Coronavirus - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Photos: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

INTERNATIONAL: The International Transport Workers’ Federation of almost 700 trade unions representing nearly 20 million people in 150 countries has issued a list of five areas where it believes governments and employers must take action to protect employees during the coronavirus outbreak.

Describing the pandemic as ‘an unprecedented collective challenge’ for the world, ITF said it believed that existing international labour standards and the protection of labour rights would be crucial to the success of efforts to contain Covid-19.

It called for immediate action in five key areas.

Protecting workers vital to the Covid-19 response: ITF said people required to work in contact with others should receive enhanced income protection, with guaranteed compensation paid to their dependents in the case of Covid-19 infection leading to fatality or critical illness. They should be provided with regular free testing.

Putting health and safety first: ITF said governments and employers must work with unions to pinpoint threats to workers’ rights and welfare, and to take action to help stop the spread of Covid-19. There should be special attention to low-wage workers, including subcontracted or migrant workers, as well as women and workers with health conditions. Medical and personal information should be safeguarded, with information sharing needs-based and anonymised.

Income protection for all workers: including part-time, migrant, non-resident, precarious, gig and informal workers to ensure they can cover the cost of housing, electricity, food and other essential items. ITF said workers laid off or otherwise stood down should have their incomes protected, whether through collective bargaining as in Denmark or government payments as in New Zealand. Workers in non-standard, precarious jobs should be paid at least their average income over 12 months.

Government-led stimulus: ITF called on governments to spend money to protect jobs and the economy, including SMEs. It said ‘all corporate aid packages must put workers’ welfare and income first’ and ‘governments should take ownership of key transport companies where necessary.’ Multilateral institutions should ensure that all countries have the necessary resources to contain the virus, and there should training to equip workers for the post Covid-19 economy.

Maintaining sustainable supply chains: contracts should ensure that every employer in the supply chain takes action to protect workers, and employers should abide by existing labour standards.

‘The outbreak and spread of Covid-19 has once again served to highlight just how reliant humanity and global supply chains are on transport workers keeping the world moving’, said ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton on March 23, adding ‘I remind every member of our community to stop and think about how the food in grocery stores and the medicine in pharmacies got there.’