ITUC Global COVID-19 Survey: Half of countries in lockdown as COVID-19 pandemic wreaks health and economic havoc on working people and their families

Over half of all countries surveyed (53%) are containing the spread of the coronavirus with national lock-down measures, the closure of schools and non-essential businesses. Six out of fifteen G20 countries which are the drivers of the global economy closed non-essential businesses between 17-23 March 2020 and only 50% of countries are providing free health care.

“The financial and humanitarian impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will stay with us for many years to come if governments don’t protect workers, supply chains and small business. As shops close and demand falls in G20 countries which are the engine of the global economy, the impact on global supply chains and the millions of workers who livelihoods depend on them will be felt in the weeks to come.

G20 leaders in their virtual meeting this week have no excuse to be caught off guard – if workers can see the crisis before them so should world leaders. Only by planning for a humanitarian and economic crisis for the year ahead will we protect people’s lives and livelihoods and stabilise the economy, ” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, ITUC.

The global health and economic consequences of the pandemic are exposed in the first ITUC Global COVID-19 survey of 109 trade unions in 86 countries, including 28 out of 36 OECD countries and fifteen G20 countries.

The survey carried out is part of a regular monitoring of government and employer responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ITUC will ask regular tracking questions of trade union affiliates over the coming months.

“The economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are widespread and the WHO says the pandemic is accelerating. Half of all governments surveyed have closed non-essential businesses (excluding supermarkets and pharmacies). Six out of 15 (40%) of G20 countries surveyed - the largest economies in the world - have closed non-essential business excluding supermarkets and pharmacies.

Despite these necessary changes, more countries (29%) are providing bail out funds for business than providing sick leave or part time leave, with only 23% of countries providing part time leave for carers and only 21% of countries providing sick leave for all or some workers. The early responses of many governments have been inadequate and as the situation changes rapidly, they need to step up,” said Sharan Burrow.

Health workers, transport workers and the retail and service sectors are among those hardest hit by the pandemic due to their risk of exposure as well as a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Particular concerns are identified for informal economy workers, small businesses and self-employed and platform/gig economy workers because of reduced demand from closures required to stop the spread of the virus.

There are early warnings of plummeting exports in industries such as textiles, where garment workers are at economic risk as border restrictions grow and production is cancelled or postponed due to lack of demand from importing countries.

“Government support for health is vital and governments must ensure adequate paid sick leave for all workers and income provisions which maintain jobs for when the pandemic restrictions can be lifted. Despite the needs of millions of people in lock down, income support and cash payments are only in place in 12% of countries.

We urgently need G20 leaders to step up and join us through social dialogue to respond to this global health and economic crisis. Only by increasing co-coordinated international assistance including for the most vulnerable countries will we stop this pandemic, which has no borders,” said Sharan Burrow.

In the fifteen G20 countries surveyed:

  • Only a third (5 out of 15) are providing employment protection for those self-isolating.
  • Less than a third (4 out of 15) are providing paid sick leave for all workers.

The survey also identifies restrictions on democratic rights and freedoms as a result of government actions which must be closely monitored as:

  • 24 countries are using surveillance apps to monitor individuals and the spread of the virus.
  • 13 countries are postponing local or national elections.

The top five measures that governments are putting in place to slow spread of virus are:

  • Limiting the size of mass gatherings (92% of countries)
  • Cancelling sporting events (88% of countries)
  • Closure of schools (84% of countries)
  • Self isolation of individuals and households showing symptoms of the virus (83% of countries)
  • Travel restrictions for travellers arriving in country (82% of countries)

65% of countries are promoting working from home for some workers.

More than half (58%) of all governments surveyed are offering additional funding for the public health care system.

The top five policies that governments are putting in place to respond to economic impact of the virus are:

  • Provision of free health care - 50% of countries
  • Employment protection for those self-isolating - 34% of countries
  • Tax relief for businesses - 31% of countries
  • Paid sick leave for a period of self-isolation - 29% of countries
  • Bailout funds for business or sectors - 29% of countries

The survey shows that 62% of governments are responding well, but in 48% of countries employers are responding badly to the needs of workers. Seven out of 15 G20 governments are responding badly to the crisis.


Read the ITUC Global COVID-19 Survey Key Findings