New ILO handbook on Education for the Unions

The Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ILO-ACTRAV) has just published a new handbook which addresses “Educating for Union Strength”. In this interview, the ACTRAV Senior Programme Officer for Asia and the Pacific, Ariel Castro explains the issues surrounding the topic of education in the world of work, for the trade union movement in particular.

News | 14 July 2015
Ariel Castro
ACTRAV Senior Programme Officer for Asia and Pacific
ACTRAV INFO:  ACTRAV has launched a new publication “Educating for Union Strength”. Why did you decide to publish a handbook on education issues?

Ariel Castro:
Workers’ education is an integral trade union function and has historically played an important role in the development and strengthening of trade unions worldwide. A large number of trade unions have been implementing workers’ education programmes with diverse yet common objectives. The systems, contents, curricula and resources vary depending on the country. But one thing is certain, without any access to workers’ education, there are no opportunities to obtain and maximize knowledge, skills and values needed to organize and represent workers in the complex world of today’s industrial relations systems and context. The strength and influence of trade unions will undoubtedly depend not only on a robust organization but also on well-educated and informed members.

However, in recent years, attention to workers’ education has been greatly affected mainly due to competing priorities, issues and resources. Courses and activities such as training the trainers are carried out but tend to focus on issues rather than the skills to educate. The capacity and structures for trade unions to deliver education and training needs to constantly evolve to meet the needs, demands and challenges of the workers.

ACTRAV INFO: What are the main lessons emerging from this handbook?

This handbook aims to bring workers’ education back into the agenda and in the forefront of trade union activities. It is learner-centered, results-oriented and offers a unique approach as it emphasizes on the importance of training educators and trainers who will implement education activities that will remain faithful to the ideals and principles of solidarity, democracy and collectivism. It gives focus to education as vital to capacity building which will enable unions to gain more strength and confidence in negotiations, representation, mobilization and campaigns.

The handbook recognizes that all unions are different. And as a follow-up to the 2007 ACTRAV International Symposium on Workers’ Education, the handbook also aims to contribute to the strengthening of union education programmes through an approach which will train trade union education officers who will have the ability to use participatory and active learning methods, drive education policy and manage education programmes more effectively. The importance of mainstreaming gender equality is emphasized as part of the overall methodology. I know that this is not a new approach but the handbook draws from the experiences and practices over the years and articulates a unique methodology that empowers and strengthen union activism.

ACTRAV INFO: What role can trade unions play in facing the challenges of Education?

Trade unions should continue to focus attention and utilize workers’ education as a strategic tool to achieve the union’s vision. Confronting the current and future concerns, challenges and issues should remain integral to any workers’ education and training strategy. However, the focus of the strategy should be geared towards results, linked to organizing, mobilizing and social action. The overall approach should aim to enable unions to take part in the construction of society, as a whole. Workers’ education policies and action plans should take these into account along with a commitment to improving quality and emphasizing on the importance of investing in education and training, especially in involving and attracting the women, youth and workers in the informal economy .

Workers’ education is more than a necessity but a right. The ILO Paid Educational Leave Convention, 1974 (no. 140) stipulates that each ILO Member shall formulate and apply a policy designed to promote paid educational leave, including for trade union education. Unions are encouraged to seek ratification of this important ILO Convention through campaigns and negotiating provisions in collective agreements.