The here and now: how we contain the coronavirus pandemic through the service sectors

Friday 13 March 2020

Supermarket workers, homecare workers, postal workers, cleaning workers, workers throughout services sectors now find themselves at the forefront of societies’ efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. If societal responses are to be successful, they must ensure that workers are given the tools to guarantee their safety and that of the general public.

“This crisis exposes the fact that our societies are only as safe as the most vulnerable within them. While precarious and low-paid workers are most exposed to the risk, they also find themselves forced to continue working even when sick, for lack of a viable alternative. It is crystal clear that protecting the whole of society means protecting people at work,” said Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary of UNI Europa.

Official advice is for people who have been exposed or are showing symptoms to self-isolate. However, across Europe, workers are being excluded from adequate sick pay, be it through bogus self-employment, part-time or temporary contracts or other forms of precariousness. As a consequence, these workers are forced to choose between following official advice and getting paid.

Service sector workers, many of whom come into contact with numerous people in their daily work, are the very people that need access to self-isolation with the confidence that their income and employment will not be compromised. As such, policy-makers must guarantee sick pay for all in order to make self-isolation a real option and protect everyone.

An effective contagion approach also requires that workers understand the risks they face and trust in their equipment. Training is a major part of this. For instance, training on how to clean common spaces, from public transport to shared offices, means minimising exposure for the workers doing the cleaning, but also for those using those spaces. Where human contact is inevitable, equipment and infrastructural improvements can be made to minimise the risk of contagion. Teleworking should be used to maximum capacity in order to minimise exposure by cutting out commuting and face-to-face meetings.

The specific measures that will have to be planned for and implemented vary from one workplace to another. If they are to work, they must do so for both management and workers and take into account the realities that all are facing. Collective bargaining provides both the inclusive and adaptable context for making these joint decisions. Furthermore, experience shows that measures that have been agreed upon together generate more buy-in for successful implementation. That is why UNI Europa is calling for collective bargaining to be reinforced.

A people-focused approach empowers workers to play their part in the response. Worryingly however, double-standards are emerging. In Germany, while football matches have been going ahead with massive crowds of spectators, union rallies have been cancelled by authorities. In Hungary, special measures allow police raids on houses with no prior announcement. Policy-makers cannot use the pandemic as an excuse to target and shut down people’s democratic rights and freedoms.

Rather than using resources to restrain people’s rights, policy-makers would do better to ramp up investment in areas that tackle this healthcare crisis. That means public infrastructure, including quality healthcare that is accessible to all.

“We’ve heard news that oil and gas multinationals are now calling for government bail-outs. That is not the answer. We need a leadership that unwavering puts people’s lives first. Governments must address the dangerous inequalities in our societies, not by protecting the interests of big polluters, but by providing health and safety measures for everyone,” said Oliver Roethig.

 

UNI Europa calls on all employers and governments:

  • to guarantee the safety of all workers and provide them with the necessary information and protection in terms of equipment;
  • to ensure that workers in the affected countries are fully financial covered in case employees need to stay at home as a result of health measures;
  • to ensure that all the changes to business operations are done in consultation with trade unions;
  • to promote remote working and teleworking with full respect to collective bargaining agreements and existing labour rights and conditions.

UNI Europa calls on the European Commission

  • to install an observatory to monitor democratic rights and liberties of citizens;
  • to invest in green jobs in particular in the services sector to alleviate economic challenges caused the crisis .
  • for an investment programme into public infrastructure;

 

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