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Chemical and pharmaceutical unions confront Covid-19 together

6 July, 2020IndustriALL members are producing materials used in the fight against the pandemic; from sanitisers, to protective masks, medicines, and eventually a vaccine. Strong union action is protecting working conditions, and safe and healthy workplaces.

Meeting in June to coordinate international trade union responses, 175 union leaders from the sector in 40 countries assessed the impact of the pandemic on the unions in the sector, exchanged good practice in negotiating special agreements, and planned upcoming activities.

IndustriALL chemical and pharmaceutical sector co-chairs, together with the chair of the pharmaceutical unions group, all underlined the importance of unity and a strong workers’ role in managing the response to the crisis.

Iris Wolf explained the work of IG BCE in Germany in reacting to the pandemic. The union reached an agreement with the employer association BAVC adapting working and employment conditions for 1.1 million people in the sector for the rest of 2020. IG BCE is also conducting comprehensive information webinars for its works council representatives and members.

Sergio Luiz Leite, president of Fequimfar, Brazil, explained that the attacks on democracy and union rights by the country’s president Bolsonaro continue despite the pandemic. The Brazilian unions in the sector are resisting these attacks, campaigning, and working to renew collective agreements with an increased health and safety focus.

Masato Shinohara, of UA ZENSEN in Japan, explained that although the chemical and pharmaceutical industry is less severely affected than other sectors such as hospitality and travel, the chemical sector is also hit. Shinohara-san underlined the importance of worker solidarity to protect employment conditions and rights at this time.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan presented an analysis of the effects of the global crises in health, economy, and manufacturing, with the increased damage done to certain groups in society such as women:

“While we see the billionaire class growing their fortunes by 20 per cent during the pandemic, we must focus our demands on governments to support a recovery that values working people and their communities. Especially in the global south, where income and social protection is unacceptably low.”

The meeting assessed the many significant achievements of unions in the sector in reaching pandemic specific agreements with chemical employers at company and industry level. Also analysed was the implementation of the sector’s action plan, adopted one year ago at the Istanbul world conference.

High-quality interventions were made by trade union leaders from Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Finland, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Morocco, Nigeria, North America, Russia, Senegal, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, the UK and others. One of the many examples of unions stepping up to deliver for the society came from Spain, where unions reacted swiftly to reach a national agreement with employers that safeguards jobs and makes work safer.

The race to find a vaccine in the pharmaceutical sector is advancing to human testing, with members of IndustriALL affiliates at the forefront of that effort. Many of members’ worksites have shifted production to personal protective equipment, and chemicals such as sanitizers to fight the virus.

IndustriALL sector director, Tom Grinter said:

“The rich discussion in this meeting has brought many inspiring examples of our unions campaigning and negotiating to confront the virus together. We move forward more unified and ready to progress our action plan despite the restrictions.”