Every year on 28 April—International Workers Memorial Day—we remember workers who have been killed doing their jobs. This year is unlike any other.
The current crisis has brought to the fore the essential social function that is played by the service workers that UNI Europa fights for. It has been supermarket workers, cleaners, security guards, postal staff and care workers that have proven to be the key workers that have kept society running. Many of these workers earn low wages and endure appalling working conditions with no guarantees of work from one week to the next. These sectors are rife with anti-union employers.
This must change.
On IWMD20, we renew the pledge to remember the dead and fight for the living. And UNI Europa will continue to fight for service workers. As we emerge from the immediate crisis, the first priority must be that we do not—we must not—go back to the bad old ways of doing things. There is an inextricable link between the health and safety risks that workers face and their work status: those who have insecure work, low wages and no access to robust collective bargaining are at greater risk of exposure. Too many are forced to choose which they fear more: a deadly virus or poverty.
Throughout this crisis front-line service workers have earned the widespread respect of the public. This is great and well-deserved, but respect is not enough. They need protection – both economically and in terms of their health.
UNI Europa is therefore taking a series of actions to protect service workers, especially those on the frontline.
Covid-19 must be recognised as an occupational disease and UNI Europa has led trade union efforts to achieve this at the European level. In collaboration with all other European trade union federations and the ETUC, we have written to Nicolas Schmit, EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights. Our demand is the revision of Commission Recommendation (2003/670/EC) concerning the European schedule (list) of occupational diseases. This must be amended to specifically include Covid-19 as applying to all workers who are currently disproportionately exposed to infection (not only health care workers).
Depending on occupational health regimes across EU Member States, designating Covid-19 as an occupational disease can place additional obligations on governments to monitor infection rates of workers, while enhancing workers’ rights to compensation and social security access.
UNI Europa will also continue to use collective bargaining to win protection measures for service workers during the crisis. Our European level sectors have already made a series of joint statements with employers to ensure that our members are as protected as possible while they carry out their important work (links at the foot of this statement). In addition to European agreements we continue to work closely with affiliates to help them win agreements at national level as well as within the major multinational companies UNI Global operates in.
Finally, UNI Europa has made significant changes to our working practices to ensure that our support of affiliate’s organising campaigns continues to progress. Many unions have seen significant membership boosts lately as workers seek the protection of the collective in response to the huge challenges they face. The challenge now is to channel that concern into building union power with a stronger voice in workplaces across Europe so that we can defend, expand and (re)build collective bargaining at the sectoral level. To do this we continue to shift towards using digital tools to organise—from video meetings to electronic surveys and petitions. We are also developing specific training on using health and safety as an organising issue.
On International Workers’ Memorial Day we remember the thousands of workers who die each year in Europe from diseases and accidents caused by their work. This year, as the world is gripped by a deadly pandemic, more than ever we remember the dead and fight for the living.
- Letter to Commissioner Schmit on Covid19 as an occupational disease
- UNI Europa is also signatory to the joint statement for IWMD20 with the ETUC and other ETUFs.
- Joint Statement on the Covid-19 impact to the Industrial Cleaning and Facility Services sector and the necessary measures to protect it
- COVID-19: statement of the Social Partners in the European Telecom Sector
- Joint statement EuroCommerce/UNI-Europa
- Covid-19: home care and domestic workers’ unions sign joint statement with employers
- COVID-19: UNI Europa joint statement with Intergraf
- COVID-19: UNI Europa Finance signs joint statement with our European Social Partners in the Banking and Insurance Sectors
- COVID-19: travel agency and tour operator workers’ joint statement with employers
- UNI and UPU call for united action to protect postal workers during COVID-19 pandemic
- UNI MEI: TV and film production
 The European schedule of occupational diseases is an instrument that recommends Member States introduce national legislation on scientifically proved occupational diseases, and compensation, prevention and statistical data collection thereof. Annex I (European schedule) contains diseases that must be linked directly to the occupation.