WHO convention on pandemic prevention

photo: IndustriALL

The ITUC welcomes moves to negotiate a new international convention on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

A ‘zero draft’ of the convention, which will be discussed at the 76th WHO World Health Assembly 21-30 May 2023, includes many positive elements, such as:

  • The importance of decent work and social protection for public health.
  • The importance of investment in the health and care workforce.

However, the draft fails to recognise the critical significance of occupational health and safety in both the prevention of and responses to pandemics.

ITUC Deputy General Secretary Owen Tudor added: “The draft needs strengthening in a number of areas, including the role of trade unions in protecting workers and thus the public.

“Poor conditions in workplaces of many different types have been a major driver of the spread of Covid-19, and proper health and safety protections, including ventilation and other means of combating transmission of this airborne pandemic, have been sorely lacking.

“Where workers have a say through collective bargaining and social dialogue, these deficits can be identified and eliminated, for the good of all.”

Decent work and social protection

The convention must recognise that, while health and care are central, agriculture, education, sanitation, transportation, and services are also imperative for public health. Standards for decent work and social protection must, therefore, be applied in of all these areas.

The zero draft identifies discrimination, in particular in the health and care workforce, as an important factor of concern. While the focus on gender discrimination is welcome, other forms of discrimination must also be fully addressed.

The new convention should emphasise the need:

  • For universal, free and equal access for all the world’s people to vaccines, tests, treatments and preventive measures, as well as investment in the production capacity for these in every region.
  • To remove barriers to sharing intellectual property.

The current Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the global inequities that leave billions of people at high and unnecessary risk of death and disease from pandemics.

The foundation of any pandemic prevention preparedness plan must, therefore, be an investment in public health for all, and the world needs to see that vision reflected in this new convention.

The ITUC is also concerned that governments’ compliance with the International Health Regulations (IHR), the principal anti-pandemic tool, is not subject to effective independent supervision.

Mechanisms to promote and ensure compliance, such as those that form part of the International Labour Organization’s supervisory system or those addressed by the Universal Periodic Review are well overdue in relation to the IHR. The Pandemic Treaty provides the opportunity to apply such mechanisms.