Showing the value of public health and care systems

Thursday, 27 February, 2020

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is dominating the news. Behind the headlines are the patients and their families, the thousands in quarantine, and the many more in villages and towns who see their lives uprooted. There are also first responders, the emergency workers and the health and social service workers who are doing all they can to deliver care. From the doctor in China who first reported the virus and died to hospital workers who have also been exposed and face quarantine. The outbreak shows that we really cannot do without our public health systems. Reforms that undermine their public and universal nature leave people vulnerable as is the case in Ukraine where I am currently with a trade union delegation. The preparedness of the country to deal with an outbreak is questionable. It further sheds a light on the digital agenda published by the European Commission last week. It fails to capture this dimension. The pandemic should be a warning not to leave our health systems exposed  to private sector “Amazon-care” algorithms.

Our trade union delegation that met with Ukrainian politicians and authorities this week who made commitments that ILO and EU social legislation will be respected when implementing the current raft of labour law reforms. The new government is pushing hard for these reforms as well as sales of land and other privatisations. However, it is ill-prepared for this as public and legal institutions are often weak and prone to corruption. The result will be that the oligarchs will benefit at the expense of the people and, unfortunately, many politicians do not seem to mind.

Consultation on fairer minimum wages - After consulting its members, the ETUC replied this week to the European Commission’s consultation on fairer minimum wages. Our union groups in Central Government Administrations and Local and Regional Government worked with the respective employers to stress that collective bargaining is the instrument to deal with wages. They also underlined that any further initiatives of the European Commission should not discriminate between groups of workers and that the social partners should remain involved. The second phase consultation is expected for the end of April. We will prepare for this and continue to contribute.

The situation in the health and care sectors demonstrates the need for urgent action on low pay. Hundreds of thousands of workers across Europe are in the frontline of the fight against the Coronavirus. Often overworked, they deserve better pay and conditions that will also help address the serious understaffing in many countries.