Our best wishes for 2022 to you and yours. I wish you all good health and that the new year brings many victories for unions. Thank you for the many cards and new year’s wishes that we received. My colleagues in the EPSU Secretariat and I appreciate it greatly - it gives us a boost to start the new year.
Omicron and the TRIPS waiver
The new year has seen renewed pressure on health, care, and other public services as infections with the Omicron variant of the Sars-Cov2 virus increased manifold. These pressures were due in large part to more hospitalisations and to more workers being ill or having to quarantine. This cripples many services. Unions encourage people to get vaccinated as an effective way to prevent our health care systems from collapsing. While rich countries are encouraging booster shots for large parts of the populations and vaccination younger children, vaccination rates are low in Africa and other parts of the world. This is due to lack of access to vaccines. The TRIPS waiver will help address this and we will maintain pressure on the Commission to support it.
EPSU will continue to make the argument that our public services need funding to deliver quality for Europe’s people. It is public services that allow people to enjoy and exercise their human rights and make our societies inclusive. More staffing, higher pay and better working conditions are at the core of many union struggles in 2022. We want to see this reflected in forthcoming government initiatives and will support unions in their industrial actions with employers.
From the French Presidency we expect to argue with us that the situation of workers is reflected in the forthcoming European Care Strategy and in the report on essential services; both anticipated later this year. The European Commission will further publish its Communication on the European Social Dialogue. We will meet with our Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the Standing Committees to prepare our input. We further expect a decision on the establishment of the Social Dialogue Committee for social services later in the year.
Finally, the need for funding of public services must be reflected in the review of European Economic Governance. There can be no return to austerity policies. 23 June will be our common action day to advocate for workers delivering public services and to campaign for our demands.
Trade union rights
The defence of trade union rights and of democracy itself will take on a new dimension. With ETUC, PSI, social movements, and others, we will work to stop the increasingly authoritarian turn that some governments have taken. This comes with repression of unions and greater space for the extreme right and even fascism. As part of the ongoing project on trade union rights we will strengthen our ties with the Council of Europe.
We are concerned about the turn of events in Kazakhstan. The social unrest is due to corruption, the authoritarian regime and the extreme levels of inequality, with large parts of the population not benefitting from the natural wealth of the country. Strikes took place and union leaders were arrested. Unions have demanded change, a larger role for the unions and social reform. We support this. We also continue with unions in Ukraine to oppose labour reforms that go against unions.
Beginning of preparation of the ETUC and PSI Congresses for 2023
The PSI preparations for Congress in 2023 are well under way, and the constitutional changes and work programmes have had their first reviews. ETUC will begin their preparations shortly, and we expect to see this back on our agenda this year. We will have our extended Executive Committee in May which will kick of our preparations for our own Congress in 2024. I sincerely hope that we can meet in person again. It is now 2 years almost since our last physical gatherings.
2022 will be a busy year. It is one with many opportunities to make this world a better place for workers, our families and our communities. Let us use them together.