The 14th Congress of the European Trade Union Confederation gathered trade unions in Vienna to discuss “A Fairer Europe for Workers”. The 699 delegates, of which 48.5% were women and 10% were young delegates discussed on the European Pillar of Social Rights, building solidarity on migration, asylum, and inclusion, protecting human dignity and democracy as European values, shaping a new and progressive economic model based on a fairer economic and social governance, fighting for higher wages, stronger collective bargaining and enforceable rights for all, and just transition to tackle the climate change emergency and to ensure fairer digitalisation and stronger industry policy.

The ETUCE delegation composed of President Christine Blower, Vice-Presidents Andreas Keller, Dorte Lange and Branimir Strukelj, European Director Susan Flocken, Bureau member Mike Jennings, Committee members Rossella Benedetti and Roland Gangl, and senior coordinator Agnes Roman, took an active role in the event.

We profoundly believe that a quality education focused on democratic citizenship, inclusivity, anti-racism, anti sexism, social justice and equality will empower young people to challenge the ideas and propaganda of the far right”, said Christine Blower, ETUCE president. She added that education is far from only being a means to plug perceived gaps in the labour market. Education contributes significantly to building a fairer society for all, in building societies and communities which welcome migrants, celebrate diversity and challenge the utterly unacceptable far right wherever they seek to stand in election or try to peddle the ideas.

Susan Flocken, ETUCE European Director highlighted that “Quality education and training is the basis for a skilled workforce, a workforce that has the necessary skills, key competences, and education and training to adapt to a fast changing world of work. Most importantly the employers should take their fair share in financially supporting quality employee training. It is unacceptable that workers whose skills are not up to date are fired, that companies employ new employees trained to the job from which they will be fired again when their skills are outdated.

Education should be adapted to the digital age and industry 4.0 revolution because today’s students are the future workers of the knowledge-based society, but they are not well prepared for the digital age, reminded Andreas Keller, ETUCE Vice-President. He demanded that “Not the industry should tell children what to do. The children should be ready to stand up and demonstrate against climate change”. Society must respect and understand the work of teachers who are not appreciated and not well paid but who have to educate the future workers.

Mike Jennings, Member of the ETUCE Bureau raised awareness on the increasing precariousness among workers, including academics and researchers. He explained that “People may have heard the term “Taxi academic” and assumed it referred to academics who work for Uber. In fact the phrase refers to academics who get so little paid work that they have to give classes in a number of colleges and are forced to rush from one college to the other by taxi”. This tendency and precarious contracts must end”.

Branimir Strukelj, ETUCE Vice-President underlined that investment into public education, which has been the foundation for a Social Europe over the past 70 years, is stagnating or decreasing across Europe. All this is happening at the expense of public funds that are being redirected to security, defense, surveillance and border security. This trend has long-term consequences for the future of Europe. He warned ETUC member organisations of this trend which can harm opportunities of children of working families.

"The last ten years have been marked by rising inequality in the European society due to the financial crisis and subsequent prevailing neoliberal economic policies", said Rossella Benedetti ETUCE Committee member. She added that “Education sector workers have been hit in many ways: financially , through budget cuts, socially, since they have been blamed for skills mismatch and labour market problems, and politically, since some governments have attacked academic freedom to stifle criticism. ETUCE has worked hard and has always collaborated with ETUC to achieve gender equality in the workplaces and within our member organisations. Still we experience the gender pay gap and the related pension gap. The education sector is a feminised sector and teachers are among those workers on part-time or precarious working conditions. Education is vital for economic growth, education workers do not deserve to be treated this way.” Rossella highlighted that migration is seen by some Europeans as a threat and this happens because of lack of education, lack of critical thinking skills, and dependency on fake news. Trade unions are at the forefront of tackling the challenges arising from inadequate national and European integration strategies and the comprehensive migration agenda of ETUC, based on EU values and principles of human rights needs to be respected and implemented.

Dorte Lange, ETUCE vice-president reminded that the European Pillar for Social Rights demands the right for inclusive and quality education for all. However, "teachers see public investment in education at such low level that the European Commission calls for an increase of investment to education in 24 countries, and it states that better public funding is necessary  or otherwise quality in education is at risk."

ETUC member organisations endorsed a new leadership team of the ETUC Secretariat under a new mandate of Luca Visentini, General Secretary. The full list of the ETUC Secretariat, presidency, and outcomes of the 14th ETUC Congress, such as the ETUC Action Programme 2019 – 2022 and the Vienna Congress Manifesto, can be found here: https://www.etuc.org/en/european-trade-union-confederation-14th-congress-etuc19