Workers' demands not reflected in Commission Work programme

(18 December 2014) During the Belgian general strike on 15 December I joined workers in Antwerp who control the largest locks in the world. They blocked the bridges and had stopped operating the locks, effectively stopping all shipping in and out of the harbour. As we warmed ourselves over the fire, we talked about their work, what the government plans mean for them, their families and their work. We also spoke about what was happening across Europe and the many actions of public service workers over the past year. "As many workers are affected, we should organise a European action" one argued. We debated the pros and cons of a European strike.

The workers were also concerned about the rise of the extreme-right and nationalist parties in many European countries and how what happens elsewhere in Europe affects Belgian workers. They were aware of developments in the Netherlands and Norway to increase retirement ages and they had a keen understanding that decisions in one country had an impact on them as well. Our discussions became more heated when we came to talk of the rich and the corporations that escape paying their taxes and the unwillingness of the Belgian and other governments to really do something about it.

The next day the European Commission published its work programme and President Juncker announced that there would be a proposal to address the tax rulings of EU Member States and a Communication on further measures to fight tax fraud. EPSU wants to see the Commission give a clear and easily achievable signal of its intent by removing the representatives of the Big 4 accountancy and tax advising companies from EU bodies that advise the Commission on tax issues.

The work programme is very thin on social measures although it is positive that there will be a review of the Posted Workers Directive to end abuse of posted workers. Less positive is that the Commission has put forward reviews of social measures like fixed-term and part-time work as well as health and safety in its Refit project. This aims to deregulate and abolish regulations that are seen as negative for business (not a word about workers). Another example of this negative agenda is the Commission’s intention to withdraw the maternity leave directive in 6 months time if no solution is reached. And adding insult to injury, the Commission has once again appointed the former Bavarian prime minister Edmund Stoiber to advise it on better regulation which means fewer rules for companies. The message remains very clear: an internal market for business, with market dynamics used to attack Europe's welfare state and workers' rights.

And with the TTIP trade deal as one of its priorities in 2015, the Commission aims is to replicate this on a larger scale. It is significant that the European Commission does not mention its work on TISA, the global services agreement it is seeking. Leaked documents show how dangerous the process of these secret negotiations can be. Trade negotiators work by a different logic and if there is not tremendous pressure put on them then they will easily trade away our rights and values and open public services for more competition. The documents on data protection reveal this and EPSU is concerned that some governments will seek to open up health services to competition aiming to destroy publicly funded systems.

And while many of us are preparing for the New Year break, police staff organised by Unison, Unite and the GMB in the UK were planning strike action on 22 December to demand a decent pay increase. They have postponed the strike and are engaged in intensive negotiations. Trade union members of Dev-Saglik-Is in Turkey have started a picket in front of the İstanbul Maltepe Hospital after management sacked 98 workers for joining the union. They have also been faced with police brutality. We send them and all public service workers our solidarity greetings.

We know that 2015 will be a busy year. As the Belgian workers were saying: we cannot be indifferent to what happens elsewhere, we are in this together. I wish all of you, your family, friends and colleagues a very good 2015, and that we celebrate many successes in our struggles.

In solidarity

Jan Willem Goudriaan
EPSU General Secretary