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Defense of Union Rights


The defence of trade union rights has been a major foundation of EI since its inception. Active education trade unionists are far too often subject to attacks by repressive governments. Every year, many are subject to violence, to arrest and imprisonment, and torture and, sometimes murder. Trade union leaders in education are often considered threatening to non-democratic governments not only because they lead free trade unions, but also because such governments often seek to have total control over education and seek to deny professional autonomy and academic freedom to teachers.

However, even in democratic countries, many education workers are denied the right to collective bargaining. Where bargaining exists, severe limits on the scope of bargaining have often been imposed, particularly on education, professional, and privatisation issues. Teachers are often denied the right to strike or have that right limited.

EI cooperates with other global unions on a number of trade union rights’ issues and in individual countries where abuses are serious. Burma and Iran, and South Korea are all examples of good cooperation with other global unions on human and trade union rights issues.

EI uses the complaints mechanisms of the ILO, principally the Committee on Freedom of Association of the ILO Governing Body. That committee will take complaints having to do with violations of the rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining regardless of whether a government has ratified the relevant Conventions (mainly Conventions 87 and 98).

In addition, EI makes submissions to the CEART, an ILO/UNESCO group of Experts which oversees respect for the ILO/UNESCO Recommendation on the Status of Teachers (1966) and the UNESCO Recommendation on the Status of Higher Education Personnel (1997).

EI provides a great deal of information on trade union rights violations to member organisations and urges them to support embattled education trade unionists, including by making “urgent appeals”. In some cases, it asks affiliates to urge their governments to intervene. EI regional organisations are also active in solidarity work and supporting trade unionists under attack and threat.


In addition to a general policy framework on human and trade union rights, EI Congresses adopt resolutions on specific countries. The Executive Committee, which meets between Congresses, also discusses and acts on trade union rights violations.

A number of countries have received a great deal of attention over a long period of time, both in terms of discussions and policy decisions in EI governing bodies. These include Columbia, Turkey, Swaziland, Bahrain, South Korea, and Iran.

EI is also very active on a number of other human rights issues in addition to trade union rights. These include the right to education, gender and LGBT discrimination, migrant and refugees, indigenous people’s rights, and the brutal violation of human rights perpetrated by non-State actors; terrorist attacks on students and teachers.

The 7th Education International (EI) World Congress meeting in Ottawa, Canada, from 21st to 26th July 2015, adopted the Policy Paper on Human and Trade Union Rights. The document describes how human and trade union rights strengthen the work of education unions and provide a mandate for them to act on behalf of their members. It reflects the values and objectives promoted by EI through its constitution, policies and programme activities.

Activities International Organisations

In addition to submitting complaints to defend education trade unionists under attack with the ILO and the CEART Experts (ILO/UNESCO), EI participates in rights-related meetings in both organisations. This includes regular consultations with CEART based on a report prepared by EI every three years, the annual International Labour Conference, in particular, the Committee on Standards, and special meetings on Education or the public sector, often organised by the ILO Sectoral Activities Department.

Education and Training

EI develops and uses materials on trade union rights in order to help member organisations understand their rights. This includes materials on ILO and UNESO standards, studies on collective bargaining, and other information to increase capacity to help preserve trade union independence and defend rights. Part of EIs development cooperation work covers trade union rights.

In many countries, workers in public services are not able to exercise rights that are, at times, recognised for workers in the private sector. Training programs and materials explain that all public service workers should enjoy freedom of association and be able to join and form trade unions of their own choosing. They also have a right to full collective bargaining to on wages, hours, and working conditions and as a flexible and workable way to settle disputes arising in connection with those terms and conditions of employment. Both employers and trade unions are to bargain in good faith and make every effort to reach an agreement. Many materials benefit from processes or meetings at the ILO or elsewhere.

In addition to the long-standing campaigns and solidarity action in many countries where repression is particularly systemic, there are many interventions in countries where problems may be serious, but are resolved. To follow those changing situations as well as the persistent cases, information, including urgent appeals are available on the EI web site.

All public service workers should enjoy collective bargaining rights and priority should be given to collective bargaining to settle disputes arising in connection with the terms and conditions of employment. Both employers and trade unions are to bargain in good faith and make every effort to reach an agreement.

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