Teachers Syndicate: A Story of Legal Empowerment
Lawyer Ziyad Baroud*
The Teachers Syndicate is not new on the scene in terms of issues, unionizing and fighting for its rights. Its leading role in the Union Coordination Committee and in other causes relating to rights is well established. I would like to shed light on two aspects that I have had to deal with by virtue of my position as lawyer and legal counsel to the syndicate since 1996: The fate of the salary scale and the mechanisms of legal empowerment within the framework of claiming the rights of teachers, given the impact of these two issues on social security.
1 - The salary scale:
It is known that the passing of the scale under Law 46/2017 was the result of a legal struggle led by the syndicate with the Union Coordination Committee over the years. The parliamentary elections of May 2018 may have been an incentive for certain political forces to see the scale through on the eve of the ballot. The law was enacted and became effective in accordance with legislative procedures. However, the issuing of the law was not necessarily accompanied by its implementation. Some school administrations objected and only applied it in part, while others refused to apply it altogether, and others still applied it literally and in full. In the context of a severe economic and social crisis, teachers were framed in confrontation with the administrations of some schools. The parents objected to the increase in tuition fees. Everyone unfortunately clashed and an official response was missing, leaving the partners in the educational process floundering in implementing a law enacted by legislators who failed to follow up on the process. This has led to, among many things, other problems before the Compensation Fund for private school teaching staff, which has slowed down the settling of end-of-service compensations and pensions. All this has threatened social security as it affects large segments of society, particularly teachers and parents, depriving the former of rights owed to them as recognized by the law and imposing on the latter additional burdens. Not to mention that some schools (especially in rural areas) already suffer from accumulated deficit.
In the absence of a decision by competent officials, there is growing concern today regarding potential re-examination of the rights recognized by the law already in effect—rights granted by some schools and obtained by those eligible. Legislative stability is a cornerstone of social stability. There should be no improvisation in legislation, especially since there are already available solutions that may allow for a sustainable response, provided that the State assumes some of its responsibility with regard to basic education that has been compulsory since 2011.
2 - Legal empowerment:
Meanwhile, the Teachers Syndicate continues to seek the empowerment of teachers, as it has done since the mid-1990s. In addition to the work of its executive board and its branches in the regions, the syndicate offers free legal advice on a weekly basis. It also conducts correspondence with the relevant official bodies and takes legal proceedings in matters of principle. It is perhaps the only syndicate of its size in Lebanon that offers this type of services to its members free of charge. Experience has shown that supporting teachers through legal empowerment contributes significantly to securing their rights and preventing loss of such rights due to ignorance of the law. In the same context, the office of the legal counselor of the syndicate issued booklets and books on:
- «The Rights of Teachers in Questions and Answers», a booklet that includes a simplification of knowledge about rights.
- «The Rights of Teachers in Legislation», which is a collection and compilation of various laws and regulations relating to teaching staff in private schools. It has been issued in two editions to date.
- «Dismissal from Service and the Rights of Teachers», a book on the various aspects of dismissal from service with jurisprudence references and case law. It has been issued in three editions to date.
- A number of articles and comments on judicial rulings concerning teachers, especially in the journal «Al Adl» (Justice) issued by the Beirut Bar Association.
In all of the above, the syndicate plays a very important role in raising awareness and assisting teachers, who form an educated group in society so that they are able to communicate with the school administrations in a way that lives up to the educational space they share with them.
In the end, despite the noise, confrontations, strikes and anger rounds that it brings at times, it is clear that the syndical experience also raises the level of debate and reinforcement of rights, pushing towards dialogue with partners in the educational process: from the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and the Parliamentary Education Committee to unions of educational institutions, school administrations and parent committees.
This is the way toward achieving social security. Not only because of the number of stakeholders in the educational issue, but especially because of what this issue means for the future of Lebanon. Here people are edified and here every one learns the meaning of rights and the meaning of respecting them. And from here will emerge the future leader of the country. Here real development begins and is carried on sustainably...
*Appeals lawyer, Lecturer at the University of Saint Joseph (USJ), Former Minister of Interior and Legal Counselor to the Teachers Syndicate of Lebanon