Labour’s role in pandemic response – now and in the future 

As the world reacts to the urgent and terrible demands of the global pandemic, the labour movement is also on crisis footing as it fights for health and income protection for workers in the short term.   An earlier WCR post describes the Covid-19 Resource Centre maintained by the Canadian Labour Congress, which compiles links and documents by Canadian unions – much of it focused on the immediate information needed by individual workers. Unions are also advocating at the national and provincial levels for improved income supports, employment insurance, guaranteed sick leave for the short term crisis, as well as for sustainable long term economic solutions. The Covid19HELP_Demands_ftWorkers’ Action Centre and the Fight for $15 and Fairness in Ontario issued a press  release on March 26,  in response to the federal benefits announcement . The complete statement of demands appears in Covid-19: Health Emergency Labour Protections: Urgent comprehensive action is needed to protect workers, communities . Such lobbying and organizing has resulted in a number of emergency-related changes to legislated employment standards across Canada, as described by  Michael Fitzgibbon in  “The Right to Refuse in a COVID-19 World” in the Canadian Law of Work Forum (March 27) .

In the United States, the Labor Network for Sustainability provides information on rank and file reactions to Covid-19. On April 2,   Jeremy Brecher’s Strike column, ” Strike for your Life”  summarizes how U.S. and Italian workers are protesting and walking out due to lack of workplace protections.  Brecher’s column cites many U.S. examples, expanding on Steven Greenhouse’s article in the New York Times: “Is Your Grocery Delivery Worth a Worker’s Life? ” (Mar. 30). Brecher also summarizes and  cites “The Italian workers fighting like hell to shut down their workplaces” (Mar. 24) .  Other overviews of U.S. union actions are:  “Walkouts Spread as Workers Seek Coronavirus Protections” in Labor Notes (Mar. 26);  “The Strike Wave Is in Full Swing: Amazon, Whole Foods Workers Walk Off Job to Protest Unjust and Unsafe Labor Practices” in Common Dreams (Mar. 30); and “The New Labor Movement” (Axios, April 1). 

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)  has compiled Pandemic News from Unions around the world, including their own documents and those of international affiliates.  The ITUC  also  published 12 governments show the world how to protect lives,  jobs and incomes  (updated March 30), which ranks the policies of  Argentina, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden and the UK on their pandemic policies related to paid sick leave, income support, wage support, mortgage, rent or loan relief, and free health care .

After the pandemic subsides

Larry Savage and Simon Black, professors at Brock University, are pessimistic that short term gains will survive a return to “business as usual” in Canada. In  “Coronavirus crisis poses risks and opportunities for unions” in The Conversation, they reference Naomi Klein’s theory in The Shock Doctrine to argue: “Moving forward, unions are likely to find it incredibly difficult to negotiate gains for their members who will be expected to “share the pain” of an economic recession not of their making” – even public sector workers such as health care workers.  To avoid being branded as selfish, Savage and Black urge unions to: “become champions of converting new temporary income supports, social protections and employment standards into permanent measures designed to rebuild Canada’s tattered social safety net…. oppose bailouts of big corporations that don’t also bail out workers and give employees more say over how industries deemed “too big to fail” are run…. continue to lead the resistance to service cuts and demands to privatize health-care services..”

Other recent articles also emphasize the importance of protecting the voice of workers in the post-pandemic world.  Thomas Kochan  , Professor and Co-Director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research  has written that  “By working together in these ways in this time of crisis, business and labor might just lay the groundwork for building a new social contract that fills the holes in the social safety net and forges relationships that will serve society well in the future.” His article,  “Workers left out of government and business response to the coronavirus” appeared in The Conversation (U.S. edition) (March 20).

The National Labor Leadership Initiative at the Cornell University ILR School convened an online forum titled  “Labor’s Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic “(Mar 31)  . The purpose of the forum, and a continuing initiative, is to facilitate the long-term vision of the labour movement.  The April   press release quotes participant Erica Smiley, Executive Director of Jobs with Justice  who states: “This is a moment for us to think about what the new normal is, because I frankly don’t want to get back to the old normal. It wasn’t working for most of us.”  The press release also reflects the immediate impacts of the current crisis on a range of workers in the U.S.: “Seven TWU members who work in the NYC public transit system have died from the virus, while their co-workers still go to work every day to keep the system running, without adequate assurances that they will be kept healthy and safe. The IATSE members whose work powers the entertainment and festival scene including Austin’s South by Southwest, one of the first major cancellations of the pandemic, are now out of work indefinitely. Teachers and paraprofessionals have rushed to transition their curricula to online formats, even while coping with the emotional impact of missing their students and the school environment. Nurses are on the frontlines and tending to patients without adequate PPE.”

