International Workers’ Memorial Day: Building back safer for Europe’s workers

Wednesday 28 April 2021

During the pandemic, essential workers represented by UNI Europa and our affiliates—often migrants, women, and people of colour—have risked exposure to this virus to support their communities and their families. Tragically, an untold number have died. These are UK postal workers, Italian grocery employees, French security guards and cleaners, Spanish bank workers, German care workers, and thousands of other frontline employees.

“Unions are remedies for dangers on the job. On International Workers’ Memorial Day, we are remembering those we have lost, and we are redoubling our commitment to strengthening workplace protections through collective bargaining,” said Oliver Roethig, UNI Europa Regional Secretary.

This IMWD falls on the second day of the region’s 5th Conference, where COVID-19’s impact on workers is a focus area. Recognizing that essential workers are shouldering an unjust burden throughout the pandemic, Barbara Teiber from the GPA in Austria said, “Now, however, the question arises as to who will pay the costs of the crisis, and we, as a trade union movement, must make sure that it is not the workers who do so.”

Companies, she said, should not be allowed to use COVID to weaken workplace and social protections. A point echoed by Mario Petitto of Italy’s  SLP-CISL and Vice President of UNI Europa.

That is one reason why UNI Europa unveiled a new campaign to raise standards for government procurement on Workers’ Memorial Day. Unions are often the difference between safe and dangerous jobs. Currently, too many workers have been forced to work on through this crisis and risk their health because they don’t have access to full employment rights, social protection, and union representation. Emerging from the crisis does not mean going back to the way things were, but moving forward.

And on #IWMD21, we are demanding:

  • The ILO should designate health and safety as a fundamental right.
  • Governments should classify COVID-19 as an occupational illness so workers infected on the job get the support they deserve.
  • All workers should have democratically elected safety and health committees.
  • All worker should collective bargaining.