ITUC OnLine – June 11, 2007(1)

Spotlight interview with Stavri Liko, Federal Secretary of the FSASH, the Education and Science Federation of Albania

Brussels, 11 June 2007 (ITUC OnLine): In Albania, 450 child workers have returned to school and 950 others were prevented from dropping out thanks to highly-motivated teachers who visit parents in their homes to convince them of the benefits of an education. This is one of the results of a project implemented by the Albanian teachers unions, with the support of the Dutch union FNV. On the eve of the World Day Against Child Labour, and in conjunction with the recent report by the ITUC on Albania, Stavri Liko, the Federal Secretary of the FSASH, the Education and Science Federation of Albania, tells us more about child labour in Albania, one of the poorest countries in Europe. He also describes the results of this project, which he is coordinating on behalf of both Albanian education trade unions.

What is the child labour situation in Albania?

There are no comprehensive national studies on this, but it is reckoned that there are some 50,000 children working in Albania. That estimate is based on studies made by our union, by ILO-IPEC and by NGOs. To that figure we should add the 5,000 or so children trafficked to Italy and the 3,000 or so trafficked to Greece (according to official statistics).

Most child workers in Albania are street workers, involved in small-scale selling, begging, etc. There are also some working in agriculture, light industry (such as the shoe and textile sectors), construction and other sectors.

What are the underlying causes?

Some of the causes are economic: the unemployment rate is very high, there is a large informal economy and wages are very low, 200 euros on average. Some families earn just 100 euros per month though a four-person household needs 500 euros just for food.

A second set of causes is related to mobility: there is a lot of internal migration in Albania, with families leaving rural regions for the outskirts of big cities. These internal migrants are unable to find accommodation or jobs in the city so they find it very hard to survive and, as a last resort, ask their children to contribute to the family income by working.

Other causes are linked to family or cultural situations: some of the children working have parents who have gone abroad whilst the parents of others have died or are having relationship problems. In certain remote areas some parents maintain that girls who have passed the stage of puberty should no longer go to school.

However, the main causes of child labour are linked to the educational situation and attitudes. The lack of schools in certain regions and children’s own lack of interest in education lead them to give up school. Attitudes are also a crucial contributory factor to child labour: whilst many parents barely manage to make ends meet but struggle hard to send their children to school others do not understand its importance.

Is it expensive to educate a child in Albania?

Registration is free but textbooks, exercise books, transport, food, etc., all have to be paid for. This costs at least 60000 leks, (about 480 Euro) per school year, which represents 20-25 percent of an average salary. So it can end up cheaper not to send your child to school.

How is your union involved in the campaign against child labour?

Both Albanian education trade unions, FSASH and SPASH, have existed since 1991. Until 1999 we were only concerned with defending our members. We then started to address broader issues like education reform and child labour. At first sight it seems child labour has nothing to do with protection of teachers’ rights, but in fact there is a direct link between them: unless there is high-quality education children will tend to leave school, poverty will rise and that will end up affecting the teachers themselves.

We began our joint actions against child labour through the campaigns launched by the former ICFTU and Education International. The Albanian office of ILO-IPEC and the Dutch teachers’ union AOb, an FNV affiliate, supported us. For three years FNV has been supporting our trade unions in their efforts to prevent and eliminate child labour, partly through consolidating and helping renew their structures. One of the vital aspects of our project is to raise teachers’ awareness of the importance of keeping tabs on children who have dropped out of school or risk doing so. Teachers are best placed to take the initial preventive steps: they are well-educated, there are many of them and they have the closest daily contacts with children in schools. We are training them to work with the children’s parents and communities.

How are they convincing children to go or return to school?

It’s a complex task which cannot be achieved in a day or a week. They start by talking with the child. Then follows what is often a very difficult discussion with the parents, aimed at encouraging them not to send their child to work but to school. Where there are financial obstacles teachers try to contact the local authorities to see if they can find ways of helping the family. This is a hard task so we try to provide extra incentives to those teachers doing this extra work, often in the evenings: we are negotiating with the Education Ministry to get extra pay for such teachers in the next collective agreement.

At the beginning it was not so easy to convince everyone in the union of the importance of getting involved in such a project which does not directly benefit our members, but thanks to the support of the chairman of the FSASH, Mr. Xhafer Dobrushi and the Chairman of the SPASH, Mr. Bajram Kruja, we have managed to make progress.

What forms of training on combating child labour are you giving your members?

We mainly use seminars for this. These seminars last three days and basically consist of theoretical training on ILO conventions and Albanian legislation on child labour, followed by a meeting in a school between the seminar participants, the local authorities and the school’s management. At the end of the seminar, recommendations and an action plan are drawn up. We then expect the participants to go back to their schools and put into practice what they have learnt. The participants also try to convince other teachers at their schools to take similar action. One of the best methods is to show concrete situations where teachers’ actions have helped bring children back to school. In order to do so we held a meeting in Tirana between teachers involved in that kind of work, children who had left school but returned, and other children who had still not gone back to school. The Albanian media gave excellent coverage to the meeting and it showed just what teachers can do in fighting the school drop-out rate.

What has the project achieved so far?

We have focused on four districts where we have the best information on the child labour situation and the size of the school drop-out rate.

This project has encouraged some 450 children to return to school and prevented around 950 others from dropping out.

Those achievements are just the beginning, though: now that the teachers have been trained, they will continue their efforts to bring children back to school or prevent them from leaving, so we can confidently expect more and more children to benefit from our project.

Interview by Samuel Grumiau

Click here to see also the briefing on “Albania – keeping children in school…”