COVID-19: Report from Patrick Fey, CESI Vice-President and President of the CNV Government and Public Services

Current situation in the Netherlands

The first case of COVID-19 came to our country at the end of February. Today, on April the 6th, as I write this article, there are more than 17.000 confirmed cases. Most of the people who were tested positively live in the southern province of Noord-Brabant.

Like in every other country, the actual number of COVID-19 infections in the Netherlands is likely to be higher than the number of reports as not everyone suspected of a COVID-19 infection is tested.

This extreme situation needs extreme measures to be taken.

Measures to fight the virus

Every country has chosen its own approach in the fight against the virus. The Dutch approach: maximum control of the virus (‘flattening the curve’). That should lead to a controlled spread among the groups least at risk.

Maximum control means taking measures to reduce the peak in infections and stagger those infections over a longer period. By taking this approach, one in which most people will experience only minor symptoms, the Netherlands can build population immunity and make sure that its healthcare system is able to cope.

The aim is to stop nursing homes, home care services, hospitals and, above all, intensive care units becoming overwhelmed. And to make sure they always have enough capacity to help the people who need it most.

… and the economic damage caused by it

The Dutch government has decided to implement a series of unprecedented economic measures. The measures are designed not only to protect our health, but also to protect people’s jobs and livelihoods and to minimize the impact on self-employed people, small and medium-sized enterprises and major companies.

Under the newly announced measures, billions of euros will be invested into the economy every month, for as long as necessary. The measures will ensure that companies are able to pay their employees’ wages, grant a bridging arrangement for self-employed people and allow companies to hang on to their money through relaxed tax provisions, allowances and supplemental lines of credit.[1]

Reaction of CNV to governmental measures

My reaction to the measures taken by the Dutch cabinet: ‘The emergency package announced on March 17 is enormous. And that is good. If the government does not act (and no one else can but the government), thousands of companies go bankrupt and hundreds of thousands of people lose work and income’.

My colleague, CNV chairman, Piet Fortuin, stated: ‘With this package, the cabinet offers some help to the workers in the Netherlands. A ray of light at the times of uncertainty. The cabinet gives employers 90% compensation for the continued payment of salaries. An operation of unprecedented size. The billion-dollar injection to continue to pay all salaries, which the CNV urgently requested, has been largely honored’.

But not all the workers will be able to fully profit from the measures taken, especially workers with flex contracts remain extremely vulnerable. ‘Many of them are already on the street. It is crucial that they are not left out and that they benefit from these measures’, Fortuin said.

Public services are the services of the utmost importance

This crisis has a major impact on everyone’s daily lives. Children cannot go to school, elderly may no longer see their beloved ones, social contacts at work are banned, no activities are allowed in sports associations. There will be no birthday parties with family and friends, no church services, concerts or any kind of cultural events – for an indefinite period of time. People will have to get used to ‘online’ instead of ‘live’ social contacts. The impacts are difficult to assess, but they will be deep.

The importance of the work of public services for keeping society together is now more evident than ever. Our society will only continue to function if workers employed in crucial professions can do their job.

Especially workers in government and public services, in the health and welfare sectors are of crucial importance for care, safety, crisis management, enforcement, payment of benefits, energy and electricity supply, water and waste management etc.

….especially the healthcare services

All the public sector workers nowadays are under enormous pressure. But of all the public sectors, the health sector workers are by far the most affected. My colleague, the chairwoman of health and welfare sector, Anneke Westerlaken, is in continuous dialog with the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. The biggest problem health workers are facing is the lack of protective equipment. Mrs Westerlaken emphasizes that all possibilities must be exploited to fix this, knowing that this of course also has priority in the regions and at the Ministry.

In care institutions, time should be made available to get some sleep, eat quietly or relax. Professionals must be able to decide for themselves which administrative tasks are (temporarily) unnecessary. The Dutch cabinet acknowledges the impact on the health professionals. A motion to give healthcare personnel a bonus for their extra efforts in tackling the coronavirus received the unanimous support of the House. She has stated: ‘It’s very good that the cabinet is also showing its appreciation for the care staff in this way’.

With all measures taken, Dutch society is fighting the crisis and is on its way to recovery. But we are not there yet, not even close. It’s a long and difficult process. For the Netherlands and for the rest of the EU.

We must face this together

I believe that only if we all act together and co-operate, we will be able to overcome the challenges we are facing. The coronavirus does not take borders, languages, cultures and economies into account. As global citizens, we are all affected. In times of worry and crisis people are aware of their own vulnerability and that of their neighbours. Therefore, it’s important that all the people take care of each other, pay more attention to each other’s needs and help those in need. The whole of Europe is gripped by the pandemic. Researchers collaborate in the search for a drug or best practices in treatment. Let’s also learn and support each other as countries where possible. Cooperation is more important than ever. Therefore, the CNV supports CESI in its appeal for international solidarity.

Patrick Fey, CESI Vice-President and President of the CNV Government and Public Services

Dutch National Federation of Christian Trade Unions ‘Connectief’