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By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Public school teachers in the Federal District (DF) went on strike on Monday as fore-warning of a national teachers strike planned to take place on the 14th, 15th and 16th of this month. Almost half a million students in the Federal District’s state education system will miss out on classes for a period that could potentially stretch to a week or more.

The sign on the school gate reads, "Teachers on strike", photo by Marcello Casal Jr/ABr.

The Brazilian Confederation of Workers in Education (CNTE) is coordinating the nationwide movement which has three principle demands. The first is that states comply with a national minimum wage for education workers which was agreed in 2008.

The second is that a proper career training and development structure for teachers is defined and implemented. And the third is that ten percent of GDP be devoted to the National Plan for Education (PNE) to improve the public education system.

A minimum wage for public sector education workers was agreed upon four years ago. For 2012, it has been adjusted to R$1,451 per month. However, according to the CNTE, seventeen of the states have been underpaying, sometimes by as much as two thirds.

Roberto Leão, President of the CNTE, said, “Rest assured that [the CNTE] will not leave state and city governors in peace while this law is not being obeyed in its entirety.” The Confederation is also pushing for this minimum to be increased to R$1,937.26.

The DF strike is being organized by the Federal District’s Teachers Union, Sinpro-DF. They are fighting for salary increases to bring teacher’s pay in line with other graduate-level, public sector salaries in the region, as well as a restructure of their career development path. Their decision to go on strike indefinitely was made last Wednesday at a rally in Brasilia with more than 12,000 attendees.

Federal District governor, Agnelo Queiroz, Brazil News
Federal District governor, Agnelo Queiroz, says negotiations will be ongoing, photo by Elza Fiuza/ABr.

Their plan of action is to use the time to stage a series of regional assemblies, rallies and demonstrations to raise awareness of their grievance until March 20th.

“Now is the time for each one of us to assume responsibility for the victory of our movement,” the union urged its members following the meeting on Wednesday. Their battle for higher pay has been bubbling for many months.

According to a note released by the Federal District’s State Government (the GDF), teachers have already been awarded a raise of 13.83 percent, among other improvements, which the GDF claim was “the biggest in the country in 2011.”

Sinpro’s director, Wahington Dourado, blogs, “The truth is that the teachers, after much pressure, managed to negotiate a pay raise divided into three portions, which [by the end of] 2011, added up to eleven percent; the remainder in 2012.” However, he goes on to claim that the State Governor, Agnelo Santos Queiroz Filho, has now broken some of his agreements.

A second note by the GDF said that they were limited in what pay rises they could offer by the ceiling set by the Fiscal Responsibility Law, but that, “The Federal District Government recognizes the legitimacy of the teachers’ movement and will never cease to recognize their importance and responsibility to our city and students… [We want to ensure] the continuity of the debate [and] to meet the goals set by [the teachers].”

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