Education International
Education International

Fred van Leeuwen: Address to the Plenary of the 101st International Labour Conference

published 8 June 2012 updated 14 June 2012

President, distinguished delegates,

Education Unions around the world are very thankful for the inspiring leadership shown by Director General Juan Somavia, who did succeed to increase ILO’s influence in the international community. Thank you, mr. Somavia, for standing by us all those years!

Suffice it to say that we are delighted with the election of mr. Guy Ryder as his successor. He can count on Education International. We bring together 30 million teachers and education workers worldwide.  And we are confident that our new director will carry forward the crucial work of the  only tripartite body of the UN, and that he will double ILO's efforts to protect the rights of hundreds of millions of workers.

We have been painfully reminded of the urgency of such effort last week when the Employers’Group contested the independence and impartiality of the Committee of Experts.  Obstructing  the work of the Norm Commission is in total contradiction with the spirit of social dialogue which, I thought, we had decided would prevail in this house.

Let us say it one more time: The trade union movement is a cornerstone of any democratic system. In the last five decades the education unions that we represent here today have greatly contributed to the democratic, social and economic development of their nations.  But it seems that with the global economic crisis the hunting season has been declared open. Attacking unions or at least reducing or even revoking their collective bargaining rights has become all too popular among certain employers and politicians.

In the United States and in several European countries budgetary constraints are the pretext for restricting the rights of our membership. Other countries give equally unconvincing explanations for not abiding by international standards. But the underlying factor, I am afraid, is ideological, and a contempt for democratic standards. If budgetary constraints, the mood of the financial markets or –why not - the weather conditions are going to determine the democratic nature of our societies, we need to ring the alarm bell. Which we do today.

The current aggressive stand of the Employers Group in the NORM Commission demonstrates the little weight  rights of workers and democratic values in general seem to carry in times of crisis.

As I speak, we have teachers’leaders in Bahrain –to give you just one example –sentenced to jail for exercising their rights. They have vested their hope for justice in our NORM commission. I guess they will have to wait until the employers come to their senses.

Mr President, later this year we will produce evidence  to the ILO/UNESCO Committee of Experts on the Status of Teachers,  that teachers’rights are widely ignored while employment conditions are deteriorating. Our sector is suffering from what we call de-professionalization. The influx of unqualified teachers, and the restriction of our professional freedoms and autonomy, is directly affecting education quality. May I remind our governments that countries with the best performing school systems are countries with strong professional unions, where teachers are respected in stead of underpaid, attacked or even locked up behind bars.

We stand for quality education as the basis of democracy and social justice. The Public School is a crucial element of any social protection floor. It is also the most powerful tool to confront the global crisis and achieve sustainable growth, and give hope to young people. All the key global institutions agree. But there is a big gap between words and action. We therefore place special importance on ILO’s Sectoral Activities, which can help  close that gap. And for the same reason we welcome ILO’s initiative to organize a Youth Employment Forum.

But before anything else we expect ILO to not allow to be distracted from its prime mission to protect our labour standards. We expect the new Director General to stick to his guns. We gladly provide him with all the ammunition he may require.

Thank you.