COVID-19: 98% of world’s workers not getting the basic support they need

A new global study from the ITUC and UNI Global Union has found that 98% of the world’s workers are not getting the sick pay, wage replacement and social benefits they need to address the challenges of COVID-19.

This ground-breaking global analysis ranked 181 governmental responses to the pandemic and places Argentina at the top. Just over half of the governments in the study recognise Covid-19 as an occupational disease through a formal regulatory process.

The report, Covid-19: An Occupational Disease – Where frontline workers are best protected, analyses and ranks the levels of worker compensation, social security programmes and public health systems. It includes 124 countries, as well as 37 US states, 13 Canadian provinces and territories, and seven Australian states.

  • The top five countries in the report were Argentina, followed by Austria, Sweden, France, and Spain.
  • The overall top ten rated jurisdictions in the study represent only 2% of the world’s working population.

Just over half (98 jurisdictions) recognise Covid-19 as an occupational disease through a formal regulatory process, enabling people who have contracted coronavirus at work access to social protections and entitlements—such as sick pay, medical care, and wage replacement—that would otherwise be denied.

This recognition is particularly important for workers who suffer from long-COVID and other ongoing complications from the disease.

The ITUC and UNI Global Union are making five key policy recommendations to ensure better support for frontline workers:

  1. Automatic qualification for benefits related to Covid-19 illness.
  2. Coverage for all workers regardless of the employment relationship.
  3. Reliable data collection.
  4. Inclusion of a general occupational infectious disease category in laws and policy.
  5. Paid sick leave for testing and recovery.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC’s General Secretary, said: “We cannot let frontline workers fall through the cracks without social protection. A resilient recovery needs a new social contract, giving workers the best possible chance of getting the benefits and compensation they deserve, with a Global Fund for Social Protection as the first step towards universal rights. To do that, we call on the International Labour Organization to recognise Covid-19 as an occupational disease urgently, as part of the drive towards making occupational health and safety a fundamental right.”

Just over a year ago, on International Workers’ Memorial Day 2020, global unions, including UNI Global Union and the ITUC, called for Covid-19 to be recognised as an occupational disease. This report shows that progress has been made but there is much more to be done.

Other key findings:

  • Only 10 jurisdictions (5.5%) received top ratings indicating good or very good provisions for wage replacement, medical treatment, sick pay, and death benefits.
  • Sick pay was available in 104 jurisdictions, meaning that almost 43% of workers had no access to paid sick leave.
  • Only 6% of the studied jurisdictions had presumptive rules, regulations, laws or policies that give automatic access without proof to medical treatment and wage replacement for all workers. However, when healthcare workers are considered, this percentage rose to 17%.
  • Argentina received the top score for a country, showing that strong support for workers does not depend on a nation’s wealth.
  • In Germany and the Nordic countries, existing legislation on infectious diseases means that workers who contract Covid-19 have automatic access to sick leave, wage replacement and medical care. No formal change was needed to the legislation to support workers. They provide some of the best examples of how a country could prepare for future pandemics.

For more information contact:

Tim Noonan, ITUC: [email protected].