BRUSSELS, Belgium: A Europe-wide coalition of left and progressive members of the European Parliament has outlined a wide-ranging plan to help the continent’s workers cope with the coronavirus pandemic and particularly its economic impact.

Among the measures unveiled are “maintaining work and income,” guaranteed housing for all and strengthening Europe’s collective bargaining rights for workers – rights that are already much stronger than those in the U.S.

And they want to dump the Euro Zone’s strict limits on size of national budget deficits, so individual nations can deal with the economic disaster the coronavirus and accompanying closures and lockdowns cause.

They also want to slam a corona wealth tax on the rich, a financial transactions tax on financiers and “effective minimum corporate tax rates.”

“The risk that economic recovery will be carried out on the backs of workers, the poor and public infrastructure should be prevented through measures that make the richest contribute,” the group declared.
Whether the European Parliament, headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, will pay attention is up in the air. The European Union’s dominant nation, Germany, is run by a moderate right-wing government, whose chancellor, Angela Merkel, insists on those budget deficit curbs. Its #2 country, France, is led by a business-oriented president, Emanuel Macron.

Plus, Britain is now on its way out of the 28-nation bloc – although its past EU representatives have been disproportionately from fringe and right-wing nationalist parties, rather than the Labour Party.

What stands out about the parliamentarians’ plans is their strong insistence on worker rights – something notably missing from U.S. legislation dealing with the economic catastrophe produced by coronavirus shutdowns nationwide.

“Collective bargaining without the pressure of collective action, such as strikes, is collective begging,” the European parliamentarians declared.

Topping their list is “zero dismissals,” followed by “leave no one behind,” referring to domestic workers, migrant workers, frontier and seasonal workers, the jobless, the self-employed isolated workers, workers who toil but still make poverty-level wages and the homeless.

“All employees should be protected from dismissal. This includes preventing the non-renewal of fixed-term or temporary contracts and the status of false self-employed persons,” the parliamentarians’ statement says.

“Water and electricity bills should be cancelled for all those in need during the crisis. All COVID19-related medical bills should be fully reimbursed,” they add, using the official name for the virus. “Parents caring for small children should be granted exceptional parental leave.”

They don’t say how long that should be, but several EU nations, including France and the Scandinavian countries, grant months and sometimes years of leave. Bernie Sanders has proposed cancelling water and other utility shutoffs in the U.S.
The Euro MPs also want even workers who are laid off to get paid, and not just a pittance, either. “Temporary suspension of employment contracts must be met with financial resources to enable workers and citizens to afford living costs now and after the crisis,” they proposed.

“In countries where short-time work is used, the level of short-time work compensation or social benefits must not push people to the edge of poverty,” they add. And while the MPs admit there should be subsidies “to companies in difficulty,” there should be both no layoffs – “redundancies” in continental terms – and no shareholder dividends.

The MPs’ proposal, however, is silent on executive pay and perks, which are vastly lower than they are in the U.S. The $2.2 trillion U.S. economic stimulus law Congress passed on March 18 curbs such pay and perks and bans shareholders dividends, but only at airlines.

“Healthcare workers, shop assistants, truck drivers, food delivery staff and postal delivery workers have proven to be ‘essential’ for our societies during the pandemic. Working conditions, labour regulations, and salaries should, therefore, be immediately increased” for them, the progressive MPs said. Health care workers in particular “should get a public premium” and profit motives in health care should be tossed – permanently.
That would particularly help women – who are the majority of workers in those occupations – and people of colour, the MPs said. “It is therefore important these professions are upgraded and that equal pay for work of equal value is finally enforced,” they added.

By contrast, when Congress included 14 days of paid family and personal leave in the economic stimulus law, it exempted a narrow category of health care workers, because they’re needed on the front lines. The GOP Trump regime promptly widened that exemption, drawing outrage from Congress. U.S. business generally opposes paid leave.

The MPs also call for strengthening collective bargaining and tripartite agreements involving unions, businesses, and European governments. Doing so will provide “safeguards to protect wages, protection against dismissal,” a road for workers to economic recovery.

And they demand return of previously privatized public services, especially since public workers – nurses, sanitation workers, first responders among them – are on the front lines of the battle against the pandemic. Past large privatizations include the Royal Mail and British Rail in the United Kingdom and Deutsche Post in Germany.

“Collective bargaining is by far one of the best tools to ensure democratic and social rights of workers and to guarantee ‘no one is left behind,’” the group declared. “The European Commission” – the EC’s executive departments — and its 28 nations “must actively promote and strengthen collective bargaining systems in all states and at all levels, especially for workers in atypical and precarious employment and especially where systems have been damaged by” past policies favouring corporations.

“The voice of the trade unions must be heard because they represent workers during and after this crisis. This includes collective bargaining and the right to industrial action,” the European parliamentarians said.

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