(17 February 2021) The union leaders met to discuss how the pandemic and the measures to contain it are effecting workers during several events. Some countries have seen their health systems collapse as governments were reluctant to take measures to contain the pandemic like in Georgia and mostly recently in Montenegro. Armenian workers have been caught up in aftermath of the war as the political system became unstable and on top of the pandemic. More positive news was the roll out of vaccination programs in Russia and other countries using the Sputnik vaccine.
Many unions reported on the successes with ensuring additional pay for health professionals who had to work in dangerous situations when personal protective equipment was not sufficiently available. Overall unions did well to negotiate pay increases like in Croatia and Serbia but are now confronted with governments that do not honour the agreements like in Romania and North Macedonia. Some governments refused to engage with proposals of the unions like in Turkey, rammed through worsening of labour codes without dialogue like in Slovenia, Hungary and Poland. Unions here report that the situation has been used to tighten the hold of the governments on society. Ukrainian unions are continuing their struggle against a government that seeks to weaken their position including by attacking the union properties. With ETUC and ITUC, EPSU has demanded the authorities to stop these attacks.
The economic situation is difficult for many workers. Social protection nets are not everywhere well developed leaving many workers in near poverty circumstances. Unions have made impressive efforts to assist their members from buying PPEs to distributing food packages like in Azerbaijan and opening up union holiday facilities to allow health workers to get a rest in many countries.
EPSU has approached the European Commission to ensure that the countries in the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries can join in the procurement of the EU while stressing that the EU should join South Africa and other countries in waiving the intellectual property rights to the vaccines so more countries can produce the vaccines. Many union leaders stressed that we can only come out of a pandemic together. We looked at the priorities for our work as adopted in November 2020. More unions are joining the work on organising and recruitment with the EPSU team realising that growth of members gives us more voice and power to realise the changes that are needed. We talked about the actions on 23 June, Public Service Day and how this can be used to reach out to non-members.
The constituencies for Russia and Central Asia and North East Europe met 21 January. Those of South East Europe and Central European and Western Balkans on 11 and 12 February. All together over 120 union leaders joined. The formal meetings will take place in the course of March. All meetings were online with the participation of the General Secretary