Human Rights Day: Education unions mobilise and organise in defence of human rights everywhere

published 8 December 2022 updated 23 January 2023

As the world marks 74 years since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the struggle for dignity, freedom, and justice for all continues. Unions are leading this global effort, working together across borders and continents for the fundamental principle of human dignity.

Despite the progress achieved in the past decades, the overlapping crises the world is facing today threaten to send us back decades in the fight for human rights. The climate crisis, the pandemic, wars, rising authoritarianism, and the cost of living crisis are reshaping the world.

For millions of children and youth, the all-important and enabling right to education is at risk, threatening to change the course of their lives and their communities for ever. The figures are staggering. Over 244 million children were out of school globally in 2021. While the number of children excluded from education has been decreasing in most parts of the world, in Sub-Saharan Africa it has been on the rise, as the region struggles with the impact of compounding crises.

Education unions fight for their students’ right to education, as well as the rights of educators. The global education union movement has championed Sustainable Development Goal 4 on inclusive and equitable quality education for all and work to ensure every student has a qualified and well supported teacher.

However, the rights of workers, including educators, are also being chipped away. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear: everyone has the right to just and favourable conditions of work and protection against unemployment. Everyone has the right to equal pay for equal work. Everyone has the right to just and favourable remuneration. And everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions to protect these rights.

Trade union rights are an integral part of human rights and essential for democracy. Trade unions, social dialogue, and collective bargaining are tools for workers to seek justice, gain recognition of their dignity, and make progress based on collective interests. Trade union rights are also a critical instrument to build fairer and more equal societies based on social and economic justice. In the case of education, trade unions enable educators to defend another fundamental right - the right to education.

Even in many democratic countries that are not drifting in an authoritarian direction, the space for trade union organising and bargaining has been shrinking. That includes limitations on the right to strike, limiting the scope of bargaining, and insecure contracts and other precarious work affecting millions of people.

To support education unions everywhere in their struggle to defend their members’ rights, Education International has developed the Trade Union Rights Toolkit. The toolkit aims to equip education unions to formulate cases when their rights are violated and defend their cases based on the fundamental rights of the global community.

The toolkit provides practical guidance on how unions can represent education workers and submit complaints to international and regional bodies when States seek to obstruct education unions from working on behalf of their members and violate their rights. It includes basic information for affiliates about their rights; the international and regional mechanisms available to put pressure on States to guarantee the exercise of those rights; and the role of Education International both in supporting members’ actions and as the leading international advocate for the rights of education workers.

Through this toolkit and through every aspect of our work and advocacy, we continue to defend and promote the right to education, the right to decent work, and human rights as a whole. The global education union movement stands in solidarity with all human rights activists working to deliver on the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for everyone, everywhere.