New fences, new walls and increasingly precarious jobs
In his report to the Committee meeting in Geneva on 7 and 8 September, Harald Wiedenhofer, General Secretary of our European body EFFAT (European Federation of Agriculture, Food and Tourism) illustrated some of the toughest challenges facing the union movement in this part of the world. Rel has transcribed the key points of his speech.
Our experience of globalisation in recent years, particularly in 2015, is entirely new, as millions of refugees have arrived in western Europe.
Germany alone received over one million refugees, yet for a region with more than 510 million people this should not constitute a major issue.
We should be able to receive refugees and integrate them, as long as we keep in mind that this is a long-term process, lasting 10, 15, 20 or even more years, and that it cannot be solved overnight.
The process requires for everybody to cooperate, but the reaction of most Europeans to the arrival of refugees, particularly those coming from the conflict area in Syria, has been quite different.
Although they are all aware of their responsibilities toward refugees, many have built new fences and new walls, and have closed their borders.
Integrating refugees - A political challenge
The problem is this: in order for a refugee to integrate, they have to learn the language and find a job. Therefore, the integration process needs the support of the recipient community.
Committing to integrate refugees is a huge political challenge, because far-right populist, nationalist and racist parties take advantage of the refugee crisis to spread a xenophobic feeling and increase resistance toward refugees.
Unfortunately, they are succeeding. History tells us that nationalisms not only debase the integration of immigrants, but they also undermine the labour movement.
The far right ascent and the labour vote
From bad to worse
One of the reasons why racist and populist movements are so successful is that many of our colleagues in the labour movement are afraid of different cultures.
Europe is holding an absurd debate about whether or not to allow women to wear the Islamic headscarf. There is a looming fear of social decline due to the high unemployment rate, and therefore many people are not willing to share with refugees and consequently reject their culture.
Many of our members vote for far-right parties, not because they are racist but because they are afraid, and this is something we must take into account.
This social fear is also the result of the austerity policies implemented by national governments.
Ending these policies and generating investment in social areas is essential not only to increase employment and reduce poverty but also to overcome xenophobia.
Families who feel socially secure are less fearful and more open to integrating refugees. The struggle of European trade unions to give priority to social investments is a struggle for integration.
EFFAT knows this full well. The food, agriculture and tourism chains are sectors that typically employ many refugees.
Many of our organisations have developed projects to integrate refugees.
One of the best examples are our Swedish affiliates from HRF (hotel and restaurant services), who seek to swiftly include refugees in to their catering sector.
The other EFFAT priorities
Precariousness, social dialogue and membership
We have distributed among you a document titled “Priorities” that describes what we are doing at European level.
I will try to summarise the main challenges of our work with trade unions. There are three, in addition to the integration of refugees.
One is to combat precarious work, a struggle that began in 2009.
This means claiming equal pay for equal work.
Romanians working in Germany in the food and agriculture sectors were still being paid Romanian salaries, which is unacceptable. This situation lasted until trade unions' fights succeeded in intruducing a minimum wage in Germany.
In recent months a step in the right direction was taken on the continent. The European Commission and many national governments have adopted our slogan “equal pay for equal work”.
Yet, clearly, there is strong resistance from employers.
The second priority is social dialogue, namely conducting collective bargaining between unions and employers.
In many European countries these negotiations do not take place. Not only in the centre and east of the continent, but it is increasingly common for employers to withdraw from collective bargaining in western nations too.
Increasing membership is another high priority, even prior to the other two. This requires strengthening existing unions nationwide as a first step.
It is a priority that we reiterate at each Executive Committee meeting, and there are numerous examples of good practices in this area.
The “sharing economy” trap - A new type of worker
Finally, I would like to refer to what Norberto, Pilar and Xavi reported on Airbnb and the sharing economy. It is an issue that concerns us enormously here in Europe.
In their catchphrases, Airbnb say they will democratise the economy and that they are working for a better world.
The company appeared on the Internet in 2008, and two years later it boasted 90,000 customers. Today it is used by over 60 million tourists globally, and offers more than 2 million accommodations in 191 countries.
In August 2015, the company began a $1,500 m joint activity with Chinese investors, and is rapidly turning into a real estate company.
The platform is a very profitable business, it employs very few people and does not pay taxes or social security for its workers.
In Spain, more than 50 per cent of the accommodation offered to tourists in big cities is from Airbnb rather than traditional hotels, yet these meet some 300 provisions while Airbnb scarcely 20, resulting in unfair competition.
Uber is yet another example of a company that destroys jobs and at the same time it ranks among the richest corporations in the world.
These Internet-based platforms – there are many in the food sector too – do not offer any kind of social benefits to their workers and haven’t agreed to any collective agreements.
On the other hand, they are creating new categories of workers and are a new challenge for the trade union movement. We will not be able to stop them, but they must be regulated.
We need new rules for this sector and for the self-employed as part of a continued effort to protect workers and combat job insecurity.
Article and photo| Gerardo Iglesias, IUF Latin America Region
Translation: Victoria Infantino