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Trade unions around the world lead fight to protect workers from coronavirus fallout

TRADE unions across the world are leading the battle to protect workers and their families from economic dislocation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Unions are fighting to ensure workers receive sick pay, avoid catastrophic loss of income if employers are closing businesses and that governments put measures in place to protect their homes.

Australia’s Community & Public Sector Union reported today that it had convinced the Australian Public Service Commission to extend paid leave to casual staff who contract Covid-19 or have to self-isolate due to exposure to infected persons.

But national secretary Melissa Donnelly said she was “very concerned that the government is refusing to provide any clarity [on whether] 23,000 contractors and labour hire workers will be covered. On one hand, we see the [Scott] Morrison government is trying to stimulate the economy, while on the other hand it is refusing to protect its own workforce.”

US union federation AFL-CIO said it was “mobilising to protect front-line workers who are combating the disease every day” and urged senators to pass an $850 billion (£700bn) economic stimulus package that is backed by the House of Representatives and the White House.

The legislation is designed to ensure that individuals can access free testing for Covid-19 and that displaced workers have access to paid leave. It would also raise unemployment-insurance benefits, expand food stamps and increase federal funding for Medicaid programmes. Some Republican senators have expressed concerns that it would hurt business.

Concern for jobs rose as car giant Volkswagen announced that production would end this week at plants in Spain, Portugal, Slovakia and Italy, even as the company reopens factories in China, where the disease appears to be on the retreat.

The European TUC released a joint statement agreed with its fellow members of the European Social Partners union-business forum calling on the EU to show flexibility in applying its strict regulations on state spending and aid to industry in order “to support member states in ensuring financial and income support for workers affected by unemployment or suspension from work, including non-standard workers and self-employed.”

French trade unions welcomed President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to postpone unpopular pensions reforms in response to the pandemic. The changes have provoked repeated mass strikes since December.

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