Education International and global union partners call on international finance institutions to coordinate an urgent and equitable response to the COVID-19 crisis

published 8 April 2020 updated 8 April 2020

In a statement released ahead of the (virtual) Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Global Unions including Education International have called on the international finance institutions (IFIs) to take action for economic stimulus, debt relief and healthcare.

Global unions urge the IFIs to protect jobs and the real economy, take rapid measures for health and social protection, and provide debt relief for survival and sustainable development, as the world is hit by the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The statement recognises that alongside the health and economic crisis, COVID-19 has led to a crisis in education. It urges governments not to deprioritise education and to ensure that the rights of education workers are protected during school closures. It also notes that World Bank advice on public spending has contributed to the casualisation the education workforce and calls on the Bank to encourage governments to protect the jobs of workers in the education sector, especially those that are on precarious contracts.

Furthermore, the statement calls for a twin approach of sweeping SDG debt relief and a sovereign debt workout mechanism, including cancellation, restructuring, and reprofiling of debt owed to IFIs. It urges the IFIs to reorient debt relief toward patient investment for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), backed by genuine progress on international corporate tax reform, progressive domestic mobilisation and financial regulation. It calls for debt forgiveness as the foundation for an enabling environment but notes that debt swaps can also have potential where countries have robust national development strategies. It underlines that relief should enhance not restrict public spending including for education.

On 23 March 2020, the World Bank president, David Malpass, responded to the fast-developing health and economic crisis by calling for structural adjustment and deregulation. He said “countries will need to implement structural reforms to help shorten the time to recovery and cerate confidence that the recovery can be strong. Those countries that have excessive regulations, subsidies, licensing regimes, trade protection or litigiousness as obstacles, we will work with them to foster market choice and faster growth prospects during recovery.” The statement calls for the Spring Meetings to mark a turning point in the Bank’s response to the crisis. Rather than pushing structural adjustment measures, unions urge the IFIs to take a human approach, protecting workers and public systems.

David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International said: “Underfunded and understaffed health and education systems in far too many low-income countries are the result of structural adjustment, conditionalities of IMF loans, debt servicing agreements and the policy prescriptions of the World Bank. Yet today the world relies on critically important public services to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic. The IFIs must promote and support public systems through increased investment. A debt workout mechanism, debt relief and debt swaps are essential to enable governments to take the measures necessary to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.”

“Though schools, universities and other education institutions are closed across the globe, education remains a key driver for the achievement of all SDGs. It is vital to ensure individuals have the skills necessary to contribute to the economy and is a social equaliser. Governments must ensure that all education workers have their salaries, terms and conditions of employment protected during education institution closures and that measures are taken to mitigate the disruption in learners’ education caused by the pandemic. Today we’re at a turning point – health and education workers must be supported.”

Click here to access the full Global Unions statement.