PERC Summer School “Crisis and recovery in the PERC region: Trade union challenges and responses”

The 13th PERC Summer School took place on 16-17 June by video-conferencing. The PERC School is a discussion forum where trade union leaders and experts can debate issues of common interest. This year, taking into account the COVID-19 provoked crisis, the School focused on global shifts in the world of labour, accelerated by virus-response, and recovery in Europe. Unionists from different countries of the region exchanged about the implications of the COVID-19 crisis and recovery plans and debated common messages as regional contribution to the ILO Tripartite summit planned for July 2020.

Luca Visentini, PERC and ETUC General Secretary, informed about the main achievements of the European trade union movement in building consolidated crisis response within European Union framework, as well as within EU external relation and support. Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, outlined main priority areas in focus of the international trade union movement: jobs, incomes and wages, universal social protection, responsible of business, occupational health and safety, governmental accountability. Maria Helena Andre, ILO-ACTRAV Director, introduced the ILO COVID-19 four-pillars approach: stimulating economy and employment, supporting enterprises, jobs and incomes, protecting workers in the workplace and social dialogue for sustainable solutions.

In the course of discussion, participants highlighted challenges their unions faced, particularly, in terms of preserving employment and income, health and safety of workers, securing fundamental rights, including freedom of association. Women’s committee members called for special focus on gender impact of the crisis, growth of home and work-based violence, need for investments and regularization of care economy. Devastating impact on youth employment perspectives was raised by younger participants of the school. The School also discussed specific violations of rights that governments and employers made in several countries of the region, such as Albania, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and others.

Special attention was devoted to building regional inputs to the ILO High level tripartite summit. Heinz Koller, ILO European Director, introduced major outlines of the Summit and its regional – European – part, that would be organized on 1 of July 2020. During debates, the unionists of the region formulated several major priority messages for the ILO Summit, including, inter alia:

• The need to address the issue of establishing a more sustainable economic model in the aftermath of the outbreak, based on just transition and social justice, and avoiding coming back to austerity and unsustainable debt. Resilience and recovery must not to be the return to old normal.
• Social dialogue as the most successful means to develop policies and actions at state level to address healthcare and economic crisis we face and collective bargaining as instrument for fine-tuning enterprise-based solutions. Efficient social dialog and collective bargaining are only possible when freedom of association is respected and social partners have adequate means and capacities.
• The fundamental workers rights must be respected, and the ILO must send a strong unequivocal signal to governments and employers that use crisis as false pretext for compromising fundamental freedoms.
• The crisis disproportionally impacted those who were already in precarious working conditions, youth in particular, but also domestic workers, platform workers, migrant workers, many of whom are women, who were not part of mainstream solutions in many of the countries and were simply left behind. It is the time to insist on universal labour guarantees as well as to establish global social protection fund to ensure universal social protection, also as a core element for achieving SDGs.
• The systematic undervaluing of “core” sectors and public services in many European countries, through privatisation, outsourcing, underinvestment resulted in thousands of deaths. In many cases the governments simply did not have resources to cope with the challenge as the public healthcare was sacrificed long before the COVID-19.
• The crisis only exacerbated already existing gaps, gender first of all, in terms of wages, access and adequacy of social protection. Women are most likely to continue working in frontlines in vital sectors at any circumstances, but also in households, facing often multitasking of remote work and child and family care. Furthermore, in economic crises, the impact on women is disproportionally unfavorable, with risks of poverty and working poverty jumping up.
• Investments in public quality and accessible care services must remain a top priority to cope with the needs of the population in time of pandemic as well as in new normal. Care and service sectors must become opportunities for more and high-quality employment. Recognition and qualification for unpaid care work is necessary, to allow women to be fully part of the labour market, the social protection system and the society equally. Fight with violence at work and homes – which for many are also workplaces – has to be pursued setting up legal frameworks and in practice.
• While support to enterprises and employment is important, it is not enough. Millions of workers have their jobs protected, but had to sustain their families on meagre incomes based on inadequate national minimal wage systems, particularly in Eastern countries. The crisis had only reinforced the fight for decent wages trade unions have been engaged for years.
• Emergency assistance from the states to sustainability of businesses needs to be conditioned. Only responsible business – that pay fair taxes in countries it operates, respect workers individual and collective rights, and implement due diligence, also in terms of environment impact, – contribute to sustainability of societies and hence shall be entitled for the such emergency support.
• The appearance of new risks that successes of technologic advances in managing the virus outbreak crisis would be further applied for executing digital controls by the states and employers over working people in violation of individual freedoms and privacy.
• COVID19 is an occupational decease. It is now a known risk factor for millions of workers, particular in frontline sectors: healthcare, retail, transport, but not only. There is a need to recognise that both nationally and internationally by developing respective labour standards.