Call to the EU and Member States to protect the rights of the population facing more vulnerability in times of COVID-19

Call for action by SOLIDAR, 17 March 2020 – accessible here

The ongoing pandemic of Covid-19 is showing unmistakably what is wrong with unequal societies, at all levels. While governments protect and promote the role of the private sector, the “coronavirus crisis” is demonstrating that public and universal health is the only way to ensure proper protection of citizens. Currently, health workers are on the front line, exposing themselves to the virus to save lives and heal those infected and in need. These major efforts show the fundamental social value of work, too often underestimated, underpaid and subject to pointless cuts and privatisation policies.

Those of us lucky enough to enjoy teleworking must not forget all the workers that cannot do the same. Millions of people are forced across Europe to consume their days off; to take unpaid leave or even to go to work in spite of governmental decrees and calls to stay home. There is no exact estimate of the number of workers who, due to precarious work conditions or corroded labour rights, are now either exposing themselves to the spread of the virus or witnessing a drop in their income, with no social security mechanism to back up their temporary unemployment condition.

In particular, those who work supporting the daily needs of elderly people or persons with disabilities are facing very stressful moments: with no support, with no materials to ensure the minimum health requirements for avoiding the spread of the virus, and working directly with the most exposed population. Most of these workers are women, currently faced with a twofold challenge: as professional caretakers, thus as workers, and as women carrying most of the burden of caretaking at home.

The pandemic is unearthing the consequences of unequal societies. The children attending private schools might have access to the digital tools that allow their classes to continue, and guarantee their learning continuity. What happens to the vast majority of kids in public schools instead depends completely on the creativity of the teachers and the tools they can access, because public schools have also been understaffed and under-financed for too long – at least for as long as we have been calling for social investment in education, including training teachers to equip them with digital skills.

Still, the pandemic has also had a very positive effect – a relevant cut in CO2 emissions. It is proof that global warming can only be tackled by changing the global economy, the production, consumption and trade system that our societies are organised for.

The European Union and its Member States should learn the lesson and:

  • Promote and ensure investments in public and universal access to Health, Education, Decent work – since they are the pillars of any democratic society!
  • Strengthen workers’ rights and elaborate measures to protect those left out of the labour market. These measures should especially consider the situation of health workers and caretakers: implement the European Pillar of Social Rights!
  • Protect everyone: there are thousands of people seeking asylum at European borders. They must be protected too!
  • Ensure financial support to the great variety of organisations contributing to the social and cultural fabric of our societies (from theatres to libraries to smaller associations organising social activities for their neighbourhoods) who will now be faced with severe economic setbacks due to the forced closure.
  • Shift the paradigm and embrace a sustainable economic and societal model, to tackle global warming while organising the societal impact of a systemic change.

May the pandemic bolster a massive call for a profound change in the system leading to social justice in Europe.

Stay safe, stay home!