EFFAT Reaction on COVID-19 outbreak

In light of the further spread of Coronavirus in Europe, officially proclaimed by the World Health Organisation as a global pandemic, EFFAT expresses concern over the deepening public health crisis in many countries across Europe, and the real potential for a serious and sustained global economic downturn. In front of such an unprecedented emergency, EFFAT worries over the health, safety and job security of workers from farm to fork.

EFFAT welcomes the initiatives announced so far by the European Commission including the use of fiscal flexibility and the establishment of a Corona Investment Plan. At the same time, EFFAT calls for a stronger and more  effective coordination among EU Member States as well for the prompt deployment of a set of European measures aimed at safeguarding the health and income of citizens and workers, supporting the economy and protecting jobs.

In particular, EFFAT workers in the hospitality sector are in direct contact with the public and, as such, are at a higher risk of contracting the disease and of passing it on to others. Furthermore, these workers are the first victims of the tourism industry disruption that followed the Coronavirus outbreak in Europe.

In the agriculture sector, the Coronavirus outbreak exacerbates the risk of paralysis in the work of many farms in Europe which adds to the difficulties on domestic and foreign markets. The restrictive measures adopted in areas with strong agricultural activity are highly affecting the sector. In Italy, many farmers have been unable to access CAP payments because of difficulties in submitting relevant paperwork. Neither of these phenomena have left workers unscathed.

In the food industry, the disruptions determined by the pandemic represent a significant threat to the performance of the food sector in the zones more intensively hit by the disease. Food production must of course be ensured at any time. For this reason, food processing plants need to implement enhanced precautionary measures against the virus to protect food workers’ health. In order to support export of foodstuff, EFFAT calls on the EU Commission to combat misinformation that has led some countries to even request senseless “virus free” health certifications on food products coming from certain European regions where the virus is more widespread.

EFFAT doesn’t forget that for thousands of domestic workers operating in the shadow economy and without social security, self-isolation might not be an option. Equally going to work represents a risk that threatens their health.

In regions where lock-down applies, food delivery riders across Europe are subject to an enormous pressure which shows once more how unacceptable their precarious status is.

In light of this emergency situation, workers in EFFAT sectors are facing the prospect or reality of periods without guaranteed wages – as their hours are cut, as they are required to self-isolate, or as an increasing number of European regions go into lock-down.

EFFAT calls on all national governments and the EU Institutions, and national employers operating in the European agriculture, food, tourism and domestic workers sectors to:

  • Ensure the health of staff is top priority and follow the health and safety measures imposed/recommended by each Member States to limit the contagion and workers’ exposure to the disease.
  • Do whatever it takes to safeguard employment and support workers’ wages.
  • Find solutions, in close cooperation with trade unions, to tackle any temporary impact on employment, with the aim to avoid redundancies and job cuts. Particular attention must be paid to precarious and non-standard workers, who are often excluded from the same rights and protections as other workers.
  • Ensure that all workers who present with symptoms, who are placed in quarantine, as well as those who are obliged to stay at home to care for family members who are ill or in quarantine, are able to take leave without fear of losing their jobs or income.

On a broader footing, across all the EFFAT sectors, it will be important for employers to:

  • Adopt clear protocols to safeguard workers health to be applied in all workplaces, also in full respect of food safety regulation
  • Develop contingency plans for in the event of a suspected COVID-19 case on the premises
  • Advise workers who suspect they may be infected to contact health care services remotely and self-isolate at home for at least two weeks and until symptoms have passed
  • Whenever possible, promoting smart working (e.g. working from home for personnel employed in offices)

EFFAT also calls upon governments and the EU Institutions to provide support to companies and workers to tackle the impact on employment and businesses (e.g. tax relief; short- or medium-term liquidity loans, temporary short-time work).

We are in front of a long and difficult battle. Urgent extraordinary measures are needed.
EFFAT calls for the health protection of all citizens and workers. This fight can be won only with the commitment of all.