The Albanian trade unions FSASH and SPASH (1) have been involved in projects to combat child labour since 2002, with the support of international partners (2). More than 500 trade union leaders and 6,000 teachers have been trained in preventing dropping-out and in reintegrating former child labourers into school. The unions estimate that these efforts have resulted in more than 2,800 children returning to school and another 6,600 not dropping out.
The trade union training covers the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions and national legislation on child labour. It is also very practical: it strengthens teachers’ skills to identify and support vulnerable children, those most at risk of dropping out of school. It also covers inclusive education techniques, including through art, culture and sport.
When a school is newly involved in an FSASH and SPASH project, a child monitoring group is set up within the school. It consists of the head teacher, a union representative, teachers, student representatives and parents. They identify children who are dropping out of school in the school’s catchment area and students who are at risk of dropping out.
“We then visit the families of these children to identify with them the difficulties that are getting in the way of their children’s schooling and convince them of the benefits of school for them. We try to help them, for example by providing basic school materials,” explains Ermelinda Hoxhalli, coordinator of the union project in Korça at the Sotir Gurra school from 2019 to 2021. “We try to identify each student's favourite subjects and interests. If a student is passionate about music or sports, we will try to promote this in the school’s activities. We also group children together to facilitate peer learning. In some schools, students mobilise to organise collections of clothes and food to give to children from poorer families.”
Return of Roma children to school
Special attention is given to children from Roma families, who often fear that their children will be discriminated against or humiliated if they attend school. Early marriage is also more common among this minority, with a negative impact on girls’ schooling. In Levan (Fier prefecture), one third of children at the “Dino Ismaili” school are from the Roma community. The FSASH and SPASH trade unions carried out a project there in 2010 with the support of Mondiaal FNV.
Irena Jano, a teacher at the school, explains that the project is still having a positive impact today: “Since 2010, the teaching staff have done everything possible to ensure that Roma children come to school without suffering prejudice because of their clothes or lack of materials. We have visited the parents or grandparents of these children several times, we show our interest in bringing the children to school. We have shown them that when their child comes to school, they will have their own desk, their own school equipment, friends who will play with them, teachers who will support them. These frank conversations have given their families confidence, the parents have understood that school can benefit their children. Some of the Roma pupils we brought back to school in 2010 have gone on to higher education, have become civil servants and have returned to thank us for our support. We are now continuing to implement the methods of combating child labour that we learned at the trade union seminars in 2010.”
“One student's drop-out becomes everyone's problem”
The teachers involved in the FSASH and SPASH projects explain that before the trade union training they were already applying some of these measures, but that involvement in a project has helped them to organise this in a systematic way, with the aim of fighting child labour. Romeo Prado, headmaster of the “Pandeli Cale” school in Korça : “Before this project, when children dropped out of school, we were already visiting the parents as teachers, but without a coordinated strategy. Now, when a student drops out, it is the problem of the whole school community: the whole teaching staff is mobilised. We also look for external support, such as from Roma community organisations.”
A municipal tax for the schooling of the poorest
FSASH and SPASH are sharing within their networks the good practices developed in schools. In May 2021, at a trade union training course, Enriketa Zeqo, chair of the FSASH branch in the city of Berati, explained that she had obtained a small municipal tax to support 150 children at risk of dropping out of school. Their families receive 60 euros per month on condition that they send the child to school. “At the beginning of the school year, the teachers and headteachers select the children who receive this support, as they are familiar with the families’ socio-economic situation. The municipality has also helped the children’s relatives to get a job, so that they in turn can support the school fees,” explains the trade unionist, who is also a member of the city council.
Important gains for trade unions
Beyond the fight against child labour, the trade unions involved in these projects are seeing many benefits, such as the improvement of their image in society, greater activity among activists and an increase in their membership. Between 2015 and 2018, in the schools that participated in the SPASH and FSASH projects, the two education unions recorded an average increase in membership of 41.5%, while membership was declining nationally (3). The Albanian unions also point out that keeping children in school and bringing back former child workers to school is a way of safeguarding teachers’ jobs, a major issue in a country hard hit by emigration.
The 2019-2021 FSASH and SPASH project was supported financially by AOb/Netherlands and the Fair Childhood Foundation of GEW/Germany, while Education International was responsible for international coordination (monitoring the financial and narrative reporting). Despite school closures due to the pandemic, 32 of the 61 children identified as child labourers were able to return to school in the two project schools in 2019-2021, and 84 of the 104 students identified as being at risk of dropping out are now attending classes regularly. Twenty-five new trade union trainers on child labour have also been trained across the country, and child labour awareness materials have been printed widely by FSASH and SPASH. The two Education International affiliates will expand their projects to twelve more schools during 2022.
(1) Trade Union Federation of Education and Science of Albania, FSASH; Independent Education Trade Union of Albania, SPASH.
(2) Education International, AOb/Netherlands, Mondiaal FNV/Netherlands, International Trade Union Confederation, GEW/Germany’s Fair Childhood Foundation, International Labour Office.
(3) For further reading see: “EI/AOb Child Labour Projects. Transnational Best Practices and Union Impacts”.