In an historic decision, the European Council and Parliament agreed last week that Ukraine and Moldova would be given candidate status to join the EU while the ETUC Executive Committee agreed to consider applications for affiliation from the Georgian, Moldovan, and Ukrainian trade union confederations. Most workers and people in those countries see EU membership as a welcome prospect. We know that the process will be long, especially as the war drags on, with the Russian invaders occupying a large part of Eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, countries in the Western Balkans were promised acceleration of the process of their EU membership, Bosnia-Herzegovina was granted candidate status country and it was confirmed that Croatia would join the Eurozone on 1 January 2023. This means new and challenging prospects for the European Union, but certainly for workers and our communities to keep the EU focused on bringing social progress.
Public Service Day 23 June
In the lead up to Public Service Day, many workers were preoccupied with the cost-of-living crisis, largely caused by high energy prices. Demos calling for action on pay took place in Dublin, London, Rome and other places and EPSU staff joined the large demonstration in Belgium on 20 June. Later in the week, in North Macedonia, government workers, including police associations, health care workers, and municipal employees, took strike action over pay and their collective agreement. Workers in the scandal-hit French care company Orpea, were also on strike along with railway, waste and care workers in the UK. Public service day was used by many unions to demand higher pay and to focus on the need for more staff especially in care through seminars and other actions. We stood up against the commercialisation of our public services and several Members of the European Parliament joined a group of Belgian unions and EPSU in showing respect for the work our members do. Thank you to all for joining.
The European Trade Union Institute organised a major conference on equality last week and with French economist Thomas Piketty and many others, we debated the role of public services in bringing about equality. Piketty pleads for a democratic socialism – more workers’ rights and workplace democracy, more participation in and transparency of our public institutions, more tax justice and redistribution of wealth, and investments in social protection and public services, a programme we share in the labour movement.
Fighting for our rights
That programme and vision of society contrasts so sharply with the attack on women’s rights in the US. Last week, the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe vs. Wade verdict that made abortion a legal possibility across the country. Many US states have already outlawed abortion and taken it out of healthcare. With similar attacks on women’s rights in Europe, most notably in Poland, we cannot forget that women’s and other rights need to be fought for every day. The killing in Oslo of members of the LGBTQI+ community and the police actions against the gay pride parade in Istanbul are stark reminders that many workers don’t feel safe enough in society and their workplaces to express who they are. We want our public services to be safe places for workers, and safe for all that use them. EPSU sent a message of solidarity to the Norwegian unions. And on 4 July in Turkey, there will be another hearing in the trial of Gonul Erden, one of the leaders of the SES health union. An EPSU delegation will be joining the trial in support and solidarity.
And then in northern Africa, there was the stark reminder of the desperate plight of refugees fleeing hunger, destruction and war in Ukraine and many other places. Thousands stormed the fences surrounding the Spanish city of Melilla – a small enclave in Northern Morocco. Many were killed and injured including members of the Spanish police and state security services. Outsourcing the EU’s border control and ignoring the large groups of refugees who seek peace, food and a better future does more harm to the EU than good. Collective solutions need to be found comparable to those for the Ukrainian refugees.
ETUC – telework, energy prices, minimum wages
At last week’s ETUC Executive Committee, we approved the mandate for the upcoming negotiations on telework at cross-sectoral level and took positions against high energy prices, demanding more forceful measures from Member States to protect working families. Unions also welcomed the compromise reached between European Council and Parliament on the Directive on Adequate Minimum Wages which includes important provisions to help ensure most workers can benefit from the protections and pay and conditions of collective agreements. Finally, our colleague Yolanda Gil, vice-president of EPSU’s Health and Social Services Committee, member of the EPSU Youth Network and the FSS-CCOO Spanish health and care union has been elected President of the ETUC Youth Committee. We wish Yolanda success.