Trade unions and vulnerable groups in the context of the Post-COVID-19 crisis: Focus on workers with disabilities

The PERC in cooperation with the FES Competence Centre – Future of Work and in collaboration with PERC Women Committee members organised Conference on Vulnerable groups and COVID -19 pandemic with focus on people with disability in virtual format on 1st of June 2021.

The global community pledged to leave no one behind when adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development [1]. Delivering on that promise has become more important than ever in the COVID-19 response and recovery process and addressing the potential fallout. The COVID-19 pandemic is revealing the pervasiveness and seriousness of existing inequalities, and in many cases exacerbating them. Without inclusive policies and targeted measures to deal with the immediate health crisis and its on-going social and economic consequences, there is a risk that groups already facing discrimination and exclusion will be disproportionately affected and left even further behind when the economy starts recovering. The conference had as its purpose to raise awareness as concerns the necessity to include the interest of vulnerable groups on trade union agenda; discuss effective strategies and policies to protect vulnerable workers and their families; advancing equality and non-discrimination in trade union work and better represent the interests of different vulnerable groups, with a special focus on workers with disabilities.

Experts from ILO, ETUC, ITUC, EDF (European Disability Forum), academia world and member organisations were invited to the meeting and presented their work as concerns vulnerable groups and especially people with disabilities. The meeting was moderated by Sabine Slegers, President of the PERC Women Committee.

Anton Leppik, Executive Secretary of the PERC in his welcome speech stressed the importance of the activity as part of the consultation process for the preparation of the 5th Congress of ITUC. The ETUC advisor, Ignacio Doreste draw participants’ attention to some EU policies and programs covering women, migrants, young workers and persons with disabilities who were disproportionally hit by the COVID-19 crisis and shortly presented the ETUC position as concerns workers with disabilities. The ILO ACTRAV representative, Faustina Van Aperen reminded participants in the words of the ILO Director General that “persons with disabilities must be seen as a priority group in the post COVID-19 recovery plans”. ILO ACTRAV representative explained the challenges people with disabilities are facing, need for proper social protection and adaptability of workplaces; she presented also the main actions that can be used by trade unions to help people with disabilities and include this category of workers in trade union work. The Director of ITUC Equality Department, Chidi King, stated that we need to rebuild labour markers policies to remove barriers for persons with disabilities and we need to work with employers making it possible for vulnerable workers to perform their job in a qualitative manner.

Second session focused on case studies by member organisations. DGB Germany presented project with focus on posted workers, developed by the German union, explaining the functioning of the "network for fair posting”; HAK-IS Turkey presented actions to combat worst forms of child labour, developments in social dialogue for migrant workers and refugees, as well as assisting persons with disabilities and women trade unionists; CATUS and UGS Nezavisnost from Serbia mentioned the negative impact of Covid-19 pandemic on persons with disabilities and mentioned that government is not taking effective measures to support these groups; KVPU Ukraine gave examples on violations of labour rights and new legislation for persons with disabilities and AHIK Azerbaijan gave input on improving the social protection system and health improvement.

In the 3rd session participants could get acquainted with research done by academia ,presented by Prof. Kate Sang, as concerns trade union involvement in including people with disabilities in trade union work and the role people with disabilities play in co-designing policies and training materials. The EDF representative Pirkko Mahlamäki, concluded the session by statement on importance of participation of women with disabilities within trade unions and how it can play a meaningful role to achieve full participation of persons with disabilities.

The main conclusions and way forward were presented at the end of the meeting: the need to work on a PERC strategy on decent work for people with disabilities, which can be discussed at the next PERC Executive Committee meeting; importance and need for more awareness raising within trade union leadership on the issue; work on including disability clauses in collective bargaining and including people with disabilities in bargaining teams; need for specific trainings for trade unions on how to work with people with disabilities and organizing strategies; taking care that specific legislation is in place on national level and lobbying for ratification and implementation of disability specific ILO Conventions, C 159, C111, C190; need for mapping the situation in different countries and collecting best practices from the PERC region and building coalitions with NGOs and especially with the European Disability Forum.

Faustina Van Aperen, ILO ACTRAV
Prof. Kate Sang. Edinburgh Business School, Heriot Watt University
Pirkko Mahlamäki, EDF
DGB Germany, project on posted workers