Pan European unions: Maximise opportunities opened by COVID-19

20 May 2020 10:17

On 18 of May, BWI affiliates from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine came together for an online conversation on COVID-19 and the world of work. The meeting was facilitated by BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson and BWI Regional Vice President Johan Lindholm. 

The webinar discussed ways to recover from the COVID-19 crisis and the challenges to and opportunities for trade unions. The participants reported that in many countries, construction, building materials, wood and forestry industries resumed operations. They said that this posed a key challenge to trade unions on how to ensure that adequate protective measures are implemented at worksites and workers have safe accommodation and transportation. 

Trade union leaders acknowledged that workers in their countries remain vulnerable to the COVID-19 economic shock. They said many workers lost their incomes due to the lockdowns and because of weak welfare and social security systems. Working women, especially those employed in schools, were also hit hard due to the work stoppages. Unemployment also grew substantially in many countries, especially in Moldova where there was a massive return of migrant workers. 

The trade union leaders reported that BWI campaign materials for the International Workers’ Memorial Day were widely used at worksites to inform workers about their rights and raise awareness on COVID-19 protective measures and trade union demands. In countries like Kazakhstan and Russia, where trade unions are allowed to visit workplaces, union leaders met with workers, inspected safety measures and organised outdoor meetings to listen to workers’ concerns and provide help.

BWI affiliates also stressed that they used the lockdown period as an opportunity to develop new forms of communication with their members using modern online tools. In Kazakhstan, many trade unions have launched websites. 

Yuson ended the webinar on a high note saying that while the COVID-19 crisis has brought numerous challenges, it has also opened opportunities for trade unions. 

”It is, indeed, a very challenging time for workers and trade unions. But this is also a time for opportunities. For example, the United Nations Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur called on the International Labour Organisation to include occupational health and safety rights in its fundamental ILO standards.  This is an opportunity for us to tell the public the importance of trade unions and workers’ safety,” Yuson concluded.