The Global Stage

The ILO’s Bureau for Workers’Activities (ACTRAV) published “COVID-19: what role for workers’ organizations?  arguing that  ILO Recommendation 205 on Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience (R205) is an effective instrument for governments, employers and workers organizations to address the COVID-19 pandemic.  “This recommendation was adopted with an overwhelming majority of all – governments, employers and workers. It is an international law instrument and Governments are expected to respect its guidance: Workers Organisations can request that it is taken into account.”  The ILO maintains an ongoing collection of documents monitoring  Covid-19 and the World of Work .

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation takes up the theme of a social contract: “As many governments scramble to pay for sick leave, provide income support or other measures, they have found themselves putting in place the building blocks of a social contract. Let’s keep these in place.” (in “New Social Contract can rebuild our workplaces and economies after COVID-19 in The Medium, (March 18)) . To flesh out that objective, the ITUC will convene virtual and in-person meetings on 24 June, on the theme, “Climate and Employment Proof our Future — a vision for a post-pandemic world”.

In the meantime, the ITUC and the International Organisation of Employers have issued a  Joint Statement on COVID-19 which issues an urgent call for coordinated policies, including :

Business continuity, income security and solidarity are key to prevent the spread and protect lives and livelihoods and build resilient economies and societies.

We stress in the strongest terms the important role that social dialogue and social partners play in the control of the virus at the workplace and beyond, but also to avoid massive job losses in the short and medium term. Joint responsibility is needed for dialogue to foster stability.

 

 

ILO report: “It is not action against climate change and environmental degradation that will destroy jobs, it is inaction that will destroy jobs”

ilo2019workforabrighterfutureTo mark its centenary in 2019, the International Labour Organization (ILO) commissioned a Global Commission on the Future of Work in 2015. On January 22, the Centenary was launched with the release of the Commission’s report : Work for a Brighter Future , an aspirational document with  recommendations for government policies to address the “ unprecedented transformational change in the world of work.”   The ten recommendations in the report call for a universal labour guarantee that protects fundamental workers’ rights, an adequate living wage, limits on hours of work and safe and healthy workplaces, a universal entitlement to lifelong learning , managing technological change to boost decent work, and greater investments in the care economy, green economy, and rural economy. The Executive Summary is here ; the full 66-page Report is here  .

Work for a Brighter Future is a broad and visionary document, but its arguments and proposals are supported by a series of more detailed research papers, including The Future of work in a Changing Natural Environment: Climate change, degradation and sustainability (August 2018) . The Research Paper argues that “… on the one hand, environmental degradation destroys work opportunities and worsens working conditions. On the other hand, any efforts to achieve sustainability will entail a structural transformation. Crucially, this transformation can result in more and better jobs.”

The paper calls for a new development model that acknowledges that the economy, including the world of work, is a subsystem of the global ecosystem, and cannot expand beyond the confines of ecological limits. It concludes: “….For developing economies, it means adopting a development strategy based on sustainable principles in energy, transport, construction, resource-intensive manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, fisheries and waste management. For developed economies, it means restructuring these industries so they become sustainable … In advanced economies, it means, potentially, embracing zero growth… For both developed and developing economies, it means developing a service sector that is decoupled from material extraction or carbon emissions in addition to progress towards resource efficiency and low carbon intensity….….At a global level, if a tax on CO2 emissions were imposed and the resulting revenues were used to cut labour taxes, then up to 14 million net new jobs could be created.”

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder summed up some of these themes in his address to the Ministerial Conference of the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE), held on January 10 – 11 2019 in South Africa. He stated:  “It is not action against climate change and environmental degradation that will destroy jobs, it is inaction that will destroy jobs. …Economic activity and jobs depend on ecosystem services and a safeguarding of the natural environment. Around 1.2 billion jobs, or 40 per cent of world employment in 2014, were in industries that depend heavily on natural processes.… ultimately, environmental degradation will compromise livelihoods and magnify inequality. We must work around these highly interconnected challenges to devise workable solutions in specific country contexts. “

Just Transition is essential to a low carbon economy. How can unions contribute?

