Peter Schmidt: "We need to shift towards an economy of wellbeing"

German trade unionist Peter Schmidt gives us an insight into the challenges faced by trade unions in his country amid furloughs and dismissals on the one hand and essential workers putting their safety on the line on the other.

How are you experiencing this coronavirus crisis?

I have the feeling that we are living in surreal times and discovering how vulnerable our societies and economies are.

What has this crisis meant for you and your organisation?

For me as a trade unionist it is essential that we come together and communicate with one another. Freedom of association is a core element of our democracy. We are seeing how important this right is and realising that we will have to fight to preserve it in the future.

In some cases, where we had excellent relations with employers, we found ways to keep the social dialogue alive and we struck some very good win-win agreements. But in other cases both the workers and the companies lost out.

How did you experience the lockdown?

The most striking thing for me was to see so much social solidarity between neighbours and friends. I was also struck by how the pace of society slowed down.

What did you miss most during this difficult time?

Meeting friends and family, going to restaurants.

What lessons can be learned from the lockdown?

That the most important people in our society are nurses, shop assistants, rubbish collectors, caretakers and so on, and yet that they have the lowest salaries. The virus has exposed our economic weakness, which is why we need a shift towards an economy of wellbeing.

What hope is there for those whose jobs are threatened?

That the Member States have learned their lessons and will support them for much longer than their contracts cover them for.

Who are the first people you want to see when this is over?

My mother. She is in a rest home that is still locked down.