19/05/2011

Some Final Comments from the ETUC in Athens

Brenda O'Brien

The newly-elected General Secretary, Bernadette Segol, the first ever woman to hold this position in the history of the ETUC, took the floor this morning with a strong message for delegates. The "Athens Manifesto" adopted by Congress not only pointed the way forward but also needed trade unions to push its key messages. It was time to look ahead, she said, and to work for European Integration which was an ETUC objective. The ETUC was a critical friend of the EU on the road from austerity to prosperity. Did the pay cuts in Greece work, she asked? The answer was no. Her position was clear: wages were not the enemy of growth, but its engine. She would champion fundamental social rights and give them priority over economic freedoms.

Newly-eleted ETUC President, Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, emphasized the continued struggle for equality in Europe and the particular toll the current crisis was having on Europe's young people who were really suffering. He urged unions to mobilize. Mobilizatrion was not an end in itself, it was a tool to achieve the ETUC's goals.

Afterwards, Laurent Vogel, Director of the Occupational Health and Safety Unit of the European Trade Union Institute, dropped by the EU-OSHA stand for a final chat. He said that the profile of occupational health and safety was now quite high in the new policy document adopted by Congress. It was very clear that trade unions could not separate sustainable development from OSH. It was what the ETUI tried to do with REACH and Congress supported it. The trade unions needed a strong policy on chemicals and within that policy they needed to prioritize health and safety.

The other develoment was that Congress insisted on more trade union action. In the last years, the Commission had been relatively inactive on worker health and safety and so there was a need for stronger trade union action because if the unions did not act themselves then nothing would happen.

Another key message was the need for better coordination for national trade unions. Chemicals were a priority and the ETUC and ETUI would push in order to link the implementation of REACH and the situation at workplace level. The other big challenge of course was the whole area of work organization and its consequences for example on MSDs and pscyhosocial risks.

He reiterated the importance of EU-OSHA for the ETUC and the ETUI. The work done in Bilbao was greatly appreciated in the campaigns and in the policy areas and in its communication and information work. He hoped that with the new Director of EU-OSHA, the good tradition of collaboration would continue and that the tripartite system would flourish.

Congress closed on a high note with a musical tribute to John Monks, outgoing General Secretary.

Brenda O'Brien in Athens