COVID-19 is disrupting the lives and livelihoods of billions of workers across the globe. On the occasion of International Workers’ Day, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) underlined the need for governments, workers and employers to continue their concerted efforts to combat the outbreak, ensure public health, and safeguard workers’ fundamental rights now and in the future.
Partial or full lockdown measures currently in place by governments affect over 80% of the global workforce, estimates the International Labour Organization.
The agency pointed out how the population’s ‘lockdown’ has an immediate impact across most economic sectors as employers sent workers home. Some sectors like catering and tourism are particularly hard hit.
Some workers could work remotely from home. However, many in lower paid jobs – factory-workers, waiters and receptionists, for example – could not.
As many businesses, large and small, are likely to fail, experts fear unemployment to continue to rise sharply.
Impact on rights
Employers may also circumvent rights that protect workers from unjustified dismissal and offer social security and social assistance.
Workers with informal employment agreements, and limited access to healthcare and social protection before the pandemic, are particularly at risk now.
Without support, they face a strong chance of falling into poverty. In addition, finding work again may be harder once economies start to recover.
Some workers’ right to engage in work may disproportionately suffer due to the restrictions in place. These include parents of young children and single parent families, employees with health issues and disabilities, and migrant workers transported to work in agriculture or to provide social care.
There is also concern about fair and just working conditions. Reports also arose of some employers not heeding government requirements to contain the virus and putting their workers at risk of infection by not respecting physical distancing rules.
Some governments also relaxed or suspended rules on working time restrictions. This resulted from the additional pressure on sectors like health and social care, and food production and distribution, to tackle the pandemic.
In the health sector and in supermarkets, this can affect women disproportionately.
By working together, policymakers can deliver immediate relief to workers and enterprises. This can support business through these difficult times so they can protect the rights of their workers and their ability to work.
Ultimately, this would favour a faster and more sustainable recovery for everyone once the pandemic is under control.
Some countries are starting to emerge from lockdown and are easing restrictions.
The EU and national governments agreed on various economic stimulus packages to shore up business and workers’ immediate needs.
Most EU governments have committed to paying a proportion of employees’ wages of those affected by the pandemic. They also offer additional financial support in the form of moratoriums on mortgage payments and support for renters.
In addition, governments have put in place a range of different measures to support at risks groups and self-employed workers.
The European Commission is working on a range of pan-European measures to support national governments respond to the needs of employers and workers after governments contain the outbreak.
By working together, economies can restart and Europe can restart jobs and opportunities for its workers.