Union leaders from across Europe send a powerful message of solidarity to Europe’s public service workers

letter action Macron

(21 April 2023) Europe’s public service workers are showing in many different ways that they expect significant pay increases to value the work they do for society, to compensate for high inflation and to show respect for their dedication during the very difficult period of COVID-19.  They kept public services running. Strikes and industrial actions continue to take place across Europe.

The leaders of European public service trade unions joined in a powerful message of solidarity during the EPSU Executive Committee. Health workers in Northern Ireland, civil servants in the UK, social service workers and electricians in Norway were just some examples of workers engaged in actions. We signed letters of protest to the French President Macron as he forced through a pension reform without negotiations with the unions without a majority in the French Parliament, using extraordinary powers to impose this on millions of workers. The French unions will continue their protests and several unions including in the energy sector continue strikes. 1 May, Global Labour Day, will be a day of resistance and action to stop the reforms in France. EPSU will join an international delegation in support of French workers and their unions.

Trade union rights topped the agenda. Henrik Kristensen, responsible for monitoring the implementation of the European Social Charter of the Council of Europe, explained how the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter complement each other and create a powerful and comprehensive set of political, economic, civil and social rights. He explained that recent assessments of the European Committee of Social Rights of a broad set of rights and concentrated on key trade union rights like the right to organise (art.5), the right to bargain collectively (art 6) and the right to strike (art.6.4). He noted with concern the growing violations of workers’ and trade union rights in Europe. He stressed the importance of addressing violations and set out the mechanisms to do so. EPSU and its partners Eurocop and Euromil were thanked for their contribution to the assessment by showing violations of the rights of uniformed workers. It had an impact. He encouraged EPSU to continue to contribute and consider becoming a recognised party for the Secretariat. The contribution was complemented by Stefan Clauwert, the legal counsel and expert of the ETUC. He assists unions and confederations in their cases to defend workers’ and union rights in front of the European Committee on Social Rights. He underlined that the assessment was rather bleak as a majority of countries was violating union rights. He showed how the mechanism can be used to protect and promote union rights. Members stressed the importance of enforcement of the decisions of the Committee of Social Rights.

The European Commission was critiqued for its double standards regarding the European Social dialogue. On the one hand, it claims to promote social dialogue with the publication of the Social Dialogue Initiative which encourages the social partners to conclude European social partner agreements applying to whole sectors and across the EU. It presents a recommendation on the social dialogue and collective bargaining asking Member States to promote collective bargaining and social dialogue and create the necessary infrastructure for it.  This is welcomed by Members of the Executive Committee. On the other hand, the European Commission simultaneously undermines social dialogue by seeking to outsource its responsibilities for organising the social dialogue. It has intentionally destroyed the clear criteria and transparent processes that existed with regard to the evaluation European social partner agreements and how to bring these to the Council for a decision.  It has delayed its decision to establish a social dialogue committee for almost two years despite a request of employers and trade unions that recognise each other. The Commission acts as it sees fit. Its decision to refuse to deal with the sectoral agreement on digitalisation in central government administrations since October last year is not based on clear criteria or a transparent process but what it considers expedient.   The EPSU Executive Committee made clear that this is not acceptable and that EPSU defends its autonomy, the social dialogue and clear and transparent processes. See here for further information.

Members were updated on the extensive work undertaken across EPSU and noted reports on our work on:

  • European social policy and the implementation of the Directive on an Adequate Minimum Wage and collective bargaining
  • Economic policy and reform of European economic governance
  • National and European administration including migration, asylum and the likely abuse of the proposals for a talent pool
  • Local and regional government, our remunicipalisation project with PSI and the work of the Firefighters Network on asbestos
  • Utilities, including our demands for changes to the Urban Wastewater Directive and for the reform of the EU’s electricity market
  • Health and Social Services such as the meetings with the Presidency of the Council, the Commission, the joint demo of 9 December and the input into the Bucharest Declaration of the WHO-Europe on health and care workforce
  • Women and gender equality, including the preparations for the EPSU Women’s Conference 24 November and joining the international delegation in the Italian march to stop violence against women 25 November
  • The Youth network, its strategies and several events during 2023 leading up to the Youth Conference prior to the EPSU Congress
  • Our work on organising and recruitment with more and more unions joining our activities, bringing increased workers’ power and membership growth.

Members dealt with the preparation of three Congresses. We discussed the draft outline of the Programme of Action of the EPSU Congress (16-20 June 2024, Bucharest) Members made various comments to strengthen certain sections such as fighting for an alternative economic model with quality public services and responding to climate change, dealing with discrimination at the work floor, improving pay and conditions, standing up for democracy and against the far-right, defending trade union and human rights. We looked at amendments to the constitution and agreed to recommended several on behalf of the Executive Committee. Others were referred to the Constitutional Working Group to find solutions such as dealing with inflation.  The Executive Committee approved EPSU positions with regard to the ETUC Congress such as on the Secretariat and Presidency, the Programme of Action and constitutional amendments including improving youth representation. The ETUC Congress takes place in Berlin, 23-26 May 2023. The PSI General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli presented the work on the PSI Congress (12-18 October 2023). This included a progressive global agenda for public service workers, amendments to the constitution and the resolutions of the affiliates. Rosa will not be running for a new term. Daniel Bertossa, assistant general secretary announced his candidacy and will be meeting with unions to listen and discuss their vision for the future of the PSI.

The Executive approved the affiliation of a number of unions: FESZ, a Hungarian health and social services union; the Bulgarian prison services union SSZB; the Kazakh Power Engineers Union; and the health workers union FTUMWU of the Ukrainian confederation KVPU, under proviso of discussion ongoing. 

The Members further approved:

  • The annual report of activities 2022
  • The final annual budget 2022
  • The mandate for negotiations with Eurogas to come to an agreement on skills and just transition
  • Updated guidelines on the role of EWC Coordinators

The Executive Committee took place 18 and 19 April 2023 in Brussels. It was chaired by vice-President Thomas Kattnig (first day) and vice-President Francoise Geng on the second day. Our President Mette Nord stayed in Norway as part of the LO-Norway Confederation delegation that negotiates for the private sector. The private sector was on strike as of Monday, 17 April, including members of EPSU affiliates. Traditionally these negotiations set a standard for negotiations in the municipal and health sector amongst others. The Executive Committee wishes the striking workers success. (Update: an agreement for significant pay increases was reached late afternoon on Thursday.)

For further reading:

European Convention on Human Rights

European Social Charter

The EPSU and ETUI guide to promote and defend trade union rights (tools and instruments) Part two contains country sheets.

EPSU facts sheets on the right to strike

ETUC Congress

PSI Congress

EPSU solidarity action with French workers on the pension strike

For the pictures


  • Solidarity with U.K.