[EDITORIALS]The Ministry Blinked FirstThe Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development will allow teachers to, in effect, engage in union activities during working hours. The change in the ministry's stance gives the impression that it blinked after threats by the teachers' union to strike, calling into question its policy consistency.
The Education Ministry justified the move by saying the intent was to allow teachers to cultivate their specialties and improve their teaching skills. The ministry had opposed the union's demand, first raised in last year's collective bargaining, saying that any union activities must be limited to off-duty hours.
The activities of a legitimate group should not be unilaterally restricted. But members of the teachers' union are clearly different from most other union members in their status as government employees. The union has been consistently militant. It would not be a stretch to assume that there will be adverse effects on nonunion teachers and on students by the ministry's backpedaling.
The Education Ministry said unionized teachers' meetings should be limited to self-improvement training purposes, but that is probably just talk. How can it distinguish training sessions from union meetings? The condition that the activities should be authorized by the school's principal is also just passing the buck to principals. It increases pressure on principals and interferes with their job of running their schools. Then there is the brewing of divisions among teachers and harming students' rights to receive their teachers' attention to consider.
The Education Ministry's move is an ominous precedent, signaling that government policy and administrative direction can and will be swayed by the threat of physical force. The result will be to further encourage militant actions and resistance by union members.
The ministry should not have been in such a hurry to allow unionized teachers to meet during working hours.
More thinking and planning should have gone into the move. We hope this is the last time that the Education Ministry decides what to do first and thinks about what it means later.