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Coronavirus – how unions across the world are delivering for workers

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Viruses don't respect borders. The only way to end this pandemic is by working together in global solidarity.

The coronavirus crisis has shown that longstanding union demands for decent sick pay, employment protection, a voice at work, free healthcare, flexible working and public ownership of key industries are the best way to protect jobs and livelihoods both now and in the future.

Governments have been forced to look beyond the market and work with unions and employers to take bold action to save lives and economies.

No one knows more about sectors and workplaces than the unions who represent workers in them, which is why governments have been calling on them to advise when times are tough.

As a result, trade unions around the world have been reaching tripartite agreements with governments and employers.

This process is known as social dialogue, and it needs to be integrated into the way all governments interact with unions going forward.

Tripartite deals around the world

The UN’s International Labour Organisation enshrines tripartite consultation on international labour standards (which cover a broad range of employment and economic issues) as one of its main principles.

Over 140 UN member states have pledged to uphold that principle, but many government only started to deliver on that commitment and work with social partners once it became clear that coronavirus threatened millions of jobs across the world.

The ILO has set out three pillars to fight Covid-19 based on international labour standards, which include protecting workers in the workplace, stimulating the economy and labour demand, and supporting employment and incomes.

We’re already seeing governments responding to that challenge, including the introduction of the UK’s first job retention scheme and some support for the self-employed.

In Denmark, in consultation with unions and employers, the government was one of the first to announce a comprehensive wage subsidy scheme that substantially expanded an existing scheme.

Where employees were at risk of being laid off, the Danish government will cover 75 percent of a full-time employee’s monthly salary, with the remaining 25 percent paid by the company. Short-term and temporary workers are also covered, with the government covering up to 90 percent of the salary.

In New Zealand, the government also announced an economic package following consultation with unions and employers. This included an 80 per cent wage subsidy scheme mostly aimed at small businesses, as well as state aid to help larger businesses on a case-by-case basis (such as a loan to keep the national carrier Air New Zealand afloat).

In Spain, unions and the government agreed a package of individual employment rights allowing flexible working so that workers can look after children or dependent parents. Unless it isn’t possible or represents a disproportionate burden for the company, the employee can decide to work different hours or under different conditions (work rotation, home-working, etc.) and continue to receive full pay.

Spanish unions have also been at the forefront of protecting workers.

The UGT Comercio and CCOO Servicios unions secured a sectoral deal in supermarkets reducing working hours, increasing part-time staff, and providing shop staff with masks and gloves.

Global solidarity

Trade unions have long believed that our common struggle for better work for all is an international one. Now more than ever, global cooperation to beat this virus is needed.

Countries need to work together to share information, strategy and medical equipment. The arrival of Cuban doctors in Italy was a beacon of international solidarity in the fight against the virus.

We also welcome the UK government’s increased aid to the World Health Organisation’s Emergency Flash Appeal to support the effort fighting the spread in developing countries.

The ITUC is calling for a new social contract to guarantee a floor of rights and protections and tackle exploitation in global supply chains, and to rebuild the world economy after the crisis.

For too long, corporations and developed countries have conspired to offshore exploitation, which has reduced labour’s share of global wealth.

Workers are pulling together to deal with this crisis, so when the world recovers from this outbreak they must share in the recovery too.

Viruses don't respect borders. The only way to end this pandemic is by working together in global solidarity.

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