As we celebrate world health day the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on Russian troops to stop the systematic attacks on hospitals and medical infrastructure. The WHO has recorded many such incidents. The Russian government denies its troops have done anything wrong and maintains that its soldiers do not shoot at civilians. However, very few believe this, including those in Russia who continue to protest against the war and the pointless deaths of both Russian and Ukrainian people. These voices are, unfortunately, rare and we do not see any evident of this in the FNPR Russian trade union confederation. During a discussion at the Pan-European Regional Council on 5 April, the FNPR leadership announced that it was suspending relations with the International Trade Union Confederation, in response to the near-universal criticism of its support for the war.
One of our Turkish trade union comrades has been on trial for her trade union activities. Gonul Erden, former co-president of the SES health care union affiliated to the KESK confederation was among several people arrested in May last year when they were protesting against the failing government policies in relation to the pandemic and public health. These policies have resulted in economic hardship and excessive deaths. Gonul has been in jail since then and remains there following a recent court appearance. EPSU vice-president Françoise Geng, together with other trade unionists, including from UNISON in the UK, attended the trial in Ankara on 6 April. The court heard from an anonymous witness but didn’t take other evidence and views brought forward by union lawyers. Furthermore, the current president of the union, Sela Atabey, was slapped with travel restrictions. The next hearing is foreseen for 4 July and I hope that we can bring a larger delegation to show the Court the strength of our strong support.
European Care Strategy
On 7 April, EPSU was part of the ETUC delegation that joined European employers in a European Commission hearing on the forthcoming European Care Strategy which is due to be published in September. This will consist of a Communication and two Recommendations addressed to Member States. One Recommendation will be on long-term care and the other one on early childhood education and care. The main messages were around the role of social protection, the need for increased public funding and more staff, the importance of a role for public services and for strengthening collective bargaining and improving pay and conditions. While there was a lot of common ground with the employers, private sector employers represented by BusinessEurope focused on the possibilities of developing the private sector. The union delegation underlined that we do not want a Commission strategy that opens the door to more commercialisation. Employers and trade unions also stressed the need for funding to be available to respond to the needs of Ukrainian refugees and to support the care systems and care workers facing renewed stress as they respond to the crisis.
The need for public funding, needs-based staffing levels and addressing low pay and lack of collective bargaining coverage were messages EPSU brought to the Global Health Day on 7 April. Unions joined demonstrations and other actions calling for a different perspective. We argue that commercialisation of care and making profits on the backs of children, the sick, the elderly and the workers that care for them is not the way forward.