After a long, drawn out strike, Morocco’s teachers are still unclear on their future having emerged from a series of turbulent negotiations with the government. After well over a month of strike action, the Ministry of Education finally succumbed to requests for dialogue and sat down in April at the negotiation table with the National Coordination of Forcibly Contracted Teachers (NCFCT). The strike, which began on March 6, came as a result of teachers’ frustration at a new contract that left many new teachers without the privileges enjoyed by their more experienced colleagues. Five labor unions attended the negotiations, which began on April 13, along with representatives of the Human Rights Committee.
Two hours after the initial roundtable meeting, the Ministry of Education posted on its official Facebook page, claiming that the contracted teachers had agreed to return to work in exchange for a guarantee that no legal sanctions would be brought against them. The five labor unions later confirmed that this had indeed been the outcome. Meanwhile, NCFCT leaders were debating whether to continue the strike. While many teachers believed that action should continue, NCFCT leaders published a statement echoing the Ministry and the labor unions, urging teachers to return to work. This angered a majority of NCFCT members, with many going as far as to call their leaders “traitors.”
On April 14, regional CFCTs around the country met to decide the next step. Around 70 percent refused to agree to the deal offered to them by the Ministry of Education, a reflection of the enormous level of support for the strikes among teachers. In one region, Al Hoceima, 98 percent of teachers joined the strike. Following the decision, the NCFCT leaders reversed their original position and called for the strike to continue. Many striking teachers, unaware of this change of heart, returned to work on Monday April 15, causing bureaucratic chaos at many schools. Upon their return, many teachers had written warnings waiting for them from the Ministry of Education, in reaction to which many immediately joined the strike anew.
The NCFCT vowed to continue strike action and carried out sit-ins and marches in Morocco’s capital, Rabat in the week commencing April 22. On April 24, after three days of protests, the Ministry of Education announced that it had called upon thousands of newly graduated university students to replace the striking teachers. Upon hearing this news, many teachers left the capital to return to work in defeat, while many stayed to continue the protest. This marked a turning point and tensions rose to new levels.
The night of Wednesday, April 24 saw clashes between protesters and police on the streets of Rabat. Law enforcement used water cannons to subdue protesters, during which an elderly man, Abdellah Hajili, was knocked to the ground. Hajili, who was attending the march with his daughter, a contract teacher from Safi, suffered severe injuries and was hospitalized in Souissi Hospital in Rabat where he lay in a coma, having suffered fractures to bones in his face, arms, and chest, and died a month later on May 27.
The NCFCT told Inside Arabia that the Hajili family had not been allowed to visit him while they awaited a medical report. Following his injury, NCFCT teachers raised over 80,000 Dirham (approx. $8,000) for the family of Hajili, whom NCFCT members now refer to as “Our Father” in solidarity.
On April 27, the NCFCT called on its teachers to return to work out of respect for students and their parents, on the condition that mass protests would commence again in the event that Hajili’s condition worsened. A protest was also organized by the Marrakech Coordination on Sunday, May 5 in Hajili’s home city of Safi, to demand the release of his medical report. In late May, the Court of Appeals in Rabat ordered an investigation into Hajili’s death.
Meetings between the Ministry of Education and the NCFCT were postponed several times between April and May.
With months of negotiations having failed to result in a resolution, it appears that this saga is far from over.
“We have lost the battle,” said an NCFCT leader, “but we haven’t lost the war.”