On December 12, 2020, the European Trade Union Institute and the European Trade Union Confederation in cooperation with AK EUROPA and ÖGB Europabüro hosted a webinar on the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the world of work. The occasion was the publication of this year’s “Benchmarking Working Europe” report.
The Report, which is jointly published by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), is celebrating its 20th anniversary under exceptional circumstances. Therefore, the current issue is dedicated to the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic entails for the European economy and the world of work.
Not only was the report presented during a high-calibre online event, which was followed by about 200 participants, and during which current issues mentioned in the report were also discussed. Apart from ÖGB, ETUC and ETUI representatives, Social Commissioner Nicolas Schmit, MEPs Agnes Jongerius (S&D) and Dennis Radtke (EPP) as well as Ana Catarina Mendonça Mendes, Member of the Portuguese Parliament (Socialist Party), also got a chance to speak.
According to ETUI General Director Philippe Pochet, the publication of the first report 20 years earlier had been based on the idea to challenge narratives circulated by employers and to bring the employees’ perspective into the public debate. Subsequently, the report and its data and analyses made it possible to strengthen trade unions all over Europe. The significance of the report for the work of labour representations, was also confirmed by Oliver Röpke, Head of the Brussels Office of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB) and Workers’ Group President in the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). He also emphasised that the full implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights not only had the highest priority for trade unions, but it would also have to be at the heart of the recovery following the current crisis.
Giving his address, Commissioner Schmit pointed out that on the one hand, the current crisis would significantly differ from previous ones, however, on the other hand, the EU’s response was also considerably different compared to past crises. There was an awareness that the current crisis could only be overcome collectively. To that effect, the new short-time work instrument SURE, the recovery plan “Next Generation EU” as well as the flexibilization regarding state aid would be ambitious. According to Schmit, all these measures show that this time the EU would follow a different course – and it had to be retained after the crisis.
Agnes Jongerius, MEP, also emphasised that the mistakes of previous crises must not be repeated. However, she also pointed out that members of particularly vulnerable groups (again) had to bear the largest burden. Working from home, for example, was a luxury, which many so-called essential workers could not afford. Apart from that, people in precarious employment would be the first ones to lose their job. A comprehensive implementation of the Social Pillar could be a first step; however, it had to be supplemented by other aspects such as higher minimum wages and affordable housing. MEP Dennis Radtke also regards the mutual consent in relation to the recovery as a historic event: the EU had learned from the last crisis. However, the rise in youth unemployment was dramatic and the transition to a greener economy could only succeed if workers in sectors such as coalmining or the steel industry were offered attractive alternatives. Ana Catarina Mendonça Mendes added, that in order to make sure that nobody was left behind during this transition, Portugal had to do its fair share during the upcoming Council Presidency.