ITUC Global Covid-19 Survey: democratic rights and freedoms under threat

The response to the Covid-19 pandemic is the greatest act of global human solidarity the world has seen, as people give up civic rights and risked livelihoods to save lives. Yet, under the cover of measures to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, many countries are advancing their anti-workers’-rights agenda.

Over half of countries (56% or 53) in the ITUC Global Covid-19 Survey reported that over the past few months their government had brought in restrictions to human and labour rights under the cover of their response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The findings, in the fifth ITUC Global Covid-19 Survey of 121 trade unions from 95 countries including 17 G20 countries and 33 OECD countries carried out between 22 – 25th June 2020, show that these attacks are adding to the breakdown of the social contract.

“Democratic rights, trust and accountability are the essential building blocks of the new economic model the world needs as it recovers from the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary.

“A resilient global economy must be built on a New Social Contract: a new commitment to workers’ rights, renewed investment in compliance and the rule of law, and a foundation of workplace democracy. These are the foundations for a future where we leave no one behind.”

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global pandemic in March 2020, trade unions have been active in negotiating support for workers.

Almost two-thirds (63% or 60 countries) said unions in their country had been able to secure additional support for workers as part of government or employer responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. This support most often takes the form of a social protection floor – including paid sick leave, income support, healthcare.

“Despite these gains for workers, the Covid-19 pandemic has brutally exposed the fault lines of the global divide between those that have universal social protection, including health and income support, and those that do not. In too many of the poorest countries, workers in both the formal and the informal sectors have faced the choice of staying at home and watching their families starve or trying to find work, despite the very real risk of the coronavirus to their lives and those in their community. A Global Social Protection Fund would need USD37.8 billion in the first five years to close the financing gaps to meet SDG 1.3 in low-income countries,” said Sharan Burrow.

The Covid-19 health crisis is now fueling unemployment on a scale that was unimaginable just months ago. The challenge is to design a recovery that rebuilds the social contract between government and societies with the foundations of resilience to withstand further shocks.

While the majority of countries (81% or 77) said that their government is preparing an economic recovery plan as part of its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, 42% of countries believe that their government is responding badly to the needs of workers affected by the virus, and 60% of countries who responded to this survey believe employers are responding badly to the needs of workers.

“Economic recovery plans for an interdependent world will require national and global financing for recovery and resilience that can only be delivered and sustained based on social dialogue and the rebuilding of trust in democracies and massive reform of multilateralism,” said Sharan Burrow.


Read the fifth ITUC Global Covid-19 Survey Key Findings.