Let’s learn from this crisis! Will European leaders back our call to put fair, high quality public education at the heart of the recovery from COVID-19?

18 June 2020

The COVID 19 outbreak is a public health crisis quite different than anything Europe has faced for many years. As education personnel and their trade unions grapple with the outbreak, we are supporting and informing member organisations in any way we can.

European trade unions are calling on EU leaders to agree and implement an ambitious economic recovery package, with the burden shared fairly across countries and communities. ETUCE backs this demand, while also setting out a long-term version for recovery in the education sector – for both EU and non-EU countries. The working conditions and professional autonomy of teachers and education personnel must be respected, while staff and students from all groups must get the support they need to flourish. Above all, we must reform economic governance and strengthen public investment in our education systems, prioritising quality education for all above private interests and commercialisation.

This Friday 19 June EU leaders will meet online to debate a proposed economic recovery plan worth €750 billion. The public health crisis of this new pandemic has rapidly become a social and economic crisis, and the situation could hardly be more urgent. In the first quarter of this year, the GDP of the EU saw its sharpest decline in 30 years, while the number of people in work fell for the first time since 2013. In the EU alone, almost 60 million workers have been laid off or placed in temporary unemployment. The education sector has not been immune, with precarious workers especially vulnerable. How many of these jobs and companies are lost permanently depends on the political response to the crisis.

Teachers and other staff in all parts of the education sector across Europe have been working hard to support their students and communities. In turn, ETUCE and education trade unions have been working hard to support them. As with all front-line workers, the adaptation and resilience of education workers has been impressive. Now we need a long-term plan to help economies and education systems recover from this crisis and adjust to the new reality. If we get this right, we have an opportunity to build a better and fairer society for working people. If we make the wrong choices, we risk permanently destroying public services, entrenching inequalities and creating the foundation of future economic and political crises. The €750 EU recovery fund is a vital first step. We back ETUC’s call for EU leaders to approve it quickly and in full solidarity, without applying excessive debts or conditionalities which could force governments into another wave of disastrous austerity and spending cuts in public services.

The ETUCE Committee has also approved a new statement, The Road to Recovery from the COVID-19 Crisis. It sets out a long-term vision for recovery in the education sector, calling on governments to act in strong solidarity at both national and international level. They must:

  • Respect and promote trade union rights and commit to effective social dialogue for a fairer economy;
  • Ensure that no student or teacher is left behind: inequalities in access to quality education must not be further exacerbated and the digital divide needs to be addressed, taking into account the different needs of women and men;
  • Acknowledge that teachers are irreplaceable: the social aspect of education is central to student’s development and wellbeing; distance education cannot replace face-to-face teaching;
  • Guarantee decent working conditions, including the right to work-life balance as well as healthy and safe workplaces in the return to school based education;
  • Commit to boosting public investment in high quality public education for all, to provide teachers and other education personnel with the resources, tools, training and professional autonomy they need to deliver excellent education and to make the profession more rewarding;
  • Act to broaden the tax base with measures on tax fraud and corporate tax evasion;
  • Urgently revise the EU Stability and Growth Pact to create an EU fiscal framework which allows countries to strengthen public investment in education by excluding investment in public education, training and research from the calculation of deficit and debt levels;
  • Commit to an increased EU budget and adapt the EU Multiannual Financial Framework to give the EU meaningful fiscal capacity to address inequalities and support economic recovery.

Read the full ETUCE statement The Road to Recovery from the COVID-19 Crisis.

Read the ETUC statement on the COVID-19 outbreak and recovery strategy.