Trade unions face up to authoritarian regimes

Thursday, 29 November, 2018

It was good news that the Turkish trade unionists, including leaders of EPSU and PSI affiliates SES and TÜM BEL-SEN, who were arrested on Monday were released two days later on Wednesday 28 November. They faced up to the aggression of the Turkish state who raided houses in an attempt to intimidate outspoken critics of the regime. It prompted a swift reaction from the European and global unions calling for their immediate release. Together with the arrests of journalists and politicians of the opposition party HDP, it was a brutal reminder of the authoritarian regime now in place.

Reducing working time protection

Another authoritarian regime showed its colours on 22 November in Hungary when Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party introduced legislation to increase the overtime limit from 250 to 400 hours a year and with less compensation. These proposals are similar to the Austrian government’s push to allow employers to make workers do longer hours for less pay. The governing parties in both Austria and Hungary are members of the European People’s Party, the European Christian Democrat grouping in the European Parliament. They are not pushing a worker-friendly agenda. EPSU affiliates in both countries are joining with others to defeat these proposals. These issues do not capture the headlines in other countries, but they need to be highlighted as they contribute to a slow undermining of the rights that workers have fought for.

Brexit and workers’ rights

In contrast, the withdrawal agreement between the UK and the European Union does capture the headlines but scant attention is paid to the fact that there are no long-term guarantees that future UK governments will retain EU social legislation. The defence of workers’ rights and public services is motivating trade union opposition to this agreement. Unions know that UK employers have long sought to be freed from the EU working time and other regulations that provide protection at work. We already know that new EU social legislation protection will not apply to UK workers. The economic costs of withdrawal are also estimated to be high and will impact on investment in public services. We regret that the UK is leaving the EU but our commitment to defend and promote the rights and interests of all workers in Europe  remains. These discussions show how economies in Europe are so closely interwoven that disentangling them is not really an option. Working together is.

And alongside all of this news, we are concerned by the developments between Russia and the Ukraine where the imposition of martial law could have an impact on trade union activity. We agree with UN leaders who have called for an “immediate de-escalation” of tensions in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. As the UN says, negotiations and cooperation are needed to find “a peaceful resolution to years of simmering conflict between Russia and Ukraine.”