For all of us, this is an especially stressful time. We worry about our families, our friends, our communities. We wonder what a post-COVID-19 world will look like. For those without income security, health care and safe work, it is a nightmare. And a large—and growing—portion of our UNI family is now under some form of “lockdown,” without knowing when this will end. Some have been told to work at home, others, that they don’t have any work at all.
Many UNI members are on the front lines and face great risks. Workers caring for the elderly, cleaners and security officers, workers in grocery stores and all centers, postal workers, are all essential for society. They bravely face the risk of infection every day.
Others are seeing their careers and futures put on hold. In television and film production, activities have ground to a halt. And the World Players have lost entire seasons in some sports.
UNI has been busy in the recent weeks reaching out to affiliates to hear the word from the ground up. We want to share your successes and support you in your battles to protect your members. We want to bring our collective power to bear in our sectors in order to achieve standards which apply to workers across the world. The coronavirus does not respect borders and our challenges require global solutions.
About two weeks ago, before the virus had spread so widely in all continents, UNI initiated a survey of its affiliates to take the pulse and better understand where things stand. Surpassing our expectations, over 170 unions participated in the survey, representing nearly 5 million workers, from over 60 countries, five continents and every sector. What we learned is not so surprising: unions are making a difference for workers around the world. You can read the survey report here.
We know that you are rising to the challenge to fight for your members during this perilous time. Ninety per cent of you said that you are taking an active role through communication with your members to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. (And many of you had not yet been touched by the virus).
Many millions of workers have already lost their jobs and in this situation, income security is crucial and having a union makes an important difference. Over 90 per cent of you answered that some of your affected workers get full pay thanks to a collective bargaining agreement in case of workplace closures, quarantines, or other disruptions. We know that many of you have also pushed your employers to add to the amount that unemployed or furloughed workers will receive through government programs. And many unions in our MEI sector have negotiated different forms of income security for freelancers.
The pandemic also means that millions of union members are working from home. Over 50 per cent said that your members, when working from home or working remotely because of COVID-19, specifically had the right to disconnect, meaning that they aren’t expected to be “always on” during the crisis.
Many of your members are working either in large centers of employment or in public facing jobs. More than 60 per cent of you said that your members were facing shortages of personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves. This includes cleaners, retail employers, call center workers, and care professionals. And among those still at work, there are demands for long hours and weekend work. Fifteen per cent of you reported a demand for an increase of hours, including in grocery, cleaning, call center, postal, and healthcare sectors.
Lastly, unions around the world are working tirelessly to enforce collective agreements as well as to push governments and employers to enact new protections for workers’ health and livelihoods.
Over 70 per cent of respondents said they are currently campaigning for paid sick leave, additional sanitation and health training, and/or protective equipment.
We must also insist that the gains we achieve today are made permanent, especially when it comes to sick leave and healthcare. A resounding 83 per cent of you plan to push for permanent reforms such as health and safety legislation and expanded paid sick leave.
Almost the entire UNI staff and leadership team is now “working from home.” But that doesn’t mean that we stop representing the interests of our large and diverse membership. Our sectors are collecting best practices and actively negotiating with employers to establish global standards. Last Friday, in fact, we signed an agreement with the Universal Postal Union. Many sectors have published guidelines for employers.
We are standing together to push employers for fully paid sick leave and demanding enough space at work to enable “distancing.” We are organising non-union workers to come together to demand safe conditions. It is not too much to expect hand sanitizer in a call center or masks at the grocery store. And care workers should never be forced to work without protection.
This is not work to be taken lightly. Already, at least three members of UNI affiliates, all working in public facing jobs, have passed away after contracting the coronavirus: a postal worker, a grocery store worker and a security guard. There are likely to be many more.
And when this crisis is over, we will need to pick up the pieces of a broken economy and construct a new green economy with a new social contract at the core. We will stand together through this crisis, and we will emerge stronger.
Thank you for the work that you do every day to improve the lives of workers. Please stay safe and stay in touch.