Ei-iE

Education unions in Germany, the UK, Switzerland, Canada, the USA and South Africa call on governments to support vaccine equity

published 16 December 2021 updated 4 January 2022

Education International member organisations in Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Canada, the United States of America and South Africa are calling on governments to support the temporary waiver of intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines and treatments at the World Trade Organization. If adopted, the waiver would enable an expansion of vaccine production across the world, thus helping to ensure equitable access to vaccines for all.

The temporary waiver of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) on Covid-19 vaccines was first proposed by South Africa and India in October 2020. Ever since, it has garnered the support of over 100 countries around the world. Only a few wealthy countries oppose the waiver and actively choose to defend the profits of pharmaceutical companies during a deadly pandemic which has caused more than 5 million deaths worldwide and continues to ravage the most vulnerable. The United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Germany, through the European Commission, are the main opponents of the waiver.

Together with the global union movement, Education International is an active supporter and advocate for the TRIPS Waiver. Global Unions recently published a statement highlighting the urgency to act in light of the new Omicron variant and mobilised member organisations at the national level in support of the waiver. Education International affiliates in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland have reached out to their governments to call for a change of position on the TRIPS waiver. In addition, education unionists in Canada, the United States and South Africa have called on governments to engage constructively in negotiations on the waiver.

Germany

In Germany, Education International member organisation Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft (GEW) has been a strong supporter of the TRIPS waiver. GEW is part of a broad civil society coalition working to convince the German government to support the waiver and prioritise lives, not big pharma profits.

Reacting to the plans of the new coalition government, GEW criticised its decision to continue the policy of opposing the TRIPS Waiver. Maike Finnern, GEW Chairwoman, stated: “The refusal to agree to the waiver of patents at the World Trade Organization does not only have devastating consequences for people's lives and access to education in the Global South, where vaccination rates are low. Ultimately, it also jeopardises the successful global fight against pandemics.”

GEW is also reaching out to various Ministers of the new government to lobby in support of the Waiver and for vaccine equity.

United Kingdom

On December 7th, the National Education Union, the largest education union in the UK, wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to demand equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Waiving patents, transferring technology and spreading vaccination across the world offers the best chance of avoiding further variants that might once again impact on education in our own country.”

The Education Institute of Scotland (EIS), Scotland’s largest teaching union, also called on Boris Johnson to change tack and support the TRIPS waiver without delay.

Switzerland

The Syndicat des enseignants romands (SER) called on the Swiss government to support the TRIPS Waiver at the World Trade Organisation. In a letter addressed to Alain Berset, Member of the Swiss Federal Council and Head of the Home Department of Federal Affairs, the Education International affiliate stated:

“It is paramount that governments come together to find constructive and effective solutions to overcome intellectual property rights barriers to end this pandemic. Therefore, we urge you to support the proposed TRIPS waiver to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 medical products globally.”

Canada

In Canada, Education International member organisation Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ) has written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to Minister for International Trade Mary Ng, and to Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos, to stress the importance of the TRIPS Waiver in the fight against the pandemic.

The education union called on the Canadian government to adopt a more active position in support of the waiver and work to convince opposing governments to engage in negotiations for the temporary suspension of intellectual property rights on Covid19 vaccines and treatments.

United States and South Africa

Randi Weingarten and Mugwena Maluleke, members of Education International’s Executive Board, came together with one voice to appeal to the moral leadership of wealthy nations in the global fight against the pandemic:

In their respective countries, the American Federation of Teachers and the South African Democratic Teachers' Union have been at the forefront of the fight for equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines worldwide. In their joint call to action, the two leaders stress the importance of the temporary waiver to develop the production and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, diagnostics and treatments:

“Unfortunately, the consequences of this pandemic don’t seem convincing enough for pharmaceutical companies to freely share their know-how with producers across the globe. That information needs to be shared, and a TRIPS waiver is the way to do it. By supporting the waiver, our countries’ governments and leaders from the world’s wealthy nations can ensure corporate greed does not trump human life.”