Message from ETUCE President

09 April 2020

The COVID 19 outbreak is a public health crisis quite different than anything Europe has faced for many years. As education personnel and their trade unions grapple with the outbreak, we are supporting and informing member organisations in any way we can.

As spring holidays begin, ETUCE President Christine Blower sends a message of thanks and solidarity to education personnel and their trade unions. The extraordinary measures taken by many European countries seem to bringing the COVID-19 outbreak under control. However, schools, universities and other education institutions are still feeling the full effect of the COVID-19 crisis and there are many challenges ahead as governments plan their exit from the shutdown. Education trade unions are ready to speak up to defend education staff and their students.

Colleagues, as we approach Easter and Spring holidays, and the days get warmer and brighter, it’s hard to believe that the COVID-19 outbreak only started a few months ago. In fact, here in Europe the real impact has only been felt for the last few weeks. But what an impact it has been.

The education sector and its workers are among those most affected. Staff in all countries and all levels of education are dealing with sudden changes because of closures and a shift to online teaching – often without the necessary resources and training. Others are still working, putting themselves in danger, in order to watch over the children of other essential workers. All of this while dealing with the pressures of life under confinement, often with children and relatives stuck at home.

Education trade unions are also playing their part, supporting and informing their members will working with governments and holding them to account, so that the measures taken do as little damage as possible to education systems, their workers and the most vulnerable students. This health crisis must not become a crisis for quality education, social justice or teachers’ wellbeing.

I want to acknowledge and thank education personnel across Europe for their contribution to the fight against COVID-19. You are helping in so many ways. I send a special thanks to the researchers and academics racing to find new tests and treatments that will help us manage this terrible disease.

It is too soon to see an end, but there are signs that we are seeing a change for the better. Many countries in Europe are reporting a steady fall in hospitalisations. Through solidarity and collective action, we are, it seems, flattening the curve.

So, what next? It is clear that reopening Europe’s societies and economies will be a gradual process. Education systems will feel the effects for months. In some countries, schools, universities and other education institutions might not reopen until the new academic year. Safety must be our priority, so that students and education workers are not exposed to a new wave of infection.

However, education authorities must also deal with the cancelation of exams, the awarding of qualifications and the disastrous impact of this crisis on students with special needs or vulnerable families. I call on governments planning their exit strategies to listen to education professionals and their trade unions in the weeks ahead. They must engage in meaningful social dialogue with us so we can work together on solutions that are fair for staff and students: quality education without a chaotic increase in workload for staff or huge inequalities in opportunity for students.

Education trade unions across Europe are ready to play their part. ETUCE’s statement on COVID-19 and education sets out a trade union perspective on these issues, and our website shows how member organisations at national level are already engaging.

In the months ahead our voices will be crucial. There is a real risk that the extraordinary economic measures taken during the shutdown will be used to justify further budget cuts for public services like education. After a decade of failed austerity following Europe’s last economic crisis, we cannot let that happen. Colleagues, solidarity is the basis of our movement. So, let’s stand together to fight this crisis and build a better education system in the aftermath.