Ecuador’s National Education Union, UNE, is facing the threat of being shut down as the Ministry of Education initiates proceedings for the union’s legal dissolution, a move that violates the country’s international commitments.
With the support of Education International (EI) and other public sector trade unions in Ecuador, UNE has appealed for direct intervention from the Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Guy Ryder. The UNE is one of the oldest and largest trade unions in Ecuador.
Letter from education ministry
“The Ecuadorean government is seeking to dissolve our trade union because of the public statements we have made at the ILO Conference and the UN Human Rights Committee this year explaining, in detail and with evidence, how the government is systematically violating freedom of association,” said Rosana Palacios, General Secretary of the UNE. On 21 July, UNE received a letter from the Ministry of Education initiating proceedings for the legal dissolution of the trade union.
The next day, UNE asked the ILO to urge the Ecuadorian government to respect its international commitments as a signatory to ILO Conventions 87 and 98 and to halt the legal proceedings against the teachers’ union.
Registration of non-profit organisations
The moves to dissolve the UNE originate around the implementation of a specific regulation, Decree 16, which concerns new and numerous requirements for the registration of non-profit organisations. In its 21 July letter, the Ministry of Education for the Metropolitan District of Quito informed UNE that the union would be dissolved according to Article 24 of Decree 739 for “failing to comply with the provisions of the Constitution, the law and this regulation or for undertaking actions which are prohibited”. Decree 739 is a regulation to implement an earlier Decree 16. However, in its mission to Ecuador in January this year, the ILO Mission received explicit assurances from the Ministry of Labour that Decree 16 did not apply to trade unions.
The UNE has been given 15 days to refute the charges against it, without specifying what those charges might be.
Trend of harassment
This latest attack on UNE comes on top of a catalogue of persecution and harassment. The check-off system was stopped in 2009; trade union leaders have been falsely accused of criminal offences, transferred to remote areas, given unfair and discriminatory professional appraisals; and trade union leave has been denied.
In addition, the government has sought to blame the trade union for inadequacies in public education provisions and has set up a parallel trade union. It has confiscated the UNE-managed pension funds. Furthermore, the government never registered the 2013 Executive Committee, duly elected following all the statutory proceeding, and the new leadership, elected again in 2016, without providing any reasons. Without official registration of the leadership, the UNE bank accounts were suspended. Amongst other obstacles, this has meant that the UNE has been unable to receive solidarity donations following the 2016 earthquake.
Education International is urging its affiliates to voice their support for the UNE. They can do this by writing to the Ministry of Education in Ecuador, calling for the immediate withdrawal of the notice of legal dissolution of the UNE. They can also sign and share the LabourStart petition in support of UNE.
“This action by the Ministry of Education has no legal foundation,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “The UNE has been at the forefront of campaigns for quality public education in Ecuador and gathered over 70,000 signatures for a popular referendum to adopt a new and progressive law on education. Together with other public sector trade unions, it has proposed a draft new public sector law, including the right to collective bargaining. The UNE deserves all our support at this critical time and we are confident that the ILO will do its utmost to find a satisfactory solution to this crisis.”