The role of Trade Unions

Briefing note | 08 June 2015

Trade Unions: key actor for fighting child labour

Workers’ Organizations seek to promote human/labour rights in the work place. Trade unions can disseminate new messages and take direct action to influence labour law and practices. As vertically integrated organizations they provide a unique link between the global and the national level on issues related to social protection and children’s rights. Trade unions are well placed to act as watchdogs and to take direct action to prevent child labour and remove children from the workplace and help provide the alternatives of quality education and preparation for the adult world

The historical commitment of Trade unions

Workers’ organizations have been the historic pioneers in promoting international labour standards, including those on the prohibition of child labour. It was workers’ organizations in the 1860’s that first called for campaigns against child labour. Child labour remains an affront to the objectives of trade unions everywhere and is therefore a key entry point for developing workers’ organizations. As mass membership organizations, trade unions bring many strengths to efforts to eliminate child labour. Collective bargaining – as part of social dialogue – is one of the main trade union strategies to combat child labour.

Child labour monitoring

Trade Unions can use one of the most potent means of addressing child labour: monitoring, by regularly checking the workplace. Child labour monitoring is the active process that ensures that such observation is put in place and is coordinated in an appropriate manner. Its overall objective is to ensure that as a consequence of monitoring children and young legally employed workers are safe from exploitation and hazards at work. In practice child labour monitoring involves the identification, referral, protection and prevention of child labourers through the development of a coordinated multi-sector monitoring and referral process that aims to cover all children living in a given geographical area.

Teachers’ organizations: Agents of social change

Within the context of their direct interaction with children, parents and communities, teachers and educators could play several major roles in the prevention and elimination of child labour. They can act as frontline monitors and “child watchers” because they are well positioned to identify the school-age children in the community, to encourage parents to enroll them in schools, to provide children with an interesting learning environment and to assist them with their educational problems and needs. Teachers can also act as resource persons who can inform children, parents and communities of the importance of education and the harmful effects of child labour on children and society. Finally, teachers’ organizations can collaborate with other organizations to work on curriculum development to strengthen the school management system. It is vital that teachers and their organizations participate in decision-making and in educational planning and reform.