The President of the European Commission delivered her State of the Union speech this Wednesday. She praised the work of care workers, doctors, nurses and many other frontline workers “who took risks the rest of us didn’t have to.” She underlined the strains on our health systems and her intention to build a European Health Union and she called on the Parliament to keep fighting for more funding for the EU4Health programme, something which EPSU supports.
President Von der Leyen announced several initiatives including a legal proposal for Fair Minimum Wages for Workers, which can expect at the end of October. We will be looking at what the Commission will do to strengthen collective bargaining rights, including for public service workers. The Commission President herself stated she is a strong advocate of collective bargaining, and we call on the Commission to uphold this by ensuring that public contracts are not awarded to companies that do not have collective agreements with representative trade unions or that do not pay decent wages. Promoting collective bargaining between unions and employers is the better way to reduce inequalities. Von Der Leyen said, “it is time that work paid.” I could not agree more and EPSU affiliates across Eurasia are working hard to make this happen every single day. But this must be accompanied by a strong message that violating workers’ and trade union rights does not pay.
In some ways this is what we are arguing in front of the European Court in the EPSU case vs the European Commission court case, as the Commission did not respect the Treaty regarding collective bargaining at EU level, overstepping its powers. There has been some movement in the court case: it has been given to the Grand Chamber and an advocate general has been appointed. An oral hearing will be held on 26 October, for which our legal team will now start the preparations.
The speech of the Commission President was very rich. Sometimes she echoed points often raised by EPSU, for example that the pandemic has laid bare “the limits of a model that values wealth above well-being” of people and our planet. The State of the Union address defended collective action – from the EU4Health programme, to the new target for emission reductions of at least 55% by 2030, to the need for the EU to play a leading role in the digital transition and establish a European cloud. While she failed to say it directly, as many politicians do, she made it clear that protecting people’s rights and values – for example by freeing Europe of no-LGTBQI zones, and creating an EU anti-racism plan – requires public services, and public services in the lead.
We know the underlying balance of forces has not yet changed in favour of workers, people and our planet. Many of the initiatives do not fundamentally challenge how many corporations and the financial world are parasiting on workers, our communities and the planet. The strike of the Italian affiliates in private care on 16th September reminds us that without the power of workers and collective action employers try to get away with exploiting the work force, in this case even walking away from an already agreed collective agreement. Building our movement, increasing the number of organised workers remains key to make the change necessary.