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Energy unions tackle effects of Covid-19

2 July, 2020The global energy industry has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic as it has slowed down transport, trade and economy. Energy workers are bearing the brunt of the crisis, and minimizing the impacts is central for the unions.

Around 130 participants from some 50 countries came together for a virtual meeting of the energy sector on Covid-19, to discuss impacts, approaches and responses.

In his opening statement, sector co-chair Frode Alfheim, from Norwegian union Industri Energi, explained about an agreement reached between unions, employers and the government.

“The agreement secures jobs today and for future generations and would not have been possible without the efforts from the unions.”

Other sector co-chair Apsorn Krissanasmit from PTT LU of Thailand underlined the importance of social dialogue at the time of the crisis.

Unions in Ukraine are under attack, with a number of new bills currently reviewed by parliament. If given a green light, they will deprive unions of rights and opportunities,

said Valery Matov, president of Ukrainian union Atomprofspilka and sector co-chair for nuclear.

IndustriALL energy director Diana Junquera Curiel underlined the importance of standing together in times of crisis and praised energy unions for defending workers' rights and taking solidarity action for workers and unions around the world.

“The action plan we developed at the world energy conference two years ago in St Petersburg, Russia, to support our affiliates guides our work. We have renewed global framework agreements with Lukoil, Siemens Gamesa and Eni, we are working on the renewal process of Total, Engie and Enel and we are working on the implementation of EDF.

“The Shell campaign continues, even though the company is reluctant to engage with us on a global level.”

IndustriALL is working with different institutions such as ILO and multinational energy companies to minimize the impact of the pandemic and address the massive job losses.

Covid-19 has presented energy companies with an opportunity to pursue an anti-union and union-busting agenda, using the cover of essential services under national lockdown regulations, or in the other side, when energy services are considered as essential services and workers experiment lack of protection. Collective bargaining, lack of consultation and health and safety have become the casualties of the attack by these global energy companies.

Hashmeya Alsadawe from of General Trade Union of Electricity Sector Employees of Iraq, as Executive committee member of IndustriALL underlined that women and contract workers are hit hard by the pandemic.

The energy industry in Australia employs a large number of contract workers and according to AWU - Australian Workers' Union, the impact of Covid-19 lands on those contractors. As the pandemic struck, employers argued for roster changes to incorporate quarantine periods and minimize infection, but also for pushing through changes resulting in worse conditions for workers.

Some countries have succeeded in reaching good solutions through social dialogue, like in Jordan, where the General Trade Union for Workers in Electricity, together with the employers found solutions for women workers with children, taking into consideration lack of child care for example.

In countries where lockdowns are being lifted, a safe return to work is a priority for the unions. GFA partner Engie is guaranteeing all its employees coverage of hospital costs related to Covid-19, as well as coverage of costs in case of a decease. 

"This crisis has significantly slowed down our sector. More than ever, unions are important as workers in the energy industry are hit hard,"

said IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan.

“Despite these difficult times, our actions in the energy sector will continue. Our jobs, our health, safety and livelihoods, including our communities, are at stake and more than ever, we need solidarity with each other.”