Public service workers across Europe demand respect, resources and better pay

Thursday, 25 April, 2019

Polish teachers, school assistants and other workers started a strike for better pay and recognition of their hard work on 8 April. That is 15 days ago and they are still going strong. Their fight is exemplary for many public service workers in Poland and the rest of Europe. Meanwhile, French public service workers will strike and take to the streets again on 9 May and Hungarian public service workers have established a strike committee to plan action. I will join the Hungarian affiliates in their May Day celebrations to express our solidarity with their demands. We support the unions’ calls for more democracy and social dialogue.

I raised the issue of workplace democracy and ending the legal gap regarding information and consultation rights for public administration workers with Frans Timmermans, lead candidate for the Socialists and Democrats in the upcoming European elections who attended the ETUC Executive Committee. What will he do if he becomes Commission President ? He is committed to work with us to deal with these issues. Apart from the many other issues and priorities raised, he has also made strengthening collective bargaining a key part of his platform for the EP elections in May. In contrast, Manfred Weber, the European People’s Party (EPP) candidate, has recently committed to a massive deregulation programme and reduction in the number of civil servants. And improving bargaining rights, trade unions, workplace democracy and social dialogue is not part of his programme. But this is precisely what is needed if workers are to get better pay deals.

The EPSU court case

The importance of social dialogue will take centre-stage on 23 May. The public hearing will take place in the European Court case of EPSU vs the Commission, concerning the rights to information and consultation of public administration workers across Europe. We have started preparations with our lawyers and there will be further exchanges of the legal arguments, including over whether EPSU will even have the possibility to appeal against a decision of the Commission. We hope many unions will send observers to the trial. Please contact the EPSU office if you can.

Climate change

The ETUC Executive Committee adopted a well-developed position on climate change. It supports the demands of the European Parliament and several governments to be more ambitious in the reduction of CO2 emissions, advocating a target of a 55% reduction by 2030. This is consistent with being on a path to keep global warming to a two-degree maximum. The right wing in the EPP and the populist-right keep on defending fossil fuels, deny the scientific evidence and oppose such ambitions. We know that such reductions have an enormous impact on certain industries, on mining and whole regions. Workers and communities will be affected. Just transition needs to be part and parcel of the policies to achieve them and that requires massive public investment in these effected regions and new industries to provide high quality jobs. It is a key battle of the future.

Enforcing data protection

Another battle to come was revealed with an investigative report into how Ireland is failing to enforce the GDPR data protection directive. It is the lead regulator in the EU because of the presence of Facebook and Google in Ireland but other countries are already complaining. Comparisons with the lack of willingness to address tax avoidance come easy and rightly. As with tax inspectors, ensuring that the enforcement agencies have enough staff and resources to do their work will be an important issue for us in years to come.

Solidarity with public service unions in Sri Lanka

Sadly, I sent a letter of sympathy and solidarity to public service unions in Sri Lanka. The terror attacks on Easter Sunday have killed 359 people and injured many more. EPSU condemns the terror attacks where workers, families and communities are the victims. We salute the first responders and emergency workers who had a difficult job in dealing with the horrible aftermath.

May Day

I wish all a very good May Day and hope that that we can use the day effectively to make our voices heard in support of social justice and democratic values.