Global education trade union community mourns Australian Justice Trevor Olsson

published 17 January 2020 updated 23 January 2020

Education International salutes the memory of Trevor Olsson, a highly respected jurist from Australia on the Joint International Labour Organisation/UNESCO Committee of Experts on the Application of the Recommendations concerning Teaching Personnel. Justice Olsson did much to promote the status of teachers over his 21 years of service.

“Trevor Olsson was an eminent South Australian who had an enormously positive impact on the status of teachers around the world,” said Bob Harris, a former member of Education International’s Executive Board, and former Chair of the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Working Group on Education, Training and Employment Policy, commenting on Justice Olsson’s death in Adelaide, South Australia, on 8 January.

“In this Twitter age, we need people like Trevor who can address the issues facing education union members with intellectual rigour, fairness, balance and plain common sense,” added Harris.


In the 1970s, Justice Olsson was President of the Industrial Court of South Australia and Chairman of the Teachers’ Salary Board of this state. This was a time of growing turbulence and important advances were made, including equal pay for women and men, and equal pay for equal qualifications in primary and secondary schools.

Early in the 1980s, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) decided to increase the rigour of the monitoring of the ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers, adopted in 1966. Harris recalls the name of Justice Trevor Olsson being submitted to the ILO to be a member of the Committee of Experts, with a strengthened mandate to monitor the implementation of the recommendation globally. Indeed, all three groups on the ILO’s tripartite Governing Body – employers, workers and governments – supported his nomination, Harris said.


Olsson attended his first meeting of the Committee in Paris in 1985 and continued as a member until 2006 – a total of 21 years. For most of that time, he was a Rapporteur of the Committee and played a major role in the drafting of its reports. In 1997, the Committee was given a further mandate to monitor the implementation of the newly adopted UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel.

In Australia, Olsson was appointed as a Judge of the South Australian Supreme Court and his judicial experience also influenced his ILO/UNESCO Committee work. He played a leading role in the Committee’s hearings on allegations regarding non-implementation of the two Recommendations.

Reference report

His final report in 2006 became a reference for teacher organisations around the world, and was widely respected by education ministries, Harris underlined. This report dealt with key issues: teacher education and professional development, employment relationships, teacher salaries, effective teaching and learning conditions, academic freedom, and, critically, social dialogue in education.


Education International extends its sincere condolences to Justice Olsson’s family, friends and colleagues.