COVID-19 and the return to work: adapting, protecting and restarting

An international study seminar dedicated to “COVID-19 and the return to work: adapting, protecting and restarting” was held in Rome on 11 and 12 June 2021. The seminar was organised by MCL/EFAL (Movimento Cristiano Lavoratori/Ente Nazionale per la Formazione e l'Addestramento dei Lavoratori), with support of EZA and of the European Union. The seminarwas organised in a hybrid way, and was attended by 61 representatives of workers’ organisations from France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Croatia, Greece and Bulgaria.

The meeting was opened after welcoming the participants by the General President of MCL, Antonio Di Matteo, who outlined the theme of the seminar and the two day schedule.

The first speaker was Professor Francesco Seghezzi who spoke about the impact of Covid-19 on the world of work and what damage it caused to the economy. Lockdown measures to limit physical contact have been developed in an effort to stop the pandemic and have led to an unprecedented closure of workplaces worldwide. The speaker highlighted how all this had obvious repercussions: according to Eurofound only already in April 2020 5% of European workers lost their jobs, while 23% temporarily suspended their work. It is above all the people under-35 who have been most affected by the crisis, losing their jobs or recording a stoppage of work.

We then had a report on how to compare two countries strongly affected by Covid 19: France by the intervention of Joseph Thouvenel, Vice President of the CFTC, and Portugal by the intervention of EZA Vice President, Maria Reina Martin. In this comparison, the impact of the pandemic on women and young people was highlighted. Women are undoubtedly the most affected by the socio-economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 epidemic. The closure of schools and the extension of smart work, still without a clear regulation to protect workers, have only aggravated an already precarious condition.

Paolo Cesana, director of the Luigi Clerici Foundation spoke about the role of vocational training and the transformation of this increasingly digitalised economy. Alfonso Luzzi, member of CNEL (Consiglio Nazionale dell'Economia e del Lavoro) board and National Vice President MCL, spoke about the impact of the pandemic on workers and large organisational structures of Italy. According to the latest data published by Istat, the sector most affected by the decline in employment in 2020 is that related to services, which show an average annual reduction of 2.7% compared to 2019. In strong contrast, in this case comes the construction sector, which does not seem to have suffered the negative impact of Covid-19. The sector experienced an average annual growth in employment between 2019 and 2020 of 1.39%. From this point of view, in all economic sectors the average annual decline between 2020 and 2019 reached 1.95%, which corresponds to approximately 456,000 workers.

Following by illustrating the Spanish situation, returning to the impact of Covic 19 on women was Carmen Quintanilla, president of Afammer (Asociación de familias y mujeres del medio rural). After the lunch break, the last session took place with the round table chaired by the President of EFAL, Sergio Silvani, on the topic "The job crisis in the pandemic season: restarting in safety and confrontation in the social partners": Vanja Gavran from Croatia, Veselin Mitov from Bulgaria, Ignacio Argote from Spain and Vincenzo Conso from Italy.


In the presentations and subsequent discussions of the seminar, it became clear that the main victims of the economic and social crisis caused by the Covid 19 pandemic were workers in Europe, in particular women, young people and workers from certain sectors. Workers' organisations, whose voice was not always sufficiently heard in connection with emergency measures taken by governments in some European countries at the beginning of the crisis, must therefore - according to one of the conclusions of the seminar - insist that they now play a key role in the implementation of the reconstruction plans and they must make the social dialogue, which suffered during the crisis due to the need for physical distance, again into an effective instrument for shaping good industrial relations.

As Piergiorgio Sciacqua, Co-President of EZA, underlined in his closing remarks, the connection between good social dialogue and good working conditions had already been shown in previous studies and manifested itself again in the Covid 19 crisis. The contribution of a good and trusting social dialogue at the intersectoral and sectoral level is also indispensable for building capacity and strengthening the social partners, in collective bargaining, changes in employment and work-related challenges, especially after the Covid crisis.

In the discussions, the employee representatives present in the seminar pointed out that the task ahead of them and to be mastered in the near future was threefold: In addition to overcoming the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic, for them it was also about the employment, social and economic address challenges identified in the European Pillar of Social Rights and other key European Commission documents such as the European Green Deal and the JustTransition Mechanism.