EI defends education workers' rights at International Labour Conference

published 8 June 2017 updated 12 April 2024

The labour rights of teachers and quality terms of employment for better education systems have been at the core of EI deputy general secretary Haldis Holst's address to the International Labour Conference.

During the 106th session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, Education International's (EI) deputy general secretary and head of delegation Haldis Holst has stressed the importance of good working conditions for teachers in order to achieve better education systems and sustainable development.

Below you can find the whole text of her speech delivered today June 8.

International Labour Conference

Geneva, 8 June 2017

Intervention in the General Debate

Mrs. Haldis Holst, Deputy General Secretary

Education International

Chair, distinguished delegates,

Education International is the global union federation for more than 30 million teachers, academics, researchers and education support personnel worldwide.

In very many countries, most teachers affiliate to independent and democratic professional unions which therefore legitimately can label themselves as the voice of the teaching profession. Education unions have a dual mission: Firstly, to defend the interests of their members and the profession at large through social dialogue, and secondly, to promote education quality and equity. These two missions are intertwined and at the same time complementary.

Quality education depends on quality teaching which involves a well-trained and highly motivated teaching force. This requires fair terms and employment conditions, as spelt out in the ILO/UNESCO Recommendation on the Status of Teachers.

Throughout history, teacher unions have been at the forefront of improving education quality and educational opportunities for all. It is no coincidence that countries with strong education systems most often also have strong education unions. In its report on the 2009 PISA results, the OECD noted, “Some of the most successful (education) reforms are those supported by strong unions rather than those that keep the union role weak.” We also know that some of the most effective professional development programs are organized by education unions.

However, the labour rights of teachers, although protected by ILO conventions, are too frequently ignored by Governments. The list of violators that Education International and the ILO hold accountable is much too long. The Commission on the Application of Standards will review the violation of teacher rights in Algeria, Bahrain, Botswana, Cambodia, Ecuador and Turkey to name some. Unfortunately Brazil and Korea did not make it on the final list, and believe me they would have deserved a discussion. In Bahrain, Ecuador and Korea, independent education unions have been delegalized. In Turkey, over 28,000 teachers and academics have been dismissed and replaced. In Botswana, the Parliament is envisaging to convert the teaching sector into an essential service.

Of course teachers and education are essential, but education is not an essential service according to the ILO definition.

A quality public education system must have respect for teachers as a core value. That respect must be reflected in appropriate training, pay and working conditions. It requires class sizes that are manageable, professional support, and safe and well-equipped facilities. All of which must be reflected in freely negotiated collective agreements. The right to strike is a fundamental element of a good and equal negotiation process, also for teachers.

The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association has stated that teachers do not fall within the definition of essential services, despite the importance of their service to pupils and the community at large. Education unions therefore should have the same right as other workers’ organizations to take the actions they find necessary.

Teachers and education are part of the solution in achieving many of the objectives in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Challenges such as poverty, inequality, child labour, decent work, climate change and quality education. Teachers have a key role in addrDepuessing today’s and tomorrow’s social endeavors. They are key actors for societies when tackling challenges and change, such as preventing extremism and securing the rights of refugees and displaced people.

Education unions are an essential element of any democratic society, both as the representative of a profession expected to impart democratic values to future generations, and as a pressure group enforcing social justice and democratic rights.

Thank you.