ILO 2018 JUST TRANSITIONOn October 22, the International Labour Organization (ILO) released   Just Transition Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies  and Societies for All,  which argues for the importance of  just transition policies –  not as an “add-on”, but an integral part of the climate policy and sustainable development policy framework.  This Policy Brief, aimed at a labour union audience,  reviews the history and fundamental principles of the Just Transition concept, provides case studies which  form an impressive catalogue of how just transition has (and in some cases, hasn’t) worked around the world,  and concludes with recommendations of how trade unions and workers’ organizations can contribute to the goal of Just Transition to a low carbon economy .

The Just transition case studies are drawn from both from the global North and the global South – specifically, Alberta; Australia; Brazil; California; Chiapas State, Mexico; Europe; India; Indonesia; Phillipines, Ruhr Valley;  South Africa; and  Vietnam. They reflect interventions at the regional, country, and  sectoral level – most frequently the coal industry. In the end, the author concludes that,  while a coherent strategy with clear objectives and targets is essential, it can only work properly if supported by the main stakeholders. Cooperation of environmental and labour advocacy groups is extremely important, as is the input of Indigenous people. He further judges that “ 10-12 years seems to be a realistic framework which would also allow time to build up well-founded just transition plans.”

What can trade unions do?:  The author’s recommendations are:  Be proactive and build just transition strategies for the future; Be involved at all levels; Build coalitions; Manage labour market transitions; and Develop future-oriented innovative approaches. To help unions, the author provides information for “Capacity and network building” on page 10,  including the network and databases  provided by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW)  project : specifically, the Green Collective Agreements database     and the Education and Training materials database .

Just Transition Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies  and Societies for All   was written by Béla Galgóczi, Senior Researcher at the European Trade Union Institute and an Associate of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW)  research project.   The new report is available in English  and in French , published by the ILO Bureau for Workers Activities (ACTRAV), which also publishes the International Journal of Labour Research.   In May 2018, the ILO Employment Policy Department issued an Employment Research Brief,  Green Growth,  Just Transition and Green Jobs: There’s a Lot we don’t know , which summarizes and links to the most recent international studies on these three topics.

 

Green Jobs, Green Economies from a Social/Gender Justice Lens

A discussion paper released in February by the ILO and the Global Labour University provides a wide-ranging and well-documented global analysis of Green New Deal programs, green economies, and green jobs. Some excerpts: “…while advocates of the green economy promise the elimination of poverty, the green economy agenda is a new version of what has been described as finance-led accumulation and as such a continuation of the neoliberal project that has fuelled inequality during the past three decades”. Of green jobs, he observes, “statistical evidence suggests that many of the assumptions associated with green jobs are far too optimistic”. Referencing Austrian, EU, and South African studies, he states, “statistical evidence suggests that in terms of working conditions they (i.e. green jobs) are actually worse than average jobs…in sum, female workers are clearly disadvantaged when it comes to the distribution of the benefits from green growth”. Finally, “in sum, an alternative approach to a green transition towards a more sustainable economy and society must go beyond the goal of a thermal insulated capitalism and promote ecological, gender and social justice”. The author particularly discusses the importance of hours of work as a key factor in equality/inequality, and in ecological damage. Source: Green New Deal and the Question of Environmental and Social Justice.

Climate Change is the Theme of ILO World Day for Decent Work, and CLC Announces a Climate Change Week of Action

According to the Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO), “To mark this year’s World Day for Decent Work, trade unions have chosen the theme of climate change, urging governments to move now to create prosperity for all on a sustainable planet”. “There is a growing consensus that climate change and decent work for all are the two defining challenges of the 21st century”. The Canadian Labour Congress also marked the day, and, referring to the Report of Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment, made this statement: “In keeping with the Climate Justice theme for World Day for Decent Work, the CLC used this report to invigorate the preparations for its planned national climate change week of action this December, set to coincide with the United Nations global climate change meeting (COP 20) in Lima, Peru, from December 1 to 12, 2014”.

LINKS:

ILO Director’s blog is at: http://iloblog.org/2014/10/08/there-are-no-jobs-on-a-dead-planet/

CLC announcement of Climate Change Week of Action is at: http://www.canadianlabour.ca/news-room/statements/october-7-2014-world-day-decent-work