Global perspective Human stories

Swift policy action, strong leadership can save millions of jobs, ‘avert the worst’ amid COVID-19 pandemic

Construction workers do road work in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Worldbank/Abbas Farzami
Construction workers do road work in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Swift policy action, strong leadership can save millions of jobs, ‘avert the worst’ amid COVID-19 pandemic

Economic Development

As dire forecasts about the global economy add to the anxiety surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN’s labour agency (ILO) on Thursday offered a range of urgent measures, which, if governments act quickly, can help to protect workers in the workplace, stimulate the economy and save millions of jobs.

Noting that the economic and labour crisis created by the pandemic could greatly increase worldwide unemployment, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said that an internationally-coordinated policy response – as happened in the 2008 financial crisis – could significantly lower the impact on global unemployment.

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“This is no longer only a global health crisis, it is also a major labour market and economic crisis that is having a huge impact on people”, said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “In 2008, the world presented a united front to address the consequences of the global financial crisis, and the worst was averted. We need that kind of leadership and resolve now”.

ILO’s new report, COVID-19 and the world of work: Impacts and responses, calls for urgent, large-scale measures across three pillars: protecting workers in the workplace; stimulating the economy and employment; and supporting jobs and incomes – each to include measures to extend social protections and support employment retention and financial and tax relief.

“In times of crisis like the current one, we have two key tools that can help mitigate the damage and restore public confidence”, said the ILO chief. 

He called the first, for social dialogue and to engage with workers, employers and their representatives, “vital for building public trust and support for the measures that we need to overcome this crisis”. 

According to Mr. Ryder, the second tool, for international labour standards, provides a “tried-and-trusted foundation” for policy responses that focus on a recovery that is sustainable and equitable. 

Protecting workers

To protect workers in the workplace, ILO advocated for teleworking and staggered hours; greater paid sick leave; occupational support – such as hotlines and dedicated websites; and to stem any and all discrimination and exclusion – including stigmatization.

Other protective measures include childcare support for working parents when schools and nurseries are closed. 

Kickstart the economic

Active fiscal and monetary policies, such as cutting interest rates, can stimulate the economy and accelerate employment, in line with the second pillar.

Tax breaks and waivers for social security contributions, as well as extending deadlines for mortgage payments and financially supporting specific sectors, including the health, can also help mitigate coronavirus-related economic impacts.

Support employment

ILO stated that work reduction, compensation arrangements and social assistance would help to support employment and incomes.

The UN agency pointed out that several countries are introducing financial support and tax relief, including for small merchants and that affected companies could also benefit from postponing social or tax installments, or even tax rebates in the most extreme or difficult situations. 

While these measures will help to contain the pandemic, to respond to the emergency needs it has generated and to pave the way to a gradual recovery, ILO acknowledged that more needs to be done. 

Looking back at past crises and the experiences of the countries that have reacted too late to the current COVID-19 crisis, ILO underscored the urgency of preparedness and early action.

“Everything needs to be done to minimize the damage to people at this difficult time”, concluded Mr. Ryder.