Education trade unions mobilising for environmental sustainability


Is the environmental sustainability an issue for unions to deal with, and if so, should they only address it in terms of occupational health and safety? Should education trade unions and their members join the climate strikes? How to discuss this topic with ‘non-believers’ or those considering it not a priority for education trade unions? These and other important questions regarding the introduction and promotion of the topic of environmental sustainability onto the education trade unions’ agenda and collective bargaining were discussed by ETUCE member organisations during the online seminar ‘Education trade unions mobilising for environmental sustainability’ held on 31 March 2022.

More than 35 experts from 18 countries in the European region got together during the online seminar to share the experience of their unions on engaging on the topic of environmental sustainability with their members, to discuss the various challenges they face in that regard, and to exchange good practices and possible tools. In particular, seminar participants shared various approaches to gathering the information on their affiliates’ views and needs on the topic of environmental sustainability (e.g. conducting surveys, organising webinars and seminars, addressing the topic at the unions’ Congresses, etc.). Some experts highlighted that the topic of environmental sustainability is too complex, and it is difficult to find the space for it in the classical union’s agenda which focuses only on the working conditions and protection of workers’ rights, especially in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants also highlighted the importance of communication and relations between students and teachers for the building of a common knowledge on this topic.

Furthermore, participants discussed such issues as objections from families regarding their children’s participation in the climate strikes organised by schools, the ability to discuss the climate change in the open-minded and democratic way within the union, and how to provide the information to their affiliates in a way that would engage education personnel on this topic and show its connection to their everyday and work life. Regarding building the capacity of their affiliates, trade unions representatives highlighted the importance of local partnerships with other organisations dealing with the environmental sustainability and local campaigns, finding the links between union’s priorities and environmental sustainability (e.g. asbestos in the school buildings, transportation for education personnel, additional funding for education on environmental sustainability, etc.).

During the closing of the seminar, participants were invited to continue the discussions at the training workshops in Rome (29 April 2022) and Copenhagen (2 June 2022), organised in the framework of the ETUCE project ‘“Education for Social Change: The role of Education Trade Unions in addressing sustainable environmental development”.