Teachers union reverses course; Renews call for national strike on Wednesday

Amsterdams Lyceum, a secondary school in Amsterdam Zuid
Amsterdams Lyceum, a secondary school in Amsterdam Zuid. Jan. 21, 2017Photo: jeewee/DepositPhotos

The largest union representing education workers in the Netherlands now wants its membership to take part in a national educators strike on Wednesday after its chairperson was pushed to resign. The strike was called off on Friday by union AOb's chairperson Liesbeth Verheggen after the cabinet, led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte, committed to spending an additional 460 million euros to help improve teacher wages and work pressure.

"Last Friday, the unions, employers and Minister [Arie] Slob signed a covenant in which the government promised to invest 460 million euros in education. There was great anger among the AOb members because a considerable part of this money was one-off," the union said in a statement titled "The November 6 strike will happen."

Many teachers and union members were displeased and strongly disagreed with the decision saying that the national government needed to commit to higher education spending levels annually, instead of addressing systemic problems with lump sum payouts. Teacher shortages are now impacting up to 40 percent of schools nationwide, the AOb said last week.

On Sunday, Verheggen announced her sudden and immediate resignation following what broadcaster NOS said was a tense emergency leadership meeting at AOb headquarters in Utrecht.

"The decision had to be made on that Friday afternoon and that was too fast," Verheggen said in a statement distributed by AOb. She said instead of signing it she should have submitted it to an AOb committee and asked for membership input. "That is why I have now decided to resign as chairman of the AOb."

It was still unclear if AOb would be legally allowed to participate in a strike since Verheggen signed an agreement saying that would not happen, according to NOS. The broadcaster said the union was looking for a legal route out of the agreement.

Verheggen's resignation comes a day after at least one other organization representing educators, Leraren in Actie, pledged to continue with the strike.

The November 6 strike was expected to include all primary, secondary, and special education teachers, with support from some in higher education. Many striking workers were asked to spend time behind computers making a public appeal for their collective bargaining agreement demands on social media.

The teachers also took part in a one-day strike last school year. Their demands for substantial increases in education spending were largely ignored during the cabinet's Budget Day presentation in September and the subsequent debate in parliament.