Back from holidays, business as usual !

(26 August 2014) There was little in the way of a summer celebration for workers at the Irish company Greyhound Recycling and Recovery. The owners are seeking wage cuts of around 30%. They claim that this will make the company competitive. The 80 workers and their union SIPTU challenged the cuts, launched a seris of protests and have now been locked out since 17th June. The company is using legal action to try to prevent protests and blockades amid growing public anger over the company’s actions. EPSU and several affiliates have sent messages of support.
Meanwhile in the UK the FBU firefighters’ union has been getting plenty of support in their strike action against government proposals to reform pensions and fire services. These are the kinds of so-called structural labour market reforms that are being called for by the European institutions and particularly the European Central Bank (ECB).

In its monthly bulletin for July, the ECB notes that structural reform includes: dealing with early retirement schemes (meaning working more years for the same or even lower pension), a "lower degree of employment protection" (making it easier to fire workers) and for "flexible wage-setting" so wages can be "better tailored to the specific circumstances and needs of individual firms". The attacks on sectoral bargaining in several countries should be seen in this light. Eurozone ministers want more of this and in a coordinated way. That promises a hot autumn.
UK public service workers continue their fight for decent pay in local government and the health service with most unions balloting their members to endorse industrial action including strikes. A forthcoming briefing of EPSU in our series on the economic crisis will describe the structural reforms and calls them a fairy tale. And a fairy tale can not replace the urgent investment that is needed in the European economy with a high risk of deflation, with low investment and very high unemployment. Only that will boost growth and jobs.

Trade agreements are also part of the structural reform agenda as they aim to open up services to more competition. We have now seen a leaked draft text on the EU-Canadian agreement (CETA). There is nothing in it to improve workers' rights, or ensure better environmental or consumer protection, to address inequality or tax evasion. The references to public services are very ambiguous and do not keep them out the clutches of the trade agreement. The Investor-State protections are in this leaked text even before the Commission has finalised the analysis of the responses to the public consultation to which 150.000 people replied and despite its promise to listen to their views. A mockery. We will now make our voices heard at the national level where parliaments have to approve it. We will work with the unions on both sides of the Atlantic, ETUC, the PSI and others to defeat an agreement that will harm our members, and that is being used as a template for the EU-US free trade agreement (TTIP) as well as the global agreement in services (TISA).

EU governments will meet on 30 August to do the horsetrading to decide which Commissioners will be responsible for areas important to public service workers such as Trade and Economic Affairs. And of course Social Policy and Employment. That Commissioner will have to decide if s/he pursues changes to the Working Time Directive and supports a structural reform agenda that is weakening the position of workers or if s/he sides on the side of workers in defence of essential health and safety protection. The EPSU working group meets to discuss our proposals on 4 September.

We all look forward to work together to take on these challenges and to defend and promote the interests of public service workers.


Jan Willem Goudriaan

EPSU General Secretary

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