Education International
Education International

Statement by Bob Harris, Senior Consultant (on behalf of Fred van Leeuwen, EI General Secretary) at the International Labour Conference 12 June 2007

published 14 June 2007 updated 14 June 2007

Mr/Madam President, distinguished delegates

No-one dares to contest today that children should be learning not working. We reaffirm that principle today, on the World Day against child labour. But, not so long ago, child labour was accepted in many parts of the world. One of the great achievements of the ILO has been to establish that child labour is not acceptable. ILO plays a key role through IPEC in turning the principle into practice Today, ILO focuses on child labour in agriculture. Education International participates with the International Federation of Food and Agriculture workers, IUF, in a joint industry/union Foundation to eliminate child labour in the cocoa industry. EI is a permanent member of the Global Task Force on Child Labour. This is practical work. For moving from principle to practice remains the big challenge. Last year’s ILO report showed that progress has been made. But there is still a long way to go, and we call on governments to renew their efforts. The elimination of child labour is closely linked with the campaign to achieve education for all. Yet the latest reports show that many countries are falling short. In July 2007, we will be at exactly the half-way point in the 15 year programme to achieve the millennium development goal of primary education for all children by the year 2015. Seven and a half years have gone by since the governments of the world made that commitment. Yet the monitoring reports coming in show that most countries are still far from the half-way mark. There are several reasons for this shortfall. The first is failure to engage with the social partners at national level. Education unions can contribute mightily. Our members are ready to do so, but too often governments keep them at a distance, instead of engaging with them. The second reason is that the conditions of teachers in developing countries are often appalling. Teachers, too, need decent work, so that they can fulfill their vocation and provide quality education. But teachers often have to take extra jobs just so they and their families can survive. And the education of the children suffers. The third reason is that there are too many stop-gap solutions - engaging un-qualified people as so-called voluntary teachers, and the like. Putting a body in front of a group of children is not education. Education is also about quality, about basic minimum standards. Fourthly, we need to confront the growing shortage of qualified teachers. UNESCO estimates a shortage of 18 million by 2015, unless major efforts are made to step up training and recruitment. All these issues: participation of the social partners, decent working conditions for our teachers, properly qualified teachers, and the looming teacher shortage, are covered in the important report presented to this conference by the Joint ILO/UNESCO committee of experts on the recommendations on the status of teachers – CEART. [40 years after governments unanimously adopted the recommendation on primary and secondary school teachers; and a decade after they adopted the recommendation on university teaching personnel -] this joint committee has shone a spotlight on the failings of States in each of the areas I have highlighted. The facts are known, the expert analysis is presented with great clarity. What more does it take for governments to act? We must act, for the sake of our young people. A major issue confronting all states is migration and mobility. EI and its member unions are concerned by two aspects:

  • Firstly, the impact on our schools and the need for resources and policies which enable schools to respond well to that impact.
  • Secondly, growing migration and mobility within the teaching profession. ILO has done valuable work on a rights-based approach to migration, and we are urging the OECD, in particular, to draw upon that work in its new major policy study on migration.

EI like other Global Unions will continue to advocate an approach to migration based on non-discrimination. When we call for respect for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we mean what we say! We mean respect for trade union rights. It is time for the government of Ethiopia for example, to respect the findings of the ILO Freedom of Association Committee. It is time for trade union rights to be respected in Colombia, in Cambodia, in Burma, and in many other countries. We mean respect for the rights of women; we mean respect for gender equality. The message from the ILO Global Report: ‘Equality at Work: Tackling the Challenges’ is clear. We mean non-discrimination on any grounds. We cannot and will not accept discrimination against teachers on the basis of their sexual orientation, as is being proposed by a European government whose President was scheduled to address this session of the International Labour Conference. Education International is proud to play a key role in the new Council of Global Unions. [The trade union movement is organizing itself in the era of globalization. Trade unions plan to mobilize around the world as never before. ] We will be constructive and practical. We support the ILO’s new approach to sectoral activities to take the ILO Agenda into the real world, into the work-place. We will work with employers and governments to achieve that. And we will be steadfast in our determination to defend the principles that underpin the ILO and its role in the international community: justice, equity, respect for rights, and firm opposition to all forms of discrimination. Thank you