European Foundation
for the Improvement of
Living and Working Conditions

The tripartite EU agency providing knowledge to assist
in the development of better social, employment and
work-related policies

COVID-19 EU PolicyWatch

Database of national-level responses

Eurofound's COVID-19 EU PolicyWatch collates information on the responses of government and social partners to the crisis, as well as gathering examples of company practices aimed at mitigating the social and economic impacts.

Factsheet for case EU-2021-37/2009 – measures in European Union

Trade unions call for equal and free access to vaccines (also outside the EU)

Country European Union , applies eu-wide (or beyond)
Time period Open ended, started on 09 September 2021
Type Other initiatives or policies
Category Protection of workers, adaptation of workplace
– Occupational health and safety
Author Eurofound
Case created 11 September 2021 (updated 28 September 2021)

Background information

For many months, there has been a campaign for the temporary suspension of the provisions of The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights under the World Trade Organization (so-called TRIPS waiver). It is about ensuring that patents and copyrights cannot become an obstacle to timely and affordable access to the vaccines needed to combat COVID-19. This campaign is supported by European trade unions, led by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), and one of the main opponents is the European Commission, which is looking for other solutions to effectively fight the pandemic. Already in February 2021, the ETUC called on the Commission to change this position, and on 9 September 2021 it repeated this call. In addition, some industry trade union federations signed on 29 June 2021 to a joint letter from civil society organizations around the world urging the EU to work actively for TRIPS waiver.

Content of measure

The ETUC renews its calls on the European Commission to support the patent waivers for Covid-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization after Australia withdrew its opposition to the proposal. The ETUC notes that currently the European Union by refusing to accept the TRIPS waiver is among just half a dozen WTO members opposing the proposal and lining up with Brazilian President Bolsonaro.

The basic demands of European trade unions as regards vaccination remain unchanged as expressed in the statement of February 2021:

  • Production and distribution based on the needs of the people rather than the need to keep the demand higher than the supply in order to maintain or increase the price of the vaccines.
  • Free administration of vaccines, starting with the most vulnerable groups, including frontline and core workers and workers unable to walk physically.
  • Exemption from copyright provisions of the WTO TRIPS Agreement for Covid-19 Vaccines, Drugs and Medical Equipment. Patents and copyrights should remain open to allow countries to develop vaccines freely, including through Covax, and prevent the creation of a monopoly by a handful of large pharmaceutical companies.
  • Moreover, it is crucial to reverse cuts to public health and social protection systems that have left EU Member States completely unprepared for the pandemic and the economic crisis.

Use of measure

n.a.

Target groups

Workers Businesses Citizens
Applies to all workers Applies to all businesses Applies to all citizens

Actors and funding

Actors Funding
EU (Council, EC, EP)
No special funding required

Social partners

Social partners' role in designing the measure and form of involvement:

Trade unions Employers' organisations
Role Agreed (outcome) incl. social partner initiative No involvement
Form Any other form of consultation, institutionalised (as stable working groups or committees) or informal Not applicable

Social partners' role in the implementation, monitoring and assessment phase:

  • Only trade unions
  • Main level of involvement: EU level

Involvement

An independent initiative of trade unions in line with the appeals of many non-governmental organizations.

Views and reactions

Trade unions are supportive to their own initiative.

Employers' organizations (BusinessEurope) seem to be distanced, in particular from the idea of TRIPS waiver.

Sources

  • 17 February 2021: Statement on Covid vaccines: people must come before profit (www.etuc.org)
  • 22 February 2021: Letter to European Commission on Covid vaccines (www.etuc.org)
  • 29 June 2021: Letter to the European Commission and EU Member States to support equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines (haiweb.org)
  • 09 September 2021: EU must join Australia in supporting vaccine waiver (www.etuc.org)

Citation

Eurofound (2021), Trade unions call for equal and free access to vaccines (also outside the EU), case EU-2021-37/2009 (measures in European Union), COVID-19 EU PolicyWatch, Dublin, http://eurofound.link/covid19eupolicywatch

Disclaimer: This information has not been subject to the full Eurofound evaluation, editorial and publication process. All information is preliminary and subject to change.