Afghanistan: reaffirming strong support for exiled trade unionists and for the return of democracy, freedom and equality

published 3 May 2022 updated 17 June 2024

Together with French affiliates and leaders of French national and international trade union confederations, Education International took stock of the catastrophic situation of democracy and education in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. It also reiterated its commitment to and solidarity with Afghan trade unionists who, despite being exiled in France, are still fighting for a better future in their country.

Education International and two of its French affiliates, the Syndicat général de l'Éducation nationale-CFDT Travail (SGEN-CFDT) and the Fédération de la Formation et de l'Enseignement privés-CFDT (FEP-CFDT), attended the international trade union conference on human rights in Afghanistan organised by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and three French trade union confederations, the Confédération française et démocratique du Travail (CFDT), the Confédération générale du Travail (CGT) and Force Ouvrière (FO).

Solidarity, a fundamental trade union value

Speaking on behalf of the General Secretary of Education International, Florian Lascroux stressed that Education International welcomes the intense work that has already been done in conjunction with the ITUC on the Afghanistan situation and saluted the tremendous work that has been carried out for months now by the French confederations, with the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, to evacuate trade union activists and their relatives from the country.

He went on to note that “in an international context where there is a perception that crises are multiplying, it is essential that trade unions show in a very concrete way that solidarity is at the heart of their values”.

Education International's action in support of trade unionists in Afghanistan

He also recalled the actions taken with its affiliates since the Taliban took back control in Afghanistan:

  • Support for its member organisation in the country, the National Teachers' Education Council (NTEC), so that it can continue to operate on the ground in the regions;
  • Adoption by the Executive Board of Education International in December 2021 of a resolution in support of education, peace and human rights in Afghanistan; and
  • The launch of an urgent action appeal to all 400 member organisations to raise funds to support its affiliate in that country and to assist in the evacuation of activists.

The Observatory for the Rights of Afghan Teachers

Lascroux went on to explain that Education International will create an Observatory for the Rights of Afghan Teachers. This will be in the hands of the NTEC, which will collect data on four main points:

  1. Teachers' salaries;
  2. Human or trade union rights violations, with a particular focus on gender equity;
  3. Working and living conditions of women teachers; and
  4. School attendance, especially for girls, in relation to UN Sustainable Development Goal 4.

This Observatory will make it possible to:

  • Make the voice of Afghan teachers heard by sharing testimonies; and
  • Build advocacy based on factual elements.

Lascroux also relayed the EI General Secretary’s proposal to continue in the coming months the joint work begun with the ITUC on the Afghan situation.

Ensuring a decent reception for Afghan trade unionists who arrive in France

In his speech, Laurent Berger, General Secretary of the CFDT, said that the aim of this conference was to recognise the value of the solidarity actions carried out and to foresee others in the long term. “We will support steps taken to ensure that Afghans who arrive in France can be welcomed and housed properly,” he said.

For Philippe Martinez, General Secretary of the CGT, “we must collectively ensure that we regularly express our views and take action to denounce the violations of fundamental rights in Afghanistan. We must be vigilant about the reception of Afghan refugees in France.”

The three French trade union confederations have long been involved together in international solidarity and must continue to act to secure the restoration of fundamental rights in Afghanistan, while also taking steps so that Afghan refugees can live in a dignified manner in France, said Yves Veyrier, General Secretary of FO.

The voice of Afghan trade unionists

The conference participants were also able to listen to the interventions of Afghan trade unionists who spoke about the situation of workers’ rights and that of women's rights in Afghanistan.

Maroof Qaderi, president in exile of the National Union of Afghanistan Workers and Employees (NUAWE), described the human rights abuses in Afghanistan. He noted that unemployment is very high, with 800,000 people losing their jobs, especially women, under the Taliban. There is no freedom of expression and journalists are threatened, he said. He similarly criticised the fact that the Taliban have suspended or amended labour and human rights laws, causing many to flee the country.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are 2.6 million Afghan refugees registered worldwide, of which 2.2 million are registered in Iran and Pakistan alone. A further 3.5 million people are internally displaced, having fled their homes in search of refuge in the country.

Habiba Fakhri, Vice President of NUAWE, explained that “Afghanistan is a rich country with poor people”. She condemned the fact that, since the change of regime, the economy has collapsed, there is a lot of corruption, and international aid has stopped coming in. Violent groups are fighting for power in the regions, she noted. She also deplored the increase in famine throughout the country.

International trade union solidarity

“There is still a lot to be done in Afghanistan. However, the first steps have been taken and we can be proud of the trade union movement,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

She also congratulated the French trade unions who have done an extraordinary job in enabling trade unionists and their families to come to France and assured that “we will make sure that these comrades can have a decent life in France”.

The ITUC, she added, will continue its advocacy work on Afghanistan and will talk about it beyond the trade union circle. The rights to democracy and freedom are at the heart of our trade union values, she said.

Anthony Bellanger, General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), said his organisation is also present on the ground and “it is a real nightmare. More than 300 media outlets have been banned. In 2021, 12 journalists were killed. Our action on the ground is becoming humanitarian, so dramatic is the situation. We hope that the light of information in Afghanistan will not be extinguished.”

Many people have lost their jobs in Afghanistan, deplored Ariel Castro, Senior Workers Activities Specialist and Head of the Asia-Pacific Region at the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) Bureau for Workers' Activities (ACTRAV). He highlighted the fact that “we have a responsibility to defend workers and their rights. We are continuing our efforts, with our office in Kabul, to assist Afghan trade unions and develop activities in Afghanistan.”

In her concluding remarks, Burrow stressed that “we leave this conference with hope based on solidarity. You see here what the trade union movement is capable of when we want to uphold justice.”

Finally, addressing the Afghan trade unionists, Burrow guaranteed that “we will work on the basis of the right to democracy. We will fight alongside you. Your courage and determination are an inspiration to us all.”