Education International
Education International

Respect migrant workers’ rights, say unionists worldwide

published 18 December 2013 updated 6 January 2014

The contribution of migrants to their host countries and countries of origin must be recognised. That’s according to Global Unions, the international trade union organisations, which include EI. Global Unions made the call to mark International Migrants’ Day on 18 December. In their statement, the Global Unions call for the recognition of the many economic, social, and cultural contributions that migrants make to their countries of destination as well as to their countries of origin and for the rights of international migrants to be protected. A new study focusing on teachers’ migration in Southern Africa has also been released.

“Too many migrants, rather than finding recognition of their contributions, are rebuffed and fall victim to racism and xenophobia. In host countries, they often face hostility rather than hospitality. And, they become popular scapegoats for failures of governments and societies,” say Global Unions in their statement.

Workers’ rights violated

The federations highlight that 90 per cent of the world’s 232 million migrants leave home in search of work. Migrant workers often face struggles for respect and human dignity. They are subject to serial rights violations from recruitment agencies, local agents, government agencies, employers, and local citizens. This oppression often places migrant women, who make up nearly half of international migrants, in particularly cruel and humiliating circumstances.

Even in countries that, on paper, respect human rights, including trade union rights, migrants are often concentrated in precarious work, Global Unions say. For such “disposable” workers, even the right to struggle is beyond reach, and freedom from fear and access to basic human rights is often difficult or impossible to obtain.

On International Migrants’ Day, Global Unions reiterate the call on Governments to:

•             Recognise the contributions of migrants to all forms of development (social, economic,

cultural, etc.), including quality public services

•             Ensure equal treatment of migrant and local workers, including equal working conditions and access to social protection

•             Provide decent work for all

•             Ensure access to justice for migrants

•             Take concrete action to counter racism and xenophobia

•             Ratify and implement the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions 97 and 143 and ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and all other human rights conventions, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

•             Support a leading role for the ILO in the development of coherent, global governance of migration

Migrant teachers’ struggle in Southern Africa

Concerning teachers especially, international teacher migration has emerged as one of the key policy challenges confronting many countries in the world today, that’s according to EI Senior Coordinator for Education and Employment, Dennis Sinyolo, who has published a well-received study, ‘A Strategy for Managing Teacher Migration in Southern Africa: Principles, guidelines and policy considerations’.

Presenting his study on 16 December, he said his research aimed to develop a strategy for managing teacher migration in Southern Africa.

In his study, covering Botswana, South Africa and Zambia, Sinyolo notes that teacher migration data was generally patchy and incomplete in Southern Africa. Additionally, he says that international teacher migration in the region was driven by three main structural causes: poor economic conditions, low salaries, and political instability.

Migrant teachers valued, yet discriminated against Teacher migration had both positive and negative effects on the education systems of Southern African countries, migrant teachers and their families, he stressed. International teacher migration is a paradox, he says: in Botswana and South Africa, migrant teachers are highly valued for their dedication to duty, expertise, and experience but, at the same time, hated, discriminated against and threatened for ‘stealing’ local jobs. This ‘love-hate relationship’ between migrant teachers and locals represents what Sinyolo calls “the teacher migration paradox”, and needs to be solved.

The study also proposed that improving the management of teacher migration in Southern Africa required a systematic and coordinated approach involving all key stakeholders, including education unions in both the countries of origin and host countries. Sinyolo stressed the need for governments in Southern Africa to adopt and implement a regional convention or protocol on teacher migration and mobility.

EI: Defending migrant education staff rights a priority

“International teacher migration is high on EI’s policy agenda,” said EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen. “An EI resolution on this issue was adopted in 2011, and a Teacher Migration Taskforce comprising representatives from both source and destination countries to facilitate the sharing of information and ideas was set up and started working the same year.”

EI encourages member organisations to proactively challenge discrimination against their international counterparts or students based on their nationality, ethnicity, or their migratory condition. Members are also encouraged to organise migrant teachers and other education employees, recruit them and defend their human and trade union rights. Migrant teachers and their families should be helped to integrate successfully in the host country to ensure that educational employers do not use migrant workers as casual labour, which encourages social dumping, he underlined.

Van Leeuwen also highlighted that migrant teachers contribute greatly towards quality public education, in terms of building citizenship for everyone in the positive integration of immigrants. He also indicated the need to promote the Commonwealth Teacher Recruitment Protocol and/or its principles, as well as support other international, regional or national efforts to develop and implement policies, programmes, and instruments that promote and protect the rights of migrants, migrant teachers and other education employees.

To read the Global Unions’ statement in its entirety, please click here

The 2011 EI Resolution on Teacher Migration and Mobility adopted at the 6th EI World Congress meeting in Cape Town, South Africa can be downloaded here