Economy, Latest on coronavirus outbreak

COVID-19: Promoting social dialogue key to protect workers

Effective social dialogue between workers, employers and governments makes exit from crisis easier, says expert

Aysu Biçer   | 19.04.2020
COVID-19: Promoting social dialogue key to protect workers


Tens of millions of workers around the world are on the verge of losing jobs amid coronavirus pandemic, the UN labor agency said, raising a need for promoting social dialogue among governments, employers and workers on policy making during times of crisis.

On Friday, the International Labour Organization (ILO) announced that workplace closures have risen so fast that 81% of the global workforce lives in countries with mandatory or recommended closures.

"In upper-middle-income countries, this represents 87% of the workforce and 70% in high-income countries,” said Guy Ryder, the ILO Director-General.

He added COVID-19 is now also impacting the developing world where capacities and resources to respond to the crisis are severely constrained, calling on the IMF and World Bank to focus their response on enabling immediate relief to workers.

The ILO has also shown that working hours will decline 6.7%in the second quarter of 2020, which is equivalent to the loss of 195 million full-time jobs.

Although many countries have announced major rescue packages to alleviate the economic effects of COVID-19 on the world of work, the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on economy, globally.

Social dialogue key to protect workers

"The effects of these packages are more likely to be positively felt in countries where workers are organized and make their voices heard," Numan Ozcan, representative of ILO in Turkey, told Anadolu Agency.

Numan Ozcan, Representative of ILO in Turkey

This is the reason why the ILO strongly advises promoting social dialogue that include all types of negotiation among governments, employers and workers on policymaking during times of crisis, Ozcan added.

The main goal of social dialogue itself is to promote consensus building and democratic involvement among the main stakeholders in the world of work.

"Countries with successful social dialogue processes have the potential to handle economic crises that deeply affect society," the ILO representative stressed, noting lessons from past crises showed the importance of social reconciliation in forming social economic policies in such circumstances.

Pointing at the current measures taken by governments all around the world, he emphasized many countries actually mobilized the minimum social protection floors that ILO recommends.

Assessing this as a positive development, he said many countries started providing income support to low-income families regardless of the type and length of their employment.

In February, Ozcan said, a few countries announced measures for social protection but this number rose to 46 countries in March as the negative impact of the virus got worsen.

Also admitting remarkable challenges facing workers in benefiting from the social protection during the coronavirus, he said that 60% of employees in the world of work are in the informal economy.

"Mostly operating in developing countries, these fragile workers are excluded from the social security system," he said.

In order to benefit from the short-time working allowance, for example, an employee must first be in this system in order to reach the economic benefits packages, the ILO representative said.

"The ILO suggests governments to extend social protection during such crisis periods to all people regardless of their past employment history," he stressed.

Post-coronavirus scenario 

Ozcan said the importance of unionism has become more evident due to the negative fallouts of the coronavirus.

He said in the Scandinavian countries, the proportion of employees in unions ranges from 70% to 90%, and economic measures to protect the rights of workers are mostly based on common consensus.

Although the proportion of workers in unions is not very high in France, yet the rate of benefiting from collective bargaining is high, meaning even if the worker is not a union member, he or she can still benefit from the collective agreement made in certain sector is high, he said.

“In countries where social dialogue is strong, we see that the exit from a crisis will be quicker,” the ILO representative said.

“In the post-coronavirus era, depending on the choices we make, either we [people] will evolve towards a completely dispersed society or people will better understand the importance of organizing in the world of work,” Ozcan said.

He said if people start working remotely, they will not come together and so they will find it more difficult to organize. He added it will be more difficult for unions to organize employees.

Yet, he noted, it will be still necessary for governments and employers to comply with international minimum labor standards such as right to organize occupational safety and health and social protection in the post-coronavirus era.

Also social dialogue, collective bargaining agreements and sectoral level agreements will be more important than ever in terms protecting people working in new ways of employment, Ozcan concluded.

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