UNICARE Africa affiliates from across Africa and the Middle East convened online to discuss a coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Care workers have faced similar issues as their global counterparts: dangerous working conditions, lack of access to personal protective equipment (PPE), and low staffing levels. Governments were slow to respond, and when they did, their responses were slow to hit the frontlines. Despite all the problems, there were many achievements, and with union pressure, workers were able to achieve lasting change that will continue well beyond the current pandemic.
In Ghana, HSWU is currently collecting data about how many health workers were infected. The government response was inadequate, so the union had to step up and fight for their members. PPE was a primary problem, so the union stepped up by supplying masks and sanitizers for members. The government has given all workers a tax break for 3 months as well as free electricity. To help with members that may still be struggling the union is going to support these members with food relief. Health insurance for frontlines doctors who are at risk to contract the disease was given at no charge. Unfortunately, nurses, cleaners and other paramedical workers are excluded. The union is fighting for this coverage to be extended for all workers. The government also promised 50% salary increase to frontliners, however again this has failed to materialize because they can’t agree on who is a frontline worker. The union and the government are currently in negotiations to resolve all of these issues. With all of these achievements they were also able to win an 8% increase of basic salary that will last beyond the pandemic.
In Zimbabwe, regarding the ITUC one of the most anti-union country in the world, the pandemic has put a wedge between private and public workers. The government supported the public sectors with PPE, but this was not the case in the Private sector. Meanwhile the private hospitals were accepting many patients as the public system overflowed. In order to protect its members, MPAWUZ campaigned for PPE and were able to attain PPE for frontliners. This difficult period led solidarity among all health workers and has strengthened the work of the union.
In Malawi, the crisis brings an opportunity, as the rate of infection increased it became clear that their was a desperate shortage of health workers in the country. The government quickly responded by hiring many health support workers, CIAWU took notice, and has started reaching out to these workers. Through conversations it has come to light that these new workers are not being sufficiently proctected, so the union has started to supply them with PPE with hopes to organize these workers for the future.
In the Middle East, Tunisia was recently declared COVID 19 free by the government, however data has emerged since suggesting that this is not the case. Regardless, the total lock down is over and the economy is reopening. Health workers made great sacrifices during the start of the pandemic, and they continue to risk their lives, however they feel a deep send of neglect and ingratitude from the government. To show their dissatisfaction the health union of the UGTT called a general strike on June 18th. Thousands of workers walked off the job to show that they are not going to be ignored, and that in order to continue to serve their communities they require basic protections as well. All UNICARE affilates send their greetings and solidarity to
In Morocco the lockdown continues but the situation is improving and UNICARE affiliate UMT CNSS contributed hugely in the efforts of combating COVID19 as CNSS clinics were on the frontline of the fight. The union has been able to gain access to PPE for workers, and also obtain wage increase that will continue beyond the pandemic.
The Head of UNICARE Global, Adrian Durtschi reacted to this reports: “We acknowledge and praise the hard and successful work which our UNICARE Affiliates are doing under difficult circumstances. We only can overcome this pandemic together and for that we need to become stronger as international movement. As we move out of the initial crisis, we are creating more opportunities to work together. Today we are planning training sessions and discussing strategies to build worker power online in your region. New ways of connecting are currently being piloted, and we will continue to find ways of connecting despite regulations to social distance. As many workers continue to face challenges unions can be there to support them and help them find equity and fairness. Together we will make it happen and overcome the crisis. We are hopeful that together we are going to build stronger unions going forward. The pandemic has reinvigorated our strength and shown us that our struggles are common, by sharing experiences and knowledge we can make a difference locally and internationally. We might be physically isolated, but we are more connected than ever before fighting for a better tomorrow.”