May Day 2020: Why trade unions matter now more than ever

30 Apr 2020

This year, International Workers’ Day comes at an especially difficult time for transport workers all over Europe who are either finding themselves on the frontline as key workers or are finding themselves without work. Now more than ever, it is important to acknowledge transport workers all over Europe and highlight the key role unions play now, and will play in protecting their working conditions, wages and employment after the health crisis subsides. Unions have a long history of fighting to protect workers’ rights and we have already won many battles – we are ready for the next one! Together, we will help rebuild a fairer transport sector.

ETF’s sections are hard at work. A few words from our Sections’ Chairs on the value of trade unions in honour of May Day:


ETF Civil Aviation Section

Oliver Richardson, Civil Aviation Chair

Now more than ever, across the whole of Europe, trade unions are needed to protect their members.

Aviation was one of the first sectors to be hit by the COVID-19 crisis and will probably be one of the last to recover. Companies will want to opportunistically grab government bailouts while attacking jobs, terms and conditions.

Only unions can and will fight to protect both the workers and the industry. May Day 2020 will be a stark reminder as to the continuing relevance of trade union organisation.


ETF Maritime Transport Section

Agis G. Tselentis, Maritime Transport Section Chair

Seafarers’ trade unions have been particularly busy due to the impact of COVID-19 onboard ships.

We are assisting and providing mental health support to seafarers who are unable to return home to their families, those who do not have any income because they cannot travel to join their ship, and those who are severely ill but are being denied disembarkation.

ETF affiliates are supporting each other in finding solutions for these dire situations.

At the same time, we are also attentive to any attempt by shipping companies to use the situation to lower wage and working conditions, and to the proper use of personal protective equipment by ship visitors.

We are staying strong together and remain vigilant to the potential impact of this crisis on working conditions, employment, and mental health of our members.


ETF Dockers Section

Terje Samuelsen, Dockers Section Chair

It is clear now how important it is to be a member of a Union, a Union that supports us and takes care of us, not only in legal matters but also in solidarity. With unions, we are one, and we’re not alone when tragedies like Coronavirus hits us so hard.

Solidarity, both internationally and nationally, is the key for our members to come through this crisis and to be stronger.

We stand together in solidarity!


ETF Inland Waterways Section

Joris Kerkhofs, Inland Waterways Section Chair

We are in the middle of a challenging period. It is precisely in such times that we, as trade unions, make the difference.  We were taken for granted.  Social security and job protection were self-evident.  Some even dared to question our role in society.

COVID-19 proves the opposite: we are taking a leading role to protect the health and safety and income security of our crewmembers, as well as safeguard the entire public health structure.  The true meaning of solidarity finally becomes a universal concept.

Our role, now and in the past, makes the difference for millions of workers across Europe.

Trade unions in European Inland Navigation have been working hard at making sure that crewmembers could continue working in the safest of circumstances; that limitations were established to the excessive liberties employers wanted concerning the working time legislation; that maximum income security was provided to those who lost their jobs; that employment contracts were not disrupted; and that crew changes were facilitated and regulated.

May this year’s 1st May, although in difficult circumstances, be a beacon of hope and trust.


ETF Fisheries Section

Juan Manuel Trujillo Castillo, Fisheries Section Chair

Our greatest value as trade unions is in demanding the retention of employment and generational change among fishers, and the extension of their social and labour rights as well as their occupational health and hazards coverage.

From the European administration as a whole, ETF also demands the recognition of fishers as key workers who guarantee food supplies. They should be rewarded for their effort and dedication amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once the situation is under control, we demand the maintaining of the rate of new hirings and a well-deserved rest for all the crews that could not be relieved due to the port closures and restrictions on movement.


ETF Railway Section

Giorgio Tuti, Railway Section Chair

Together we are strong! Today, our motto is more relevant than over. In these exceptional times, the exchange of information, cooperation between members, and a collective, powerful and determined attitude towards employers and institutions in Europe are of the utmost importance. Our positions and priorities are clear: the best health protection for workers, job security, protection of wages, and thus purchasing power. Enforcing them is our main task: in the interest of workers, passengers and all rail transport in Europe. Let’s fight for it, all together – together!


ETF Road Section

Roberto Parrillo, Road Section Chair

Never has the trade union movement been more important. While we’re all in a race to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, trade unions are also racing to fight for workers’ rights! Tremendous efforts are being made by our truck, bus and coach drivers to keep essential goods and people moving in a world that has come to a standstill. Trade unions are paramount in safeguarding their rights, opposing and calling out any abuse. As unions, we will remain strong and will be there to build a better road transport sector for us all: We will continue our fight for better, balanced family life, better rest, quality jobs and equal pay! Drivers can count on us!


ETF Urban Public Transport Committee

Susanne Gällhagen Urban Public Transport Committee Chair

Never before in human history, has the importance of Trade Unions been so clear as it has been during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a long time since we have witnessed, as we are now, such an influx of new members, and there are many good reasons for more workers to join unions.

The struggle for a safe working environment and decent working conditions for our members has been tirelessly ongoing for over a hundred years, but the general understanding among unorganised workers of what unions are fighting both for and against has become particularly clear during this crisis.

Only a joint fight and coordinated demands can secure access to personal protective equipment needed in the form of respiratory and facial protection, hand disinfectants, specific cleaning, protective zones or other barriers that are absolutely necessary to keep our members healthy and safe. Only a joint fight can secure reasonable compensation for overtime and the extra workload put on our members due to the crisis. Their work is deemed essential, crucial and vital to ensure that citizens can access urban public transport, and to ensure that other key workers can go to work.


ETF Women’s Committee

Sara Tripodi, Womens’ Committee Chair

Trade unions make sure workers know that they are not alone. Women transport workers may be more heavily affected by this crisis. Many of them are teleworking, and this cannot be a cage for women, but an opportunity for both men and women to share family care.

During this crisis, we as unionists have to raise our voice and inform women transport workers about their rights and break the silence in case of violence at the workplace and/or domestic violence. Unions respond to the challenges of social protection and health and safety, not only in the workplace but also at home for those who telework.

This crisis cannot be used as an excuse to take us a step back in the fight for gender equality: our fight against occupational segregation, our fight for equal treatment in the workplace, our fight to breach the gender pay gap – we fight and rise up for social standards in the transport sector for all!


ETF Youth Committee

Kamil Butler, Youth Committee Co-Chair

Young workers are the most vulnerable group in the labour market and are more likely to be hit by the crisis. They will be seeking solidarity and support during these turbulent times.

Our job, as unions, is to show young members that we are all in this together – we will only make it through the crisis if we are united.

We will not allow austerity measures that will destroy the future of young workers.