March 4, 2011

 

THE SIERRA LEONE TEACHERS UNION: LABOR IN A POST-CONFLICT SOCIETY

John Amman1,*, James O'Donnell2

Article first published online: 4 MAR 2011

DOI: 10.1111/j.1743-4580.2011.00320.x

© The Authors. WorkingUSA: The Journal of Labor and Society © 2011 Immanuel Ness and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Abstract

The Sierra Leone Teachers Union (SLTU) has long played an important role in the country's education system and its labor movement. With more than 30,000 members, the SLTU is the largest and perhaps the most powerful union in Sierra Leone today. Nonetheless, the union struggles with challenges unheard of in developed countries. It represents teachers in an education system that was ravished by its eleven-year civil war (1991 to 2002). Not only are working conditions extremely difficult for teachers (classroom overcrowding, lack of educational materials, low pay, and often late pay), the union must negotiate union agreements with the Ministry of Education, which itself has no direct influence on the nation's coffers. Sierra Leone's Ministry of Finance and more importantly, the International Monetary Fund set policies that directly impact the quality of Sierra Leone's education system and its teachers.

 

Public sector unions in the U.S. and other parts of the developed world struggle to represent their members in the midst of the worst global recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The loss of billions of dollars in the stock market, the bankruptcy of major corporations, and the corresponding loss of jobs in the private sector have meant declines in local, state, and federal government revenues. Unions in this sector fight to protect their members' jobs, health plans, and pensions as government administrators and politicians make hard choices on what programs to keep in place and what to eliminate or which workers to keep in full-time employment and which workers to furlough or lay off. In the small West African nation of Sierra Leone, the Sierra Leone Teachers Union (SLTU) must contend with even more distressing issues. Sierra Leone is still reeling from the aftermath of an eleven-year civil war. It is a desperately poor country, and even though the nation's politicians and foreign donors maintain that education is critical to Sierra Leone's future, the teacher profession is not particularly well-regarded and teachers are certainly not well-compensated.

In this article, we provide some insight on postwar Sierra Leone and its enormous education challenges. We point out how the SLTU represents its members' issues and concerns in a country where key economic decisions are made by persons and institutions outside of the country. We also discuss how the union addresses professional development and training issues for its members and how it maintains and fosters communications in one of the world's poorest countries.

 

Furthermore, we show how the SLTU has made innovation the key in its pursuit of its member's economic and professional well-being. It has made strategic alliances with key players in Sierra Leone's development circles and in that regard, plays a role in the overall development of the country.

 

Amman, J. and O'Donnell, J. (2011), THE SIERRA LEONE TEACHERS UNION: LABOR IN A POST-CONFLICT SOCIETY. WorkingUSA, 14: 57–71. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-4580.2011.00320.x

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