Long COVID-19: What challenges for education trade unions across Europe?

20 September 2022

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.

On 20 September 2022, ETUCE held an Online Seminar on Long COVID-19 gathering more than 50 education trade unionists from across Europe. Building on the findings of the ETUCE study on the impact of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, the Seminar sought to raise awareness on the serious issue of Long COVID-19 and foster education trade union actions to enhance the protection of education workers affected by the Long COVID-19 condition.

Opening the event, Susan Flocken, ETUCE's European Director, underlined the persistent effects of the pandemic on the teaching profession and education systems across Europe and emphasised the essential need to ensure a sustainable and fair Recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

The event shed light on the scientific evidence regarding the Long COVID-19 condition and its labour-market impact on the education sector. Dr (Pierre Smith, UCLouvain and Sciensano, Belgium), presented a scientific definition of the Long COVID-19 condition and the preliminary results of Sciensano’s study COVIMPACT. The research findings showed a higher exposure of women to the risk of having Long COVID-19 symptoms. The study further found that quality of life, anxiety, and depression radically worsened in patients with Long COVID after three months from the COVID-19 infection. Data worsened even further after six months from the infection.

Education trade unions found these findings particularly concerning for the education sector where women represent almost 75% of the workforce at the European level and education systems across Europe are currently confronted with decreasing attractiveness of the teaching profession, a serious teacher shortage, and worsening psychosocial risks.

The clear relevance of Long COVID-19 as an occupational health and safety issue calls for effective preventive measures against the COVID-19 virus, even beyond the pandemic times. In this framework, Marian Schaapman (ETUI), spoke about COVID-19 as an occupational disease and the importance of its recognition in the legislation, especially in pcontact intensive occupations, such as  teaching , where work is a key vector of exposure to the COVID-19 virus. In this respect, the ILO Convention C121, establishing workers’ right to compensation in relation to occupational diseases, and the EU Commission’s Recommendation concerning the European schedule of occupational disease were highlighted as important tools to favour the legal recognition at a national level. 

Dr Ioannis Anyfantis (EU-OSHA), presented the EU-OSHA’s twin guides for workers and managers encouraging social dialogue measures to support workers in their return-to-work after COVID-19 and Long COVID-19. These highlight the importance that employers apply a step-by-step approach and analyse the specific needs of the workers, including through an individualised health risk assessment.

The online Seminar was also a valuable platform for education trade unions to share experiences from different national contexts in addressing Long COVID-19. Concrete trade actions being implemented at a national level included: regular consultation with members to assess the situation of Long COVID-19 on the ground, including consultation with Social Labour Inspectorates; publication of protocols for workplace management of Long COVID-19 as a basis for negotiation with employers; the opening of contact points for members; case-by-case social dialogue with education employers; as well as advocating improved social security measures for workers affected by Long COVID.

ETUCE is committed to supporting its member organisations in their work in ensuring healthy and safe work environments in the education sector and favour cooperation and exchanges on Long COVID among education trade unions across Europe.

Click HERE to read the full report of the event.