Safety first as schools re-open

Thursday, 3 September, 2020

The schools started in many countries on 1 September with the health and safety of students, parents, teachers and support staff a big concern. Affiliates have been negotiating with employers how best to ensure a safe workplace while trying to create a learning environment for all. Evidence is clear that homeschooling has had a largely negative impact on pupils, especially on those from low-income households. Social distancing, face masks, ensuring ventilation, hygiene rules, working in shifts and so much more have been part of these discussions in Europe and across the world. And unions are fully justified to threaten action if employers cannot  guarantee a safe workplace  #OnlyWhenItIsSafe, #DemandSafeSchools and #ReopenSafely Workers have come to unions for advice on health and safety and for protection against employers that flaunt the rules and put their operations before workers’ safety. Several unions have used this as an opportunity to recruit and organise and seen membership grow. 


People in Belarus are continuing their impressive protests calling for an end to police violence, for freedom of expression and new elections. The school year started on the first as well and calls have been made to start strikes and boycotts to block the state propaganda in education. University students have come out in protest. They face a government that gets more brutal with more arrests, threats of and actual dismissals and a crackdown on independent journalists and media.

Action by the government has revealed (once more) how crucial debates around digitalisation are for workers and our communities. The Belarus government uses technology supplied by Sandvine Inc. of the US to monitor and filter network traffic. The company’s Business Ethics Committee reviewed the contract and Belarus scored low in the assessment and so should not have got the technology. However, the Belarus authorities made a commitment not to violate human rights and corporate interests and profits margins did the rest.

Concerns about the abuse of technologies and around data security should be taken more serious including by public authorities and the European Commission. The Schrems II case revealed that its proposals to create a privacy shield to prevent our data from ending up with US private companies who can use it as they please, was not secure at all. To avoid bowing to the US government and corporate interests public services would do better to develop public options like the BundesCloud in Germany.

Actions for more staff continue in health and care

And unions keep exposing the gaps between government policies and the reality of cuts in funding. The Dutch union FNV is organising a week of action in health and care from 1 September. Workers in youth care come out on to the streets to protest against the results of austerity policies over several years. The union demands more staff so work pressures can be addressed and high turnover (25%) reduced. Meanwhile a report from a Special Committee of the Irish Parliament addresses very similar concerns and confirms what unions have been saying. It is very critical of private nursing homes and want more oversight, including on staffing levels.  Workers in health and care deserve respect and appropriate pay and conditions.

Expectations for the State of the Union

Our consultation on the reply of the ETUC to the 2nd phase of the European Commission’s consultation on Fair Minimum Wages showed large support for the position of ETUC, especially regarding the demands for stronger collective bargaining. We expect substantial initiatives from the Commission to ensure employers engage in bargaining. European institutions and public authorities in EU member states should agree that no money goes to corporations that do not have collective agreements. And the Commission can link this with proposals that only companies that report publicly about their taxes and where they pay them can get government money. Commission President von der Leyen gives her State of the Union speech on 16 September and we will be looking for her proposals to put the interests of Europe’s workers and our communities first.