Education International
Education International

General Debate Statement by Fred van Leeuwen, General Secretary of Education International at the International Labour Conference, Geneva

published 8 June 2006 updated 8 June 2006

EI has requested ILO to set international standards for the recruitment of teachers. In his address to the annual ILO Conference in Geneva, EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen said that industrialized countries should not try to remedy teacher shortages by poaching teachers from low-income countries. Van Leeuwen recommended that an existing protocol on teachers' recruitment for the British Commonwealth countries be used as a model for the standards to be established worldwide. Below is the full text of the address delivered by the EI General Secretary.


Mr. President, delegates,

The teachers of the world welcome the ILO's message of hope, this year, in the report: "The end of child labour: within reach". We too want to reach the critical threshold quickly, to put an end to child labour, for once and for all. Education International, representing the world's teachers and education employees, works with our sister global unions to achieve it. No longer can we accept that the coffee we drink, or the shoes we wear, were produced at some point in the supply chain by child labour.

Like the ILO, we want to move children from workplaces to classrooms. But the task is immense. All countries have committed to Education for All, yet already countries are falling behind the Millennium Development Goal benchmarks. The very first benchmark - gender equity in primary education by 2005 - has been missed in most of Africa and in much of Asia. One of the major obstacles is the continuing spread of HIV/AIDS.

Another huge challenge is to train enough qualified teachers. UNESCO's latest report shows that we need 18.1 million newly trained teachers by the year 2015 - nine years from now! The ILO Sectoral Action Programme for education "Teachers for the Future" aims to "Meet teacher shortages to achieve education for all", by bringing together governments, employers and teacher unions to tackle the challenge together, nationally and regionally. Yet so far, that Action Programme, which is a good programme, has functioned in only twelve (12) countries. The ILO must continue the work, and put in the basic human and financial resources required. Otherwise this programme will turn out to be just another drop in the bucket of good intentions, and its outcomes will be washed away.

In this respect I must also refer to the new Commonwealth Protocol on Teacher Recruitement agreed by EI's Commonwealth member unions and their governments. The Protocol, facilitated by the Commonwealth Secretariat, is a good model. We propose that the ILO take this model and work with us to establish its standards worldwide. It is of crucial importance that industrialised countries stop "poaching" qualified teachers from low income countries.

On World Teachers' Day this year, the 5th of October, we will have the 40th anniversary of the ILO/UNESCO Recommendation on the status of teachers. Just after that, the committee of experts, CEART, will meet here at the ILO to report on progress. The picture is not a good one. In many developing countries, the wages, when wages are paid, are so low that teachers are also driving taxis, working in hotels or even in the informal economy - just to survive. Yet education for all, quality education for all, is one of the keys to the prospect of future decent work for today's young people. They deserve, they need, qualified teachers, able and available to give them full attention. The mass protest of school children in Chile today are a sign of the times. In many countries students and parents are supporting teachers more and more in their efforts to prevent or stop declining quality and accessibility of our public education systems.

ILO standards help set the conditions required for communities to build better futures; standards like the conventions to end child labour, to provide proper maternity leave. Just as important are the standards to protect trade union rights. ILO's freedom of association has won great respect. We find unacceptable any attempts to either politicise the Freedom of Association Committee through the election process, or to weaken its jurisprudence.

This latest challenge is part of a pattern. Nationally and internationally there is an unrelenting assault on the very concept of norms and principles of behavior in workplace relations. Protection of workers' collective rights is denied. We see it in Australia and in other countries. We see it in this attack on freedom of association jurisprudence.

All this in the context of globalisation. Do we have to accept a race to the bottom? If the world's most populous country grows at 8 percent per annum, and does it by denying basic rights, including independent trade unions, does that mean the rest of the world has to do the same, in the name of competition? I put it to you that globalisation should not be used to justify weakening of standards. Rather, globalisation is the very reason why we need to strengthen, and apply, standards.

Mr. President,

The global trade union movement is modernising to meet that challenge. Education International strongly supports the strengthening of our capacity to act, and is glad to play a part in it. We see a decent future for all, not just the fortunate few, being built upon the foundation of genuine, constructive social dialogue between governments, employers and representative organizations of workers - in a word, the tripartism which is at the heart of the ILO.

We continue counting on ILO in helping us create that future.

Thank you.