Public service trade unionists from across the Mediterranean region met online last week (14-15 September) to discuss the challenges they face in asserting their fundamental rights to organise, negotiate and take strike action.
Strikes and industrial action
The right to strike is fundamental for trade unions. Although strikes and industrial action are the weapons of last resort, it is crucial that trade unions can use them in the fight to defend workers' rights and get a fair deal from employers. The challenge for many unions, particularly those in the public sector, is that the right to strike is restricted or even completely denied. Information on the right to strike in the public sector is available in 48 country factsheets that cover the main rules and include information on cases that trade unions have taken to the International Labour Organisation and Council of Europe.
On 27 August the KESK public services confederation organised a national strike in protest at the collective agreement signed by the government and the Memur Sen trade union. KESK has a range of key demands which the agreement fails to address and is angry that it was shut out of the negotiations. The confederation argues that the pay rises foreseen in the agreement are inadequate to ensure protection against inflation and it doesn’t include any measures to deal with employment security, workplace democracy or the right to proper collective bargaining. EPSU sent a solidarity message.
The ver.di services union has welcomed the decision of the Berlin labour court to reject an application for an injunction to block a planned strike in the health sector. Ver.di members at the Vivantes and Charité health providers in Berlin had been waiting 100 days for management to respond to calls to negotiate a collective agreement, planning strike action at the end of August if the employer missed the union’s deadline. The union had established a clear plan to prepare for the strike and the workers that would be involved but had to postpone the action for a day in order to attend the
The Hungarian government has issued two decrees removing the right to strike from air traffic control staff. An appeal court judgement of 20 July clearly confirmed the union’s legal right to strike. However, six days later the two decrees were published which not only dismiss the decision of the Hungarian Appeal Court but also violate Article 28 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) has condemned the Hungarian government and strongly maintains that collective representation and collective bargaining are basic labour rights
The vpod/ssp public services union has launched an initiative to support its local activists in mobilising to win better pay and conditions for health workers across the country. The strike at the CHUV University Hospital in Lausanne was the starting signal for the union’s “Road to Strike” organizing campaign. Vpod/ssp argues that the situation in health establishments has worsened due to the pandemic with many workers facing burnout and leaving the sector. The persistent staffing shortages undermine working conditions and further pressures come from private health companies’ search for profit
The ver.di services union has called a three-day warning strike from 23 August in the hospitals in Berlin run by the regional government’s Charité group, including its Vivantes subsidiaries. The union gave the employer 100 days to initiate collective bargaining to tackle overwork by hospital employees and trainees and to bring pay in line with the public service collective agreement in all Vivantes subsidiaries. The strike will go ahead if the deadline of 20 August is missed. Ver.di says that Charité has failed to make any serious offer and it has called on the employer to conclude agreements
The five national trade union confederations sent a solidarity message to the MESZK chamber of healthcare professionals in support of its protest march in Budapest on 31 July. The demonstrators called for pay increases for nurses in line with those already awarded to doctors and argued this was crucial to help stem the migration of nurses to western Europe. Earlier this year the five confederations also came together to file a complaint with the International Labour Organisation over the government’s imposition of new legislation which removes the rights to negotiate and take strike action
Forty-eight countries are now covered in EPSU’s library of factsheets on the right to strike. Information on Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Switzerland, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan was recently added to the EPSU website. Each factsheet sets out the main legal provisions covering strike action, including who can call a strike, procedural requirements and any limitations on the right to take action. There is also a section on international case law. The factsheets were launched jointly with the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) in 2019 with the ETUI coordinating production of factsheets on 34
The GMB energy and general union declared an end to the long and bitter dispute with British Gas over its aggressive policy of firing and rehiring workers. GMB members voted three to one to accept a new deal. Around 7,000 British Gas engineers staged 44 days of strike action after the company threatened to sack them if they didn’t sign up to detrimental changes to their terms and conditions. The new deal offers improvements to overtime rates and unsocial hours payments, places limits on the amount of unsocial working undertaken, reverses the decision to close the defined benefit pension scheme
Trade unions in the electricity and waste sectors reported very high levels of support for their industrial action and protests on 30 June. The unions want article 177 of the procurement code to be deleted as they argue that it requires widespread outsourcing across their sectors, posing a major threat to jobs and working conditions. They say that if the article is not deleted there will be increasing fragmentation of these industries and it will undermine initiatives towards a circular economy and low carbon energy sector. Meanwhile, the three main confederations have also been mobilising to
The FNV trade union’s campaign for urgent action on workloads in childcare has been stepped up with some regional mobilisations cancelled in order to concentrate on a national strike on 8 July. The union is angry that calls for increased staffing and reduced numbers of children per worker have fallen on deaf ears and the employers have offered nothing to address the problem.
Following the rejection of the mediation proposal last month, nurses have continued their strike action for higher pay. The DSR nursing union membership voted to reject the public sector deal negotiated earlier this year because it failed to address low pay in the sector. The union has been highlighting recent data to support their case including a fall in applications for nursing education to the lowest level since 2013. The union also found that 5% of nurses had left the profession last month because of low pay and overwork and that pay for overtime had cost employers over DKK 500 million in
Workers at the national water company, AdP, took strike action on 11 June over pay and long-standing problems with working conditions. The STAL trade union reported very high levels of support for the action with workers angry that company profits and investments have been increased while the situation for employees has deteriorated. The union is call for a €90 pay increase and minimum wage of €850; new measures on careers and professional development that value and recognize the knowledge, experience and commitment of workers; a progressive reduction of working hours to 35 hours a week
The ADEDY and GSEE public and private sector trade union confederations have continued their campaign to stop major changes to labour legislation. They are concerned that plans to deregulate the labour market will put the eight-hour day at risk and other measures will weaken the labour inspectorate. ADEDY reported high levels of support for its 24-hour strike on 16 June following earlier 24-hour action on 10 June. The GSEE followed up its 24-hour strike on 10 June with a four-hour action on the 16th.
Public sector unions have negotiated a wage settlement with the Virke employers’ organisation that includes private and non-profit companies delivering public services. The deal is in line with the settlement in the government sector, with a 2.7% pay increase but with a flat rate payment of NOK 1,500 (EUR 145) at all salary levels, backdated to 1 May. In addition, there is NOK 4,000 (EUR 390) for the lower paid and an equal pay supplement starting at NOK 3,800 (EUR 370) and falling by NOK 200 (EUR 20) for each move up the salary scale. A further 1.8% is set aside for local negotiations, with