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No member of the education community left out at global level!

Education International’s Task Force on Education Support Personnel has geared up preparations for the upcoming first global Conference on Education Support Personnel and reiterated its commitment to enhancing these workers’ status and recognition.

“Education support personnel (ESP) will remain an EI priority,” stressed Education International (EI) Deputy General Secretary David Edwards, welcoming members of EI Task Force on ESP, meeting in Brussels, Belgium, from 20-21 February.

Deploring “the increasing inequality, and the violence and precariousness our ESP colleagues face every day,” he also deplored.

Pointing out that “there is nothing we do at EI that does not have an impact on ESP,” he insisted that EI needs firstly to raise awareness of the sector  and the various ESP categories, and secondly to get more ESP organized, and their categories and specific challenges recognised internationally.

National challenges for ESP and union strategies to have ESP voice heard

Task force’s members then presented highlights and updates from national ESP campaigns.

“My union’s campaign focuses on executive staff and middle management, and defends ESP confronted with changes in education planned by the new Education Minister”, Boris Faure from the Union nationale des syndicats autonomes – Education (UNSA-Education)/France explained.

The French prime minister has announced changes: increased use of contractual staff, individualized remuneration, and simplified structures of worker representation – but without engaging in direct dialogues with trade unions, he also condemned.

Matthew McGowan from the National Tertiary Education Union(NTEU)/Australia also highlighted his union’s efforts to protect ESP’s working and living conditions, which employers currently try to undermine by reviewing the signed collective agreement concerning ESP, using legal loopholes. The government encouraged universities to pursue this strategy, McGowan criticised, but underlined that the NTEU nevertheless succeeded in stopping this.

He went on insisting that his union’s core issues are job security – threatened by the employers’ will to contract ESP jobs out –, and job restructuring. These were highlighted in the latest NTEU-led survey targeting all ESP within the Australian higher education sector.

In Asia-Pacific also, the New Zealand Educational Institute-Te Riu Roa (NZEI Te Riu Roa) is leading a nationwide campaign in favour of pay equity for all ESP, Jane Porter reported. Prominent political figures put on the ESP shirt in schools for a day, she said.

We are working on this campaign with a sister union, the  New Zealand Post Primary Teachers’ Association (NZPPTA), she detailed.

She also said that insecure employment, low pay jobs, uncertainty and changing political priorities are key challenges for ESP in her country.

“We, as EI affiliate, must and will work on ESP issues and continue to lobby the government for a proper pay scale and retirement benefits,” also stated Angela Wijesinghe from the All Ceylon Union of Teachers (ACUT)/Sri Lanka. Her union decided to give ESP a voice, she noted.

The ACUT wrote a report on the ESP situation in Sri Lanka, which was printed and delivered to public authorities. “Now, ESP recognition must be achieved, this report must be read and implemented, and there is still a lot of lobbying to be done for that,” Wijesinghe acknowledged.

As 90% of the ESP sector lays in the hands of the private sector, she insisted, the Education Minister has little say on ESP issues. The ACUT therefore demands that public authorities have at least monitoring power over the ESP situation, for a harmonisation of the latter for the whole island, she underscored.

In the USA, the new Administration’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, is open to privatising ESP jobs, and “has no regards for education support workers, seeing their role is ‘a role that anybody can serve’,” criticised the Task Force’s Chair Maury Koffman of the National Education Union (NEA)/USA. The NEA has joined efforts with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to counter her policies that are detrimental to public education.

He also mentioned the issue of gun violence, reminding that ESP members, for example bus drivers, are typically in the first line of defence.

Koffman further commented on the Janus case now pending in front of the US Supreme Court. If the Supreme court decides to remove unions’ right to agency fees, so that non-unionised workers can benefit from unions’ efforts, this will have an impact on ESP, he warned. The ESP, receiving half a teacher’s salary on average, will be leaving unions and not paying agency fees in larger numbers than teachers.

He also insisted that, while unions had been confronted with the erosion of their memberships, since the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency, workers, including educators, have come to realise that they need and can get a strong voice via their unions, leading to arecent increase in union membership nationwide.

During this two-day meeting, the taskforce will also: plan for the upcoming, first ever international ESP conference, to be held in May 2018 in Brussels, Belgium; discuss the launch of an ESP Day on 16 May 2018, in conjunction with the ESP Conference; get a presentation of emerging findings anddiscuss ways to best use an ESP research study commissioned by EI; be informed about global policy developments – the International Commission on Financing Education Opportunity, UNESCO, International Labour Organisation, UN Sustainable Development Goals relating to ESP –; and agree on a work strategy regarding ESP for 2018-19, and discuss a long term strategy regarding ESP.

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