Unions across Europe have been continuing their demands for better pay and conditions strikes in France and in the Basque region in Spain on 5 and 12 November. And sometimes a single case illustrates it all. Workers at a care home run by the Spanish company Vitalia have started an all-out strike. The union activists in the company reported violations of health and safety protocols but management argued that everything was in order. So far 108 people have tested positive for COVID-19 - 84 residents and 24 workers while 13 people have died. The safety representatives reported that workers were not given training to use personal protective equipment while those not on sick leave had to do double shifts caring for both the healthy and the infected. The trade unionists reported the case to the labour inspectorate but as there was no immediate follow-up, workers went on strike. And this is eight months into the pandemic! Profits went before the people.
This week a number of important health-related decisions will be taken at EU-level and we will judge if public and workers’ interests prevail over those of the corporate sector. The European Parliament will decide on the EU4health programme and will then negotiate with Member States. The Commission will present its European Health Union proposals and the Council and Parliament were expected to conclude their negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework on Tuesday 10th. The Parliament, along with EPSU, has argued for more funding for the EU4Health programme and we’ll see if the compromise respects those concerns.
The Parliament did achieve a compromise on the rule of law conditionality in relation to EU funds. This can be triggered when freedoms, democracy, equality and respect for human rights, including the rights of minorities, are not respected. It applies when EU funds are misused in cases of corruption or fraud. Tax fraud and tax evasion are also considered possible breaches. This is all positive but it will only work if the Commission, Parliament and national governments are willing to apply it – as they have so far failed to do when the Polish and Hungarian governments don’t respect social dialogue, or when Polish municipalities promote LGTB+ free zones or when governments face opposition because of their corruption. And that will be a challenge for those political families which include governing prime ministers that are responsible for violating these basic values.
This is exactly what happened in the US where Trump got away with so much because his party allowed it – everything from approving his failure to file his tax returns to ignoring the way he debased women. Trump lost the US elections but many in his party are continuing to follow him in his attacks on the credibility of the electoral system. You must be willing to use the rule of law and not turn a blind eye.
More positive: Kamala Harris will be the first ever female US vice-president. This is welcome news and should give the fight for women’s rights a boost across the world. Polish women fighting for the right to abortion can take heart. Many women in low paid jobs, and there are many in health and care, can be inspired. Fighting for our rights and for equality pays. EPSU and the ETUC are currently pushing hard for an EU directive on gender pay transparency and this year’s EU Equal Pay Day (10 November) showed how important such initiatives are. Women across Europe still only earn on average 86 cents for every euro a man earns. This is working 51 days more to earn the same. This needs to change. Equality is a fundamental value.