Global economic recovery will require the re-affirmation of our fundamental values -- the right of workers to organize, to be represented by independent trade unions, to build a decent future for themselves and their families. This message was central to the address given by EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen at the International Labour Conference in Geneva this week.
International Labour Conference Statement in the General Debate By Fred van Leeuwen, Education International Geneva, 11 June 2009 We meet at a time when the folly of a few has jeopardized the well-being of all. Financial institutions we thought were as solid as rock turned out to have foundations of clay. Now, taxpayers for a generation to come will have to pay the price of massive bailouts. The ILO did warn of the risks of unregulated globalization and called for a social dimension and decent work for all. Key constituents of the ILO, the trade unions, also issued warnings that were ignored. Education International welcomes the call by the G20 for the ILO to monitor the employment performance of each country, just as the IMF monitors economic performance. This is a challenge. ILO must have the resources to do the job. And ILO must have political support for the task – from governments, trade unions and employers. Jobs and decent work, as the basis for healthy consumer demand, are keys to recovery. Global recovery will also require the re-affirmation of our fundamental values -- the right of workers to organize, to be represented by independent trade unions, to build a decent future for themselves and their families. Education is at the heart of those efforts by ordinary women and men around the world to build their futures. Before the crisis we knew that vocational education and training were important. Today and tomorrow it is even more critical. More than ever, we must invest in people. As companies downsize, they must up-skill. Higher education and research are being hit badly as private funding sources dry up, and governments will have to find the resources to maintain innovation. Primary and secondary education will face a funding squeeze as public revenues decline. Yet we cannot allow the education of the young to be sacrificed. We are very worried about the drop in financial flows and aid to developing countries, which threatens achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, especially Education for All. Tomorrow we mark the World Day against Child Labour. Great progress has been made in eliminating the worst forms of child labour, and in getting millions more children into school. But there are still too many places where child labour is a socially accepted phenomenon. In Central Asia, where children are forced out of school and into the cotton fields. In South Asia and Africa, where children labour in factories and on the streets. And in households around the world, where girls toil in domestic servitude. Of great concern everywhere is the increase in unemployment among young adults. Added to this is the impact of migration – past and present. In a time of crisis this becomes a volatile mix – ready to explode. This is why the ILO’s mandate to build peace through social justice is of critical importance. Social cohesion is being strained to the limit. The consequences of widespread breakdown are unpredictable, but are likely to be devastating. In that task of recovery and rebuilding, education is fundamental. Education is part of the solution. We must invest in the very people who work in education and training – the teachers and other education employees. For over three decades the ILO/UNESCO Committee of Experts on the Recommendations on Teachers (CEART) has reported a decline in the working conditions of teachers. The time has come to turn that trend around – to re-invest in quality teachers for quality education. ILO is making a major contribution with the work currently underway on a human resource toolkit of good practices for the teaching profession, based on ILO / UNESCO recommendations and international labour standards. We call on both public and private employers to work closely with the ILO and with EI and its affiliates, in validating this toolkit, to make it a really good practical tool for all parties throughout the world. Next year, ILO will follow with more concrete action by convening a Global Dialogue Forum on Vocational Education and Training. This could not be more timely. Most people who work in education are women. The work of this conference on gender equality is of fundamental importance in promoting a more just and equitable society. An ILO study on Early Childhood Education will deal with working conditions in a sector where gender equity issues are central, while tackling broader issues of socio-economic equity through access to education from the earliest years. In all of this, I come back to the question of values. There are still too many places around the world where the values that underpin this organization are violated. The free choice to join a union without intimidation is a basic right, in all countries, in both the public and the private sectors. This is why Education International strongly supports the Employee Free Choice Act in the USA, which would protect American workers and send a strong message to employers everywhere that violations of workers’ rights are not acceptable in the 21st Century. We have cases before the Freedom of Association Committee – too many cases. I have sat on the pavement in Korea with a union leader on hunger strike. I have met with committed union leaders from Ethiopia whose assets were seized and handed over to a government sponsored union. From Cambodia to Colombia, union leaders are paying the ultimate price for their dedication. Enough of this, we say! Now more than ever, the time has come to rebuild shattered economies and broken lives through social justice. Thank you.