Ensuring workers were safe and equipped with personal protective equipment was one of the first priorities of trade unions in the early days of the pandemic. Many employers were woefully unprepared and we estimate that at least 200,000 workers in health and social services have been infected with COVID-19 based on information from affiliates across Europe. This has cost the lives of workers and vulnerable people, especially the elderly in care homes. Following a call from EPSU, and two organisations representing users, European Disability Forum and the Age Platform Europe, a cross-party group of members of the European Parliament has demanded an investigation of what went wrong in so many countries. The Parliament will now have to decide how it wants to honour this request.
After addressing safety concerns, our affiliates have sought to negotiate compensation for workers who have been exposed to the virus and have been working long hours to keep our public services going in very difficult circumstances. In many countries unions have obtained bonuses or extra pay for their members. And they have continued to deal with the structural problems that the pandemic has laid bare for all to see: a lack of staff and resources for health and social care in all its forms. In Belgium, unions have just negotiated a pay deal and extra staff while French unions are negotiating as I write this. Above we want to see the jobs staff are doing properly recognised and valued. But European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis has already started to argue about the need to respect the criteria of the Stability and Growth Pact. This is announcing a return to austerity policies and we will not accept this.
Many unions representing health and care workers report that staff are exhausted after months under severe stress. Rest and leave are important for them but workers are concerned that a new wave of the pandemic will emerge during the holidays making leave more difficult and contributing to burn-outs and even more strain. The crisis is far from over with Brazil, India and the US reporting daily record numbers of infected people but also with new spikes across Europe. Regions are being confined and borders closed as most recently between Serbia and Montenegro. EPSU will not organise any physical meetings this autumn. Respecting the guidelines to contain the virus remains important also in this holiday period. And for those who take leave and those who remain home, stay safe, stay healthy.