A negotiation over working conditions between the Ministry of Education and the sector's unions is causing headaches for those involved. So far, nothing new. What's new is that it's the unions that are at loggerheads.
Reform is on the horizon in the education sector, and as is so often the case, with it comes controversy: This time, the hot potato is the agreement of November 16th, 2021, on the framework of the work of the so-called "EPS", that is, educational and psycho-social personnel who work with children with special needs. The sticking point: of the five organisations that have worked on the agreement since January 2020, only three have signed it. Nevertheless, the document will now serve as the blueprint for a legislative project that will define the future of the professional sector for years to come.
The unions ALEE (Association Luxembourgeoise des Educateurs et Educatrices), SLEG (Syndicat Luxembourgeois des Educateurs Gradués) and SPEBS (Syndicat du personnel de l'éducation nationale oevrant spécifiquement dans l'intérêt des élèves à besoins éducatifs spécifiques), who signed the agreement with the Ministry of Education, says it provides "good, regulated and legally secured working conditions". On the other hand, Nadia Ruef, president of the APCCA (Association du personnel des centres de compétences et de l'agence: éducatif et psychosocial) talks about "a wishy-washy text created in secrecy that will harm the quality of our work." Like the SEW (Syndicat Erzéiung a Wëssenschaft at the OGBL), the APCCA sat at the negotiating table since January. Until, as president Nadia Ruef says, they were suddenly excluded this past summer.
We need to talk
There had been a need to talk between the different players for decades, all parties agreed. There were a number of issues to be worked through. For some of the problems, it might be surprising that they had not yet been discussed and solved a long time ago. For example, a "Référentiel des Fonctions et Missions" was to be drawn up, defining for the first time precise areas of work for staff who work with children with special needs. Because up to now it was not exactly defined in each case who does what. For example, who is responsible for escorting children from the bus to school or supervising them in the cafeteria? While some steps toward clarity have been taken with the 2018 law that reorganised "education differentiée" into the eight Centres de Compétences, among other things, much room for interpretation still remains.
Especially in the complex hierarchy of the Luxembourg school system, precise working definitions are central. Interdisciplinary work groups are the order of the day, so interlocutors need to be clearly defined to avoid talking past each other. "We've been getting more and more feedback from people who work with children. They told us that some situations were suddenly handled differently by different school directors than before", write Jessica Thiel, president of SPEBS and Mario Maia, president of SLEG in response to our inquiry. As a union, they were not able to defend themselves against these arbitrary changes, which made every day work more difficult, because the working framework of the people was not clearly defined anywhere, according to the staff representatives. There was an urgent need for clarification.
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