In its manual “In Search of Decent Work – Migrant Workers’ Rights:  A Manual for Trade Unionists”, the ILO outlines the role for trade unions in the context of international migration. For unions in destination countries, it offers the following straightforward guidance:

“Organizing, collective bargaining and the protection and promotion of rights are the three key tasks for unions – exactly the same principles apply to migrant workers…  Once migrant workers see that the trade union movement is on their side, they will join, if they can do so without fear of losing their job or being deported.”

The ILO provides numerous examples of creative strategies for organizing migrant workers in other sectors of the economy. Looking more specifically at the education sector, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) has produced a comprehensive and useful analysis of union strategies for organizing migrant teachers. The Support for Overseas Trained Teachers Project, undertaken in 2009, aimed to increase participation by overseas-trained teachers in the life of the union and to build a culture within the union that fosters engagement with the issues of migrant teachers. The findings of this project provide valuable guidance to any teachers’ union with similar objectives, so they are summarized here: 

Integration

Perhaps most importantly, NASUWT found that in order to be effective, overseas-trained teacher engagement had to be integrated with the core work of the union, not isolated or side-lined. Thus awareness of the issues and commitment to addressing them was built by:

  • identifying existing events at national and local level at which migrant teachers and key activists within the union could come together to share information and experiences
  • developing tailored tools and materials to improve migrant teacher recruitment and representation
  • training activists and leaders in the issues relevant to migrant educators 

Information

Based on their research, NASUWT knew that migrant teachers lack and need both professional and social/cultural information. To address these gaps, the union undertook a number of strategies:

  • developing a website devoted to migrant teacher's issues, including a question board to which the union responded weekly
  • creating an e-bulletin to communicate information about relevant news and events
  • reaching out through Facebook and other social media, including efforts to connect with existing online migrant communities

Professional Services and Support

Any new teacher entering a school requires professional orientation and guidance in order to be successful, and this need is even more acute for teachers entering a national education system for the first time. NASUWT’s research made clear that internationally recruited teachers lacked familiarity with the structure and detail of the English school system, including the curriculum, expectations in relation to assessment, behaviour and special education needs. Through this project, they identified ways to address these gaps, including:

  • Providing professional development support, particularly in curricular areas commonly taught by migrant educators
  • Assisting with credential recognition and assuring that teachers experience and training was adequately credited.

Collaboration

Engaging in this work led NASUWT to the realization that, in order to be effective advocates, they needed to work with and learn from other allies and partners. The collaboration occurred on many levels:

  • Professional Organizations: Based on the subjects taught by migrant teachers in the UK, NASUWT found benefit in collaborating with the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics. Many other professional organizations might be useful partners in order to support the professional needs of migrant educators.
  • Migrant Advocacy Organizations: To better address the acute needs of teachers entering the UK as refugees or forced migrants, NASUWT built a relationship with the Refugee Council for the Welfare of Migrants.
  • Other unions: NASUWT drew ideas and lessons from the work of the labour movement on many levels: at national level they worked closely with the Trades Union Congress and its affiliates in forming and implementing a comprehensive strategy; at bilateral level, they cooperated with unions in source countries to improve understanding of cultural issues and clarify matters relating to credentials recognition and finally, at global level, as part of the EI taskforce on teacher migration, they worked to share information across borders and advocate for improved global governance of migration within a rights-based policy framework.

Through this comprehensive strategy, NASUWT demonstrates that an effective organizing plan requires a broad review of the structures and processes of the union to ensure that migrant teachers will not only have the opportunity to join, but will also find value in membership.

Work on teacher migration should not be narrowly defined. When developing an engagement strategy, unions should consider every function they perform, from the legislative and bargaining process, to legal case work and grievances, to public relations and internal messaging, to professional development and mentoring programs.

Does your union have any programs or initiatives to support teachers recruited abroad? If so, please, share your experiences with us by joining the community.

References

International Labour Organization. In Search of Decent Work – Migrant Workers’ Rights:  A Manual for Trade Unionists. Geneva: ILO, 2008.

National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), Teachers being exploited by unscrupulous supply agencies, Press Release, March 9 2013.