Over 12 000 teachers from all over the country gathered in Warsaw on 21 March to protest against the government harassment of gay and lesbian teachers and teachers with left-wing sympathies.
It is not uncommon for a teacher with 20 years' experience to earn only 300 euros per month. Instead of fulfilling its electoral promise of a 7% pay rise, the government invested significant amount of resources in checking 700 000 citizens for co-operation with the former communist regime.
EI member organisation ZNP is the latest target of this political discrimination: the ruling party - "League of Polish Families" has recently motioned to confiscate the teacher union's properties because it operated before 1989 and some of its members and leadership may have left-wing or liberal sympathies.
Besides targetting teachers with different political leanings, the government has recently introduced a bill which makes it a criminal offence to "promote homosexuality" in schools.
The head of teacher training college in Poland was fired last year for using a handbook written by the Council of Europe which contained one chapter on "tolerance". He was accused by the Ministry of Education for using "a book which promoted homosexuality".
The Vice-Minister of Education also claimed that gay teachers would be fired. He later clarified that "one could be a gay teacher, but cannot promote homosexuality".
As the global federation that represents 30 million education workers worldwide, EI condemns all forms of discrimination, including those on grounds of one's political beliefs or sexual orientation.
EI stands in full solidarity with its member organisation ZNP and shares their view that education reforms should not be decided upon by committees whose members accept proposals without thorough analysis and without consultations with the education community. In its letter to the Polish government dated 15 March, EI stated its concern about the government's ban of so-called "homosexual propaganda".
"We are afraid that this is a classic example of words merely hiding deep-rooted homophobic sentiment. As education policies shape the present reality and future perspectives of students, education policies must be implemented only after careful, comprehensive discussions with teacher representatives," wrote EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen. "Like ZNP, EI believes that education policies should contribute to shaping the characters of young people in the spirit of tolerance and respect towards different beliefs, cultures and orientations."
Below is the content of EI's letter in English, dated 15 March 2007:
Jaros³aw Kaczyñski Kancelaria Prezesa Rady Ministrów 00-583 Warszawa, Al. Ujazdowskie 1/3 tel. +48 (22) 694-60-00 fax +48 (22) 625-26-37 email@example.com
Roman Giertych Ministerstwo Edukacji Narodowej Al. Szucha 25, 00-918 Warszawa tel. +48 (22) 34-74-204 fax. +48 (22) 628 69 53 firstname.lastname@example.org
Brussels, 15 March 2007
Dear Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Minister of Education,
Education International (EI), the global union federation of teachers representing over 30 million members in 169 countries, which counts the Polish Teachers’ Union ZNP as one of its affiliates, is very concerned about the lack of social dialogue in the implementation of the latest changes in Polish education policy.
EI stands in full solidarity with ZNP and shares its view that the latest decisions and utterances of the Polish Minister of Education cause anxiety and consternation, not only in Poland, but also in Europe, in that they run against international conventions and recommendations relating to human rights and the status of teachers status which were ratified by Poland.
EI shares ZNP’s concern about education reforms being decided upon by committees whose members accept proposals without thorough analysis and without consultations with the education community. We are very concerned by statements about banning so-called ‘homosexual propaganda’. We are afraid that this is a classic example of words merely hiding deep-rooted homophobic sentiment. As education policies shape the present reality and future perspectives of students, education policies must be implemented only after careful, comprehensive discussions with teacher representatives. Like ZNP, EI believes that education policies should contribute to shaping the characters of young people in the spirit of tolerance and respect towards different beliefs, cultures and orientations.
It is regrettable that the recent actions and speeches of the Polish Minister of Education have come in the year which the EU has declared the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All. This EU initiative is meant to remind us of the noblest ideals of the European Union and of the importance of human rights in a world where millions of people are still denied basic freedoms. Education plays a special role in promoting the message of Equal Opportunities for All. Why should the Minister of Education of an EU member state take decisions and make statements that clearly run against basic human rights?
Social dialogue is a cornerstone of democracy. Poland, as a member of the tripartite International Labour Organisation, is more than aware of the international conventions calling for workers' organisations, including teacher unions and associations, to be consulted in political, economic and social reforms. Social dialogue aims first and foremost to promote consensus-building and democratic involvement.
The failure to recognise teachers and their representatives as social partners is not only wrong. It is also counterproductive. Social dialogue with teachers and their representative organisations on the contents and implementation of education reforms is essential to a sound democratic system. Effective social dialogue structures and processes have the potential to resolve important economic and social issues, encourage good governance, advance social peace and stability, boost economic progress and guarantee a bright future for all children.
There is no doubt that teachers can only be instrumental in implementing the reforms needed to improve the Polish education system.
Education International urges your Government to honour and respect the international conventions it has ratified for the benefit of all Polish people.
Fred van Leeuwen General Secretary