PSI, Trade Unions and Civil Society Organisations Demand TRIPS Waiver in Melbourne – Unions For Trade Justice

PSI, Trade Unions and Civil Society Organisations Demand TRIPS Waiver in Melbourne

It is a matter of tragic historical irony that the World Trade Organization’s Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12) has been indefinitely postponed by the very thing that advocates of a waiver on intellectual property rules for Covid-19 vaccines have spent over a year warning of: the emergence of new strains of the virus due to a failure to vaccinate the world. Despite the setback posed by the emergence of the Omicron strain, unions and civil society organisations across every continent participated in a day of action on 30 November 2021 with a clear and direct message for those governments delaying: TRIPS Waiver Now!

Since 2020, PSI affiliates in Australia have campaigned for the conservative neoliberal government to stop blocking the TRIPS waiver. Actions have included Facebook Live event co-organised by PSI and the New South Wales Nurses and Midwives Association, putting frontline health workers at the forefront of the campaign. A strong civil society coalition has grown in the country, resulting in a big win when the Morrison government publicly announced support for the waiver in September 2021.

Consequently, the Australian actions focused on countries still blocking the waiver. In Melbourne, a group of protestors gathered for a vigil outside the city’s German consulate. Representatives from Public Services International (PSI), Friends of the Earth, Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU),  Union Aid Abroad (APHEDA), the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET), Public Health Association Australia, and several other organisations, observed a minute’s silence after listening to speeches from PSI’s Asia Pacific Regional Secretary Kate Lappin amongst others.

Kate noted that without “generic vaccines and generic treatments, the world will be facing a prolonged pandemic” that would disproportionately effect “health workers, frontline workers, and people in low-income countries.” As Asia Pacific Regional Secretary of the Global Union Federation representing health workers, Kate said that “at least 125,000 health workers around the world have already died,” drawing cries of ‘shame’ from the crowd. This tragedy could be prevented, but the use of trade rules to protect the profits of companies like Pfizer, backed by governments such as Germany’s, has been a block on any progress.

This sentiment was echoed by the signs held by those gathered, including one in the shape of a coffin which read ‘Delay = Death’.

The event received media coverage from The Mandarin, an Australian publication focused on public sector affairs, and SBS, Australia’s publicly owned multicultural broadcaster. It was also the subject of discussion on social media, with Twitter threads about the action being widely liked and retweeted.

Despite the postponement of MC12, the events of 30 November show that the majority clearly support the TRIPS Waiver as a necessary step to achieve vaccine equity. It is time those dragging their heals put people over corporate profit before the situation worsens further.


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