Essential Pay and Treatment for Essential Workers

by Alexandra Gouleva, Evita Kuriga and Laine Ostrovska

During the Spring 2020 semester, students taking Social Policy and Politics in the EU course worked in groups to  socially-oriented campaigns. In their presentations and campaign descriptions they were to outline the rationale for your campaign; measures / actions that the campaign will involve; its target audience as well as its projected outcomes. On the course’s website, we will present several of their ideas in the form of separate posts.

The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has brought about a world health and economic crisis with many people having to transition to working remotely with the exception of workers in industries EU governments have deemed “essential.” These essential workers often fulfill jobs and duties that are low-paid and underappreciated by the general society until the pandemic hit. This pandemic has served to highlight and exacerbate the issues these workers have been facing for years. 

Many who work in the food service, gig-economy, healthcare, factories and more have no choice and are forced to continue working in unsafe environments because their wages are well below the standard of living and they cannot risk unemployment. Many of them do not receive hazard pay, nor do employers increase their wages for their work or provide them with PPE. Statistics and news reports do well to exemplify the reality of the working conditions and treatment of essential workers in these particular sectors.

The goal of the campaign is to bring awareness to the reality essential workers face and fight for their essential rights, pay, and treatment. The campaign will focus on bringing awareness of the issue to the general public and also work closely with social partners in order to ensure the EU and companies will act effectively, so that there can be a change on a national and European level. Public mobilization will be achieved through an active social media presence and cooperation with news outlets to cover essential workers’ stories. Using external lobbying we will target EU institutions, companies, and social partners to motivate them to reach agreements and pass laws that will protect essential workers and their rights. 

Social partners have a very important role for the campaign success. We will work to engage with them the most due their access to the EU policy makers and ability to protect essential workers’ rights through sectoral or company bargaining as well as tripartite with the government. We will engage social partners such as ETUC, CEEP and others. Especially trade unions can do a lot. Our campaign will encourage people to join trade unions to call out employers about inadequate policies, sign petitions to call on the EU to act on specific measures, organize protests/strikes, etc. It is vital for our campaign that social partners push harder for better wages and workplace conditions. Discussions need to take place at the local, sector, administration, and firm level to promote a more effective response to the problems experienced by essential workers. 

The projected outcomes of the campaign and solutions are for the EU and social partners to agree on stricter standards for working conditions, as well as to protect workers’ physical and mental health. We aim to maximize financial benefits and protections for essential workers such as unemployment benefits and hazard pay. We hope the campaign will be a step in the right direction of securing a living wage standard across the EU and will bring a greater appreciation for essential workers.