unions and employers this past July. Union AOb said that much was needed to deal with a teacher shortage that potentially affects about 40 percent of schools in the Netherlands, including one Amsterdam Montessori school which shut its doors because of staffing problems. The union wanted to see money spent on salary increases, reduced workload, and the cabinet's commitment to spend a one-off lump sum to combat primary school teacher shortages.

The education sector expressed extreme disappointment with Rutte's third cabinet for an unwillingness to meaningfully increase spending in the sector. The debate intensified when the government, with the benefit of a budget surplus, promised few enhancements the day the proposed national budget was revealed.

It led to an initial call by unions to strike, with negotiations ongoing for a new collective bargaining agreement. Disappointment was also expressed by new ECB leader Christine Lagarde, who was perplexed by the government's surplus and simultaneous lack of investment in education, infrastructure, and innovation.

The teachers already went on a one-day strike over their complaints in March. The campaign was supported by higher education lecturers as well, and backed by unions and supporters like AOb, FNV, PO in Actie, VO in Actie, and FVoV.

Instead of the March strike, which gathered on the Malieveld in Den Haag, next week's strike organizers were asking teachers to spend as much time as possible getting their message to the public via social media.

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