Education International
Education International

Intervention of EI's Senior Consultant to the General Secretary, Bob Harris, in the General Debate at the International Labour Conference, Geneva, Switzerland, 10 June 2010

published 9 June 2010 updated 22 March 2011


President, distinguished delegates,

Will we have a lost generation? Will we allow market speculation for short term gain to deny quality education for our children and relevant vocational training for our youth? With the latest phase in the financial crisis, that is the stark political choice which countries now confront.

Only weeks ago, as the ILO Director General rightly said in his opening address, the G20 countries, the IMF and the EU all agreed that coordinated stimulus for sustainable recovery should continue in 2010, with planning for credible exit strategies in 2011. But now the speculators who caused the crisis two years ago, are betting against entire nations, raising the cost of borrowing, and forcing massive cuts in public services. The consequence? Cuts in vital resources for education and training! A generation denied quality education and training!

You know, my colleagues in Education International and other Global Unions often go to meetings where we hear all kinds of rationalizations for the latest twists and turns of public policy. But I’m here today to talk to you about the reality, the reality in the local communities of country after country, where ordinary people struggle day in and day out, not only for a decent life now, but also for a decent future for their children. We all know that education and training are key factors in sustainable recovery and decent work. Yet market pressures, driven by unchecked thirst for short term gain, are placing this necessary investment – public investment – at risk.

Education International, with other Global Unions, supports ILO’s role as a place where governments, employers and workers can work together on the recovery of the real economy. We strongly support ILO’s role at the G20. We support the recommendations of the G20 Labour and Employment Ministers to the Toronto Summit in 2 weeks time. The Ministers called on ILO to continue its work, with the constituents, on a skills and training strategy based on lifelong learning and a solid foundation of general education. [This is something on which all the constituents of ILO can work together.] Our inter-sectoral forum in March showed that. The ILO strategy needs to move from analysis to practical proposals. We have to address the need for many more qualified teachers and instructors. EI is ready to work with ILO, as well as OECD, UNESCO and the World Bank, to move from analysis to strategy, and to make it work in practice. But we also urge ILO to be very clear at the G20 about the need for governments to prevail over market speculation that threatens all this good work.

Until a few weeks ago, the Head of the IMF agreed with the ILO that “there can be no recovery until there is recovery of employment”. Today, however, the IMF is back to its old habit of preaching fiscal restraint to the exclusion of social factors. So are the G20 Finance Ministers. We say, it is time for the Labour Ministers who come to this conference to be more assertive, to insist that the financial sector must be at the service of the real economy, not the other way around. In country after country, our members are faced with the consequences of the doctrine of sudden and premature fiscal consolidation. Dismissals of teachers have started in many countries, several hundred thousand more dismissals are expected in Europe and the United States before the year is out. And those dismissals mean quality education denied to several million children and young people.

Global Unions, the Global Campaign for Education, and constituents of the World Economic Forum, including major IT companies, are all asking the G20 to take two key decisions: 1) convene a ministerial-level committee, with multi-stakeholder participation, to work out how to close the financing gap so as to achieve Education for All, and 2) support the establishment of a global partnership for teacher education and professional development. We call on the ILO to support these proposals.

At the same time, ILO remains the institution to which we look for the defence of human and trade union rights. We are worried that the consensus around ILO’s fundamentally important normative role is being slowly but steadily chipped away. How can the employers’ group possibly justify their insistence on taking Colombia off the list before the Standards Committee, when 14 teacher unionists were killed this year? 14 this year alone in education, 30 trade unionists in all! This is outrageous! How can Iran justify the recent execution of a teacher on trumped up charges? We continue to struggle for the full respect of trade union rights in Ethiopia, Korea, Georgia, and many other countries. We have the cases of Turkey and Guatemala. We perceive a general softening of the ILO’s position on normative issues, under pressures of various kinds, and we call for greater firmness.

Be assured that Education International, with 30 million members around the world, will continue to work closely with ILO on programmes. Teachers, who by the nature of our vocation, are present in every local community, can play an important role. We have a great deal of experience on education against HIV/AIDS, and on issues addressed in the recommendation on HIV/AIDS in the world of work. Tomorrow we will say more on child labour. At this Conference we have spoken on the report of the CEART, the Committee of Experts on the Status of Teachers. Soon we hope to see the completion of the ILO Human Resources Toolkit of Good Practices for the Teaching Profession, which will be a valuable and practical tool for public employers, private employers and education unions. We strongly support the ILO’s work on gender equity.

We will continue to work closely with other Global Unions, governments and employers on a skills and training strategy reaching across sectors. In particular we call for national skills councils for each sector, bringing together representatives of employers, the workers, the governments, and also the providers – our members. We expect much from the Global Dialogue Forum for Vocational Education Personnel to be held in September. The challenges in this sector are immense. We need many more qualified teachers and instructors, with mobility facilitated between industry and colleges, and across borders.

In a similar way, the study planned on personnel working in early childhood education should help to address the growing needs in this sector, which has important benefits for society as a whole in terms of both growth and equity. Through this work, ILO is again demonstrating value-added.

To return to my starting point, ILO has substantive tasks to fulfill, working with constituents like our organization. It is all the more important, therefore, that ILO remain steadfast and firm on insisting on policies for a job-rich recovery, and for investment in people, as a way forward to a sustainable future.