Education International and European affiliates from Spain and Italy took part in a high-level conference organised in Rome on 15 June by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) with the support of the three Italian unions CGIL, CISL and UIL.

This Trade Union Action on Refugees brought together union leaders and representatives from 22 European countries as well as representatives of the European Commission, the UNHCR, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

More than 25 union leaders took the floor to underline trade union support for a humanitarian and European response to the many men, women and children seeking shelter from conflict in the EU.

In particular, the leaders highlighted European trade unions' call for the EU and its Member States to 

  • support individuals and organisations that are working to give asylum-seekers a safe and decent life in Europe;
  • allocate EU funding to countries receiving refugees;
  • open legal safe routes for asylum-seekers and stop paying Turkey to escape their own international obligations;
  • integrate migrants and refugees into the labour market, ensuring equal pay and conditions for local and migrant workers;
  • invest in public services and economic growth to benefit both refugees and local communities.

In his introductory remarks, Luca Visentini, ETUC General Secretary, appealed European governments to their responsibility towards asylum-seekers and refugees arriving in Europe, to comply with their international obligations, describing as “inhumane” the recent EU-Turkey agreement. He also paid tribute to the commitment and professionalism of public and civil servants assisting newcomers and helping them resolve the many difficulties and obstacles they face upon arrival.

Susanna Camusso, CGIL General Secretary (Italy), underlined the importance for minors to integrate educational paths as soon as possible in their host country and stressed the importance of appropriate education policies in order to break migrant communities’ isolation, which fosters fear and suspicion.

In his intervention, Philippe Martinez, CGT General Secretary (France), emphasized that education and professional training as well as employment are the policy domains where trade unions can make a real difference. 

Annamaria Furlan, CISL General Secretary (Italy), highlighted that trade unions’ role goes beyond developing policy proposals and demands, by “mobilising people’s hearts and minds and promoting a culture of solidarity”.

The European trade union movement adopted a declaration with concrete demands to EU policy-makers, as well as commitment from trade unions on the matter: ‘The European Trade Union movement demands humane assistance and rights for refugees’.