A challenging new year ahead of us

Thursday, 18 January, 2018

The new year started with the news that the UK based company Carillion, a major provider of public services had collapsed. Thousands of workers face the loss of their jobs and the government had to step in to keep public services running. A sad example but one that underlines our demands that public services should be kept public.

For workers in Greece the new year started with strikes against austerity and the reform of labour law that would make strikes more difficult.  These changes are the result of pressure from the EU institutions and the Greek government felt compelled to adopt them. Meanwhile Slovenian public service workers are preparing for a strike on 24th for better pay after years of freezes and a cut.

We will continue to work together to get a change of economic policies in Europe and projects run by EPSU on the European semester will take place this year and contribute to this process. We will also follow closely the discussions in the Parliament and Council on the Commission proposals to insert the provisions of the Fiscal Compact into EU law. Later in the year, leading up to the 10th anniversary of the collapse of the US bank Lehman Brothers that sparked the start of the financial, economic, social and democratic crisis, we and others will be asking whether the corporate and political elites have learned any lessons. The Davos World Economic Forum report on the Global Risk Report 2018 recalls that “fundamental reforms to market capitalism” and a rebuilding of solidarity within and between countries should remain a key priority for global leaders. With Commission President Juncker attending this year, will he take that to heart? The EU pillar of social rights adopted in November 2017 is not that fundamental a reform as yet.

Just before Xmas the EU Commission proposed its changes to the Written Statement Directive. These should give workers better protection and limit the flexibility employers have to exploit workers. With ETUC we will work to influence this directive and get a better deal. The mood is changing and workers and others are having more success in challenging these flexible and precarious contracts.

The proposals of the Commission to achieve a better work-life balance and to address the gender pay gap as well as the campaign to stop violence against women will be on the agenda of the large EPSU women’s conference in February.  With blatant cases of pay inequality some countries like Iceland are taking a step in the right direction to find ways in which employers are obliged to ensure wages are equal between men and women. EPSU is doing its share by mobilizing against the gender pay gap in the public sector this year on March 8th. These issues are test cases for how the Commission implements the EU pillar of social rights and if the changes are fundamental.

This year will see the start of preparations for the EPSU Congress and our policies for the coming years and the Secretariat is drafting the first discussion notes. Tax justice will definitely be one of the themes and EPSU has been involved with several other groups arguing that our European public banks like the European Investment Bank should not give our money to companies that invest in tax havens or that do not report correctly on their taxes. However, the very limited list of tax havens published by the European Council was already a very negative sign of how things are progressing. Governments do not seem to have understood that workers want an end to this kind of tax avoidance.

This issue will surely be much discussed in the run up to the European Parliament elections next year. As unions we will be putting forward our concrete agenda. Our values of solidarity, equality, social justice, democracy and freedom will need to be stressed again and again towards governments that seek division, promote fragmentation and encourage exploitation. The many thousands that took to the streets in Austria against the new right- and extreme right government are an example of the need to mobilise and confront.

I wish you all a 2018 with good health and much success in achieving social justice and standing up for the society we want. We will defend and promote public services as essential to contribute to greater equality, improved rights and stronger democracies. And for all this we need a powerful voice of workers through our unions in the workplace and at all levels including the European. Together we are stronger.