What answers can the European social partners bring to the social and economic risks linked to a pandemic?

From 25 to 29 October 2020, a seminar was held in Calvi (France) on the question "What answers can the European social partners bring to the social and economic risks linked to a pandemic?", organizsed by the CFTC (French Confederation of Christian Workers), with the support of EZA and the European Union.

With Covid 19, the world is experiencing an unprecedented economic and social crisis.

The European social partners have a role to play in their respective countries in this “new” form of risk in terms of preventing, confronting and attempting to cushion them.

They are shaken by the suddenness and scale of this unprecedented health crisis, sometimes disconcerted by the containment measures and their impact on the economy and by the consequences for workers and their families.

We discussed the place of the social partners in the “management” of the Crisis.

Are they key players in this crisis?

Obviously, it emerged, from both trade union and employer stakeholders, that the active participation of the European social partners made it possible to provide concrete and viable responses at the level of companies and national and European professional and political bodies.

There is clearly a need for a real implementation of the principle of subsidiarity.

Despite the travel difficulties linked to the pandemic, 43 representatives of workers' organizations were able to participate in the seminar. The following countries were represented: Portugal, Luxembourg, Romania, Bulgaria, France.

The seminar was presided by Joseph THOUVENEL, Confederal Secretary CFTC.

The following topics were discussed:

"What we know about the health crisis-COVID 19, Europe facing the crisis", Joseph THOUVENEL, Confederal Secretary

"The Impacts of the Crisis on Working Families", Antoine RENARD, Honorary President of the European Catholic Family Associations

"The management of the crisis in Bulgaria", Veselin MITOV, International Secretary of PODKREPA

“Crisis management in Luxemburg”, Robert SCHADECK, LCGB Expert

"Crisis Management in Romania", Silviu ISPAS, Director of IFES

"Managing an international crisis within a multinational", François de la Rue du Can, Former President Canon France and Director Canon Europe

"The experience of a VSE business manager in crisis management", Etienne NEUVILLE, President of Neuville Champagnes

"The particular issues of agriculture in the face of a pandemic", Claude VANYEK, Advisor to the CFTC Agricultural Federation

"Portugal facing the crisis", Maria-Reina MARTIN, President of FIDESTRA

“Legal risks in the event of a pandemic”, Sandrine CHADEFAUX, Head of the legal department CFTC PARIS

"The positioning of employers' bodies in the face of the health crisis", Pierre-Marie HEBERT, MEDEF

“The role of employee representation bodies”, Jacques ARNOUD, Expert in health and safety

"The management of the crisis in Serbia", Vladimir DJORDJEVIC, Confederal Councilor CFTC

As part of the protection missions of France and Europe, in particular the fight against terrorism: "Presentation of the activities of the 2nd foreign legion parachute regiment, based in Calvi", General Alain BOUQUIN

Seminar results

The experiences of the countries participating in the Seminar are quite similar:

-Containment measures paralysing the economies of all countries (on average decrease of 8% of GDP).

-Use of debt to finance emergency aid measures for businesses.

-But difference in social treatment. Maintenance of full salary in the context of partial activity in France. Significant drop in remuneration in Romania for example.

-Ask workers to continue working from home, developing teleworking, while taking care of their families (schools often are closed).

-Violent and extremely damaging social impact on the physical and mental health of workers and their families.

The social partners were on the whole kept away from the “management” of this crisis, even if, for example, in France, they are consulted, we cannot speak of a real association with crisis management.

Overall, and like workers, companies suffer significant damage without their representatives being really involved in measures taken at national and European level.


The trade unions and employers alike must adapt and once again become forces of proposals through concrete social dialogue, in many cases the organisation of work should be rethought. The company cannot be understood as a "virtual" structure, "disconnected" from space and time. One of the priorities is to ensure the protection of workers who are sociable human beings and not machines. We cannot isolate each worker and ask him to spend 8 hours or more in front of his computer purely and simply "producing". In this regard, the workers' organization Fidestra (Portugal) encourages participants to think, when talking about teleworking, more about the notion of objectives rather than more classically to the notion of working time. In France, the social partners have succeeded in entering into formal negotiations for the conclusion of a national inter-professional agreement on teleworking. A European directive on the issue would be welcomed.

Finally, more autonomy in the professional sectors which know their specificities and can best organise themselves; accordingly this would be a guarantee of realism and efficiency. It means putting the principle of subsidiarity into action, which must not remain just a principle but become a reality.


More than ever, it appears that the national and European social partners are effective and essential players. Responses that can be provided in times of health crisis are the best guarantors of the protection of workers and their families in the world of work.