Putting people first – 12 governments show the world how to protect lives, jobs and incomes

New ITUC analysis of government responses from 69 countries to the COVID-19 pandemic has identified 12 governments which are putting people first as they tackle the economic fallout from lockdown measures to stem the spread of the virus.

Argentina, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden and the UK are the first 12 governments that have put in place policies to protect lives, jobs and incomes.

“Direct government support for the real economy is the only way workers will be able to stay in their homes and feed their families while the economy is shut down. These 12 countries set a standard on what governments could provide for workers that need to be emulated by many more governments around the world. There are still significant gaps in some of the countries, and the unions are pressing for these gaps to be filled,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary.

The ITUC has identified five demands that will have the most direct impact on working people – paid sick leave; wage support and income support for freelancers, self-employed workers, and gig economy workers; as well as loan relief for rent or mortgage payments, and free health care.

“These measures are a start – but implementation with fast payments is key. A pandemic with no known end date will mean more support is needed for working people. The health, social and economic consequences of COVID-19 will require new levels of care, of social protection and of economic stimulus in all countries. It will take a new social contract,” said Sharan Burrow.

Two countries in the Americas region, Argentina and Canada, have put in place income support for self-employed workers. Argentina is offering the self-employed 10,000 pesos (US$157) for April.

In Europe, eight governments – Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and the UK – made the list. Even though there is more to do in some of these countries, the European social model and dialogue with social partners has led to fast responses in many countries.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore and New Zealand have provided extensive income and wage support for all categories of workers.

While these governments set a pathway for others to follow, unions remain gravely concerned for the impact of the measures needed to constrain the virus in India, where 94% of workers are in the informal economy. Unions have been calling for serious measures, and some support for these workers has been provided but much more needs to be done. All workers, but informal workers in particular, are in need of income support, distribution of rations and loan relief. The government has begun to respond to union concerns; however, the response has still been insufficient.

In Brazil, unions have successfully blocked the worst of the Bolsonaro government’s emergency degree that would have suspended all employment contracts without pay. However, the new decree means there will still be severe cuts in public spending and a 50% decrease in salaries. Bolsonaro is trying to capitalise on the crisis to entrench himself in power.

In Georgia, the government is struggling to respond, with previous governments having virtually destroyed public health and social protection.

“The positive responses to the pandemic demonstrated by these 12 countries have been the result either of strong tripartite or social dialogue structures or traditions, or concerted and successful campaigning and lobbying by trade unions. The involvement of unions representing working people is key to ensuring that governments act to put people first in the response to COVID-19. The ITUC is urging other governments to follow these examples and involve unions in designing the economic responses urgently needed as the world responds to the pandemic,” said Sharan Burrow.

Read the report: COVID-19 – The Best Country Responses for Working People