The time has finally come: the pay gap for primary teachers in the Netherlands is closed!


This year, ETUCE member organisation in the Netherlands, AOb is celebrating a major success in the name of teachers’ rights and equality in the teaching profession. After 5 years of mobilisation through strikes and negotiations, the pay gap for education personnel between primary and secondary education is finally closed. With money from the coalition agreement, trade unions and employers have succeeded to raise the pay in primary education to the level of secondary education. With this agreement, the pay in primary and secondary education has become equal, for all teachers, school leaders and the whole education personnel. This success constitutes also a significant step forward for gender equality in the education sector in the Netherlands, since the percentage of women employed in the primary sector is significantly higher than in the secondary sector.


In the framework of the ETUCE Special Conference, we had a chance to speak to Jelmer Evers (Vice-President)and Tamar Van Gelder (President) of  AOb, who provided us with first hand insights on this successful achievement and the work behind it.

  1. Could you explain to us what brought this issue on the table and what was the journey which led to the closing of the pay gap between primary and secondary education in the Netherlands?


Jelmer Evers: In 2017, our union started to promote strikes and other trade union actions, whose main driver was the teacher shortage issue, linked to the pay gap between primary and secondary education, which is not justified as teachers at both levels are equally qualified. The problems related to salaries in education were always our priority, but the pay gap between primary and secondary school teachers per se was not on our agenda. This theme was brought to AOb’s attention by three male primary school teachers who underlined the inequality related to this pay gap in a newspaper article, which received much attention. Consequently, the union considered this issue as a priority to be brought to the attention of national policy-makers.  At first, we received quite a lot of criticism from other unions about the strikes, as well as our members were internally divided on this issue. However, after a series of successful strikes, a snowballing process started  and the public embraced this cause, which eventually led to a 900 million investment in total by the Dutch government to raise the salaries of primary education personnel to the level of secondary education.

Tamar Van Gelder: After 5 years of strikes, which put the accent on the teachers’ pay gap in the framework of the recovery from the pandemic, the new elected government in the Netherlands in January 2022 could not overlook this problem, since it goes hand in hand with the issue of teacher shortage. Overall, this was a significant success and AOb gives the credit to some Dutch politicians, but there is still the need for bigger investment, and the government should be more involved and concerned about the education sector. In the Netherlands, the money has been allocated to our sector, but the problem remains on how to spend it correctly.

  1. How did the harmonisation of the salary between primary and secondary education help from a gender equality perspective?

Tamar Van Gelder: In the Netherlands, similarly to other countries, the percentage of women working in primary education is significantly higher than in other education sectors. Consequently, the pay gap between primary and secondary education created income inequality also between male and female education personnel. Therefore, as a result of this success, we see a strong improvement in gender equality in the education sector.

Jelmer Evers: AOb’s original goal as well as the narrative from the Dutch government did not specifically focus on improving the gender equality, but rather on the equal pay for the work of equal value. However, the results of this measure are leading to an increased equality for every social class and gender.

  1. What would you suggest to education trade unions in other countries who would like to pursue a similar objective?

Tamar Van Gelder: The experience of reaching this achievement showed that collective engagement is once again the right approach to seek concrete success as trade unions. Organising every initiative in cooperation with other unions and with people and organisations supporting the cause helps to deliver a clear message through negotiating, organising and networking at multiple level. Even during the pandemic, our union was constantly lobbying the stakeholders in education and cooperating with other unions to keep our message alive. In fact, it also helped the trade union renewal. Further, I would suggest to not be scared of using new methods to engage with the public, such as social media for example.

Jelmer Evers: A suitable suggestion is to be engaged with the public through making use of networks and social media as a catalyst, as we noticed great solidarity and interest on our objective coming also from students and their parents as well as different organisations. During the strikes we noticed great enthusiasm and collective mobilisation, however had we merely focused on the strikes we would probably not have had the same success. Indeed, education trade unions should build up connect and negotiate for concrete solutions through networking with different actors and stakeholders involved in this field. In particular, trade unions should not be afraid to listen to the people who are outside of their organisation in order to find different useful perspectives, as AOb did with the three primary school teachers who brought up the topic of the pay gap and are now members of AOb.  Thus, the suggestion is to talk and cooperate with trade union members, be proactive and try to facilitate the teaching profession in your country by standing firmly and fighting for every crucial issue together.