Engaging with Teachers Unions in the Pacific Triannual Conference of the Council of Pacific Education (COPE)

Speech by Mr. Satoshi Sasaki, OIC, ILO Office for the Pacific Island Countries

Statement | Fiji Islands | 01 September 2016
Let me start with my personal experience. Kawamoto, Kaneko, Ishii, Shitara, Ogane, Ishizaka, Kudo, Iida, Kozuka. It must sound strange to your ears. These are all the names of my 9 teachers in primary and secondary schools in Japan. Because they are so special to me, to make me what I am today, I can’t forget these names even after 40 years.

Here is a short story: One day in my first year of secondary school, Master Shitara announced the class that we had to be on self-learning as the teachers would be on strike on the day. He explained to us in details about “strike” and why they had to do it. He explained why it was so important for the fellow teachers to protect their working conditions thorough collective bargaining. Though we were merely 13 years, too young to understand the trade union movement, he treated us as in such a respectful manner, the students also respected the teachers’ action to protect their own rights. NIKKYOUSO or the Japan Techers Union was a very tightly-knit organization, famous for its fighting spirits at that time.

There is no doubt in the importance of teaching professionals’ contribution to the society by educating people for their knowledge and skills development, but also we should remember their influence in shaping personality to the spiritual, moral, social, cultural and economic progress particularly for young people.

The improvement in the working conditions and employment relations of teachers is inevitably affected by the country’s economic and social progress as well as the level of democratic institutions enshrined under its constitution. Because in many cases, teachers are employed or their remunerations are substituted/supplemented by the Government budget. But their contributions cannot be measured simply by means of productivity gains and profits like we normally do for the production sectors. It is a challenge for teachers in negotiating and protecting their work rights.

To promote the rights of teachers in the context of education as an occupational sector, ILO in coordination with UNESCO concluded the Recommendations concerning the Status of Teachers in 1966 and adopted it in 1967 in Paris. It recommended elaborately on employment and career development policies in education sector. Recommendations include, on hiring and promotion, job security, disciplinary measures, medical examinations, gender and family responsibility and issues on part-time work. All these issues are still very relevant to the teachers today. But, considering the changes made in the teaching environment, including the changes made through technological advancement in the last fifty years, there should be a review of the Recommendations in the future. UNESCO further adopted a Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel in 1997.

To promote the implementation of the Recommendations, the ILO-UNESCO Committee of Experts on the Application of the Recommendations concerning Teaching Personnel, known as the Joint Committee, has periodically reviewed and updated the latest situation of teachers through the lens of International Labour Standards. The 12th session of the Joint Committee was held in 2015 in Paris.

From the report of the Joint Committee last year, we can see the trends and the issues of teachers in the post-financial crisis situation. The tight budgetary allocation to the education sector affects negatively to the employment and working conditions of teachers. Freedom of association for teachers unions is still a key challenge in many countries. Discrimination based on gender, sexuality and ethnicity in the workplace and contractual situation are common concerns of the teachers in many parts of the world.
Since the Financial Crisis in 2007, the recovery has been typically described as “jobless growth” in the last ten years. Such a situation resulted in de-professionalization of teachers, involving less number of teachers therefore longer hour of work for the teachers, casualization of teaching jobs with short-term and temporary contracts with less remunerations, a lack of budget induced hiring of unqualified teachers or teachers teaching in non-certified subjects. Quality of education and well-being of teachers are undermined.

In the Pacific, recently, the frequent natural disasters like cyclone and draught exacerbate the working condition and well-being of teachers. In the extreme situations, we have observed teachers resumed classes in the aftermath of cyclone Pam in Vanuatu last year and Winston in Fiji this year, while they have no shelter to accommodate their family. Unfortunately, natural disasters occur more regularly these years.

The Joint Committee last year recommended to establish and respect appropriate legal framework and institutional arrangement for social dialogue as a way for strengthen the teachers unions’ capacity to negotiate with the employers in securing the working conditions and well-being of teachers. I would like to emphasize the importance of regularized consultations between the Education Ministry and the Teachers’ Union. It is equally beneficial for the employer to maintain high level of educational standards by maximizing the capacity of teachers by resolving the common issues through dialogue.

Instabilization of contractual conditions for teachers, down spiral of short-term and temporary contracts may be ended up with more precarious forms of employment. Inequality in working conditions have been observed between the types of contract as well as depending on the category of teaching, i.e. childhood, primary and secondary education. It also creates gender gaps: more women in informal and low-paid categories of teaching. With less number of teachers having open-ended contracts, it also weakened teachers’ collective representation through the trade unions in collective bargaining and social dialogue.

The international financial institutions are in the opinion that greater flexibility in employment relationships would enhance the student learning outcomes, therefore contract teaching should be promoted. The governments which take this policy advice may reconsider the employment relationship with teachers. Having different types of contracts with different remunerations and working conditions, the solidarity of teachers is tested if they can retain corrective strength. The leadership of trade unions and regional entity like COPE should have prominent role in supporting their members as well as gaining support from the public. As I said earlier, the contribution of teachers cannot be evaluated in the short productivity term, but analysis should be made in a long-term perspective with the development context of the country be appropriately taken into consideration.

In 2019, the ILO will celebrate its one hundred years anniversary. Towards the centenary, we are now undertaking the “Future of Work” initiative, including the studies to be conducted at national, regional and global levels to illustrate what the world of work is like in the near future. Here in the Pacific, we are currently collaborating with the two researchers from USP to organize the study. Future of work will be affected by key factors like advancement of ICT, globalization of economic activities, climate change, changes in demographic structure, etc. No one will be the exception. All of us will be affected in a way or another.

What the teaching jobs will be like after 15 years in 2030 when the UN sets the Sustainable Development Goals? SDG 4 describes what should be achieved in education. SDG 8 is devoted to the realization of Decent Work Agenda. These SDGs will be used as the policy guides underlining the policy development at international and national levels in the next 15 years. To strengthen the COPE’s position, therefore positively affecting the rights of teachers in the Pacific, the ILO would like to take best opportunities to facilitate the labour movements through the Workers’ Activities Department of the ILO (ACTRAV) hand in hand with the national Centers of the eleven member states in the Pacific.

Finally, I would like to thank COPE for giving me the opportunity to discuss the ILO perspectives toward our engagements with the teachers unions in the Pacific. I look forward to work with each one of you in making Decent Work for teachers a reality. Thank you for your attention.