ETUC General Secretary Luca Visentini speech to EU Social Summit

ETUC General Secretary Luca Visentini

Dear colleagues,

I would like to thank all of you for having made this virtual meeting of the TSS possible in the current difficult circumstances.

This is a significant opportunity for social partners to contribute to the management of the emergency, to the return to work and to the implementation of the recovery strategies.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences, if not properly and timely addressed, are at risk of generating economic recession, massive unemployment, deterioration of working conditions and rights, increased inequality and social exclusion.

The health of citizens and workers and the protection of jobs and rights have been our priority during the lockdown. As the restrictions are relaxed to achieve a gradual return to economic activity, the health and safety of citizens and workers must be fully protected.

We ask the European Commission to make sure that the EU legal framework and guidelines on occupational health and safety are respected, and governments to fully implement them.

Social partners are actively engaged in a safe return to work, and the autonomous agreement on digitalisation we are going to present today can be a significant contribution to reshape the world of work and enforce rights and protection in the aftermath of the pandemic.

We welcome the emergency measures put in place to support healthcare systems, workers and companies and we have contributed to their design and implementation, at the EU level as well as in those Member States where social dialogue and involvement of social partners have worked properly.

At the same time the implementation of the emergency measures has weaknesses: entire categories of workers and companies are not supported or do not receive adequate compensation; in many cases the resources did not deliver concrete help on the ground.

This has to be fixed as soon as possible, and we appeal to the EU and Member States, but also to the banking sector, to speed up payments and loans, remove obstacles and increase the coverage and adequacy of the measures.

Additionally, we must denounce that some governments used the pandemic as an excuse to attack the rule of law, human, workers’ and trade union rights, particularly social dialogue and collective bargaining. This cannot be tolerated.

Back to normal is not acceptable if this means business as usual. A sound European response is necessary to prevent and contain economic recession, unemployment and poverty and to rebuild the European project and democracy.

We are urging the EU institutions and Member States to start immediately an ambitious strategy for sustainable and fair recovery, based on solidarity, cohesion and upward convergence.

This means rebuilding a social market economy where the environment is respected, digital innovation is put at the service of people, European economic activities are protected, and a massive fiscal stimulus for investment and quality job creation is triggered.

This should also mean a fair distribution between profits and wages, protection of workers and social rights, public services restored, and reinforced, and universal social protection ensured.

The recovery plan proposed by the European Commission is a significant step in the right direction.

To be clear, we support massive financing for investment to be provided to member states mainly through grants, and for the money to be raised via common debt instruments guaranteed by the European Commission through the increase of EU own resources. This is the only way to avoid creating additional and unsustainable debt and economic instability in the Single Market.

The ETUC expects the recovery strategy to focus on just transition at all levels, on reinforcing EU industries and economic sectors, on supporting workers affected by insolvency and restructuring process, on redesigning European supply chains and competition rules, and on making our trade policy fairer and more inclusive.

Recovery plan funding should be conditional on providing decent jobs, particularly for youth, paying proportionate taxes where profits are made, and working towards agreed climate goals through just transition. Also, on respecting the rule of law, social dialogue, collective bargaining and workers’ rights.

It is  very important that the European Commission confirms all initiatives which would boost a sustainable recovery, including the Action Plan for the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights; binding pay transparency measures; the legislative initiative on fair minimum wages; the youth employment support; the initiative on workers on platforms; and a possible European framework for minimum income schemes. 

We also ask the Commission to continue the process for the review of EU economic governance and for the establishment of a permanent European Unemployment Reinsurance Scheme.

We appreciate the efforts put in place by the Croatian Presidency to deliver a sound social agenda despite the enormous difficulties posed by the pandemic and the earthquake, and we express our solidarity.

We welcome the announced priorities of the German Presidency, particularly in the social and economic fields, and we are looking forward to cooperating with you in a constructive and proactive manner.

In the current extraordinary circumstances, solidarity is needed more than ever. We appeal to all governments to shoulder their responsibility and go for swift approval and implementation of the recovery plan.

We, together with our member organisations, are ready to contribute to national and sectoral plans to make the recovery real and fair for people. And we call for effective social dialogue and full involvement of social partners at all levels to make this possible.

More: Speech of ETUC President Laurent Berger