Forging global solidarity to safeguard rights

published 2 November 2021 updated 22 November 2021

The 58th meeting of Education International’s Executive Board (ExBo), held virtually on 26 October, was marked by a solid commitment to vaccine equity from education unions around the world. Access to COVID-19 vaccines for teachers and education support personnel globally is essential for a safe and permanent return to onsite education.

The struggle to defend human and trade union rights was also high in the agenda as was the mandate to bring the voice of the teaching profession to international fora throughout the pandemic. These international platforms included the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organization, with Education International advocating to build back fairer and more equitable post-COVID societies through education.

Protecting human and trade union rights

At the Exbo meeting, human and trade union rights violations affecting Education International’s affiliates across the world were reported. Rights abuses have been reported in countries such as Afghanistan, Bahrain, Belarus, Colombia, Haiti, Hong Kong, Jordan, Myanmar, the Philippines and Yemen.

With the takeover by the Taliban in Afghanistan in August, Education International has expressed grave concerns about the safety of teachers and equal access to education, especially for girls. EI has stood in solidarity with its members in defending the right to inclusive and equitable quality education for all, voicing its full support of girls’ education

Arrests, torture, and unfair trials in Bahrain, as well as the suppression of freedom of association and expression have also been reported. Teachers' working conditions there have seriously deteriorated during the pandemic. In a recent survey, 80 per cent of students in Bahrain said that teachers’ presence in classrooms was irreplaceable and that they missed face-to-face contact as part of an effective learning process.

In Belarus, Education International and its regional office ,the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), have liaised with other civil groups including student and journalist unions. Efforts have been made to develop capacity building to support union leaders in sustaining the fight for democratic values and practices in and through education. Notably, using the Russian edition of EI’s 25 Lessons on Democracy and Education.

In Colombia, systematic violence against trade unionists and, particularly, against education union leaders continues, with the assassination of six teachers and threats to more than 150 others. Education International ExBo member Nelson Alarcón, a former national President of FECODE, has repeatedly received death threats since protests began in April. More than 240 young people and social leaders have also been assassinated.

On August 1, the Chinese government and the Hong Kong pro-Beijing government forced the ‘voluntary’ closure of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union. The 48-year-old union was labelled by the authorities as “a malignant tumor that should be eradicated.”The union has been under attack for years due to its support for the pro-democracy movement.

In Jordan, Education International launched an urgent action appeal in October in response to the dissolution of the Jordanian Teachers’ Association (JTA) and the widespread dismissal of teachers. On 5 October, World Teachers’ Day, the Jordanian security forces arrested and detained 14 leading members of the JTA. Riot police were also deployed to stop peaceful demonstrations held to denounce the ongoing government crackdown on trade union rights.

In Myanmar, 29 teachers have been killed by the junta assault against pro-democracy marches. Hundreds of teachers have been imprisoned and over 200,000 have been suspended. On September 15, International Day of Democracy, Education International joined the Global Union Day of Action organised by the Council of Global Unions to stop the military-led junta from gaining recognition at the 76th UN General Assembly (UNGA) and recognise the National Unity Government (NUG) as the legitimate government of Myanmar. Education International has also been working with the Myanmar Teachers Federation and the NUG Education Ministry to support democratic values and practices in and through education, using EI’s 25 Lessons on Democracy and Education.

As part of the efforts to expose the deterioration of rights in the trade union and education sectors in the Philippines, Education International has recently supported the group, Investigate PH, which submitted three reports to the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. The reports include several recommendations and a clear call for a UN-led probe on the human rights violations of the Duterte administration.

Education International continues to monitor abuses of human and trade union rights globally and advocates at the highest levels for improved conditions for educators, particularly now as the pandemic evolves.