ITUC Global Poll 2020 shows urgent need to repair the Social Contract

The annual global poll commissioned by the 200 million-member International Trade Union Confederation shows working people and their families were living on the edge before the pandemic that stopped the world – Covid-19.

The poll shows that working people are struggling with a global wages slump: three-quarters of people (75%) say their income has stagnated or fallen behind.

“The economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic have been layered on top of a pre-existing crisis of low-wage and insecure jobs. Every second person has no financial buffer, no ability to save for the tough times ahead and relies on every pay cheque to survive. Without savings or a safety net, millions of people entered the pandemic with a choice between working or starving,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

The poll, commissioned by the ITUC from global market research company YouGov, covers 16 countries representing 56% of the global population.

Carried out prior to the spread of Covid-19, the 2020 ITUC Global Poll gives a stark insight into a precarious world filled with anxiety about work and a lack of trust in government, but a clear demand among the majority of people for change.

The results of the poll conducted in February and March in Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States are a warning that governments must work with trade unions and civil society to ensure that recovery plans build trust and resilience.

More than two-thirds of people say they are worried about climate change (69%), rising inequality (69%), the misuse of personal data online (69%) and people losing their jobs (67%). These worries come at a time in 2020 when one in two people (52%) rate their own country’s economic situation as bad.

People are feeling powerless, with two out of three (66%) people across the countries surveyed saying that people like them do not have enough influence on the global economy. Almost as many (63%) believe working people have too little influence. In contrast, the majority of people believe that the richest 1% (65%) and corporate interests (57%) have too much influence.

These opinions culminate in the view held by almost three-quarters (71%) of people that their country’s economic system favours the wealthy. This view is held by the majority of people in every country surveyed and shows the widespread breakdown of the social contract.

The poll shows deep levels of uncertainty about family income and job security and people’s feelings of a loss of control over their work and pay:

  • Almost half (42%) of people think it is unlikely the next generation will find a decent job.
  • Over one-third (39%) have directly experienced unemployment or reduced working hours in the last two years, or someone in their household has experienced this.
  • Three quarters (76%) say the minimum wage is not enough to live on.
  • A third (33%) of people have experienced less control over their choice of decent work.
  • More than one in four (28%) have less control over the hours they work.

“The despair people feel is spilling over and resulting in a massive loss of trust in democracy as an institution. One out of every three people are angry or despairing when asked about how they felt about their government listening to them and the needs of their family. Re-building that trust will require a commitment of governments to the people that results in a future that is built on a very different set of priorities.

“The demand for change with the call for jobs, climate action and justice across many fronts is no longer a slogan. Leaders should have the confidence to commit to a New Social Contract knowing that they have the support of voters,” said Ms Burrow.

The poll showed strong support for governments to take action:

  • 70% of people want to see more action on a pay rise for workers.
  • 73% say governments should do more to make sure companies pay their fair share of taxes.
  • 74% say governments should create jobs by investing in care for older people, disabled people and pre-school-aged children.

Reform of these and other issues would help the public regain and rebuild their trust in government with half (52%) saying action on a list of seven policy areas covering wages and working conditions, climate action, the care economy and peace and security would lead them to trust their government more.

Climate change and the impact of new technology weighs heavily on the minds of the global population. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of people think their government should do more to promote a Just Transition to a zero-carbon future. People throughout the world are also concerned about the emerging issue of regulating large, international technology companies and protecting their (often vulnerable) workers.

“The power and dominance of big tech companies has only grown during the Covid-19 pandemic. There is a clear mandate for action when two-thirds of people want their governments to act and increase the taxes paid by these companies, with many (66%) saying they would support governments increasing regulation of these companies. People and governments must not be cowered by corporate power. The consequences for rights and democracy are too severe to be ignored,” said Ms Burrow.

The ITUC will present the findings of the 2020 ITUC Global Poll at a webinar looking at developments towards a New Social Contract in Argentina, Austria and Nigeria.


Contact: Gemma Swart at +32 479 06 41 63, [email protected], for interviews with Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, ITUC.

The seven policy areas to increase trust in government include:

  • Reduce the gap between the wages of highest earners and the lowest paid.
  • Hold companies to account for how they treat workers and the environment.
  • Commit to an international treaty to ban nuclear weapons.
  • Plan for a Just Transition to a zero-carbon future.
  • Increase taxes to pay for the care of children, the elderly and the sick.
  • Increase the minimum wage and commit to decent work.
  • Work for common solutions with other governments.

Read the full report with top line results here.

The findings of the ITUC global poll represent the opinion of 56% of the global population age 18+. YouGov carried out the fieldwork online from 12th February – 9th March. In each country, approximately 1000 people were interviewed, with a total of 18,281 responses. In three questions, China was replaced with Egypt, Indonesia and Mexico, with a total of 21,346 responses.