Survey finds global trade framework failing under COVID-19 stress

Friday March 27, 2020: The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has just reported on its first Global COVID-19 survey of 109 trade unions in 86 countries, including 28 out of 36 OECD countries and fifteen G20 countries.

It found 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.

The ITUC and the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD said, “We have noted with severe concern the reported doubling of export restrictions for essential COVID-19 related products over the past week (prior to March 23). And our unions report to us extraordinary delays with border closures for transport workers. This is potentially disastrous for people in need, for business and for the health and safety of the vital workers.

“While we understand the temptation to retreat into purely national interests, the globally integrated nature of supply chains cannot, even if it seems desirable, be replaced by domestic production in order to maximise the world’s chances of minimising the toll of a virus that crosses borders with ease.”

The ITUC call on the G20 leaders stresses that global coherence must be assured through working with the International Labour Organisation, World Health Organisation, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, International Monetary Fund and World Bank. However, the survey shows that governments and businesses are failing to cooperate as the global economy absorbs the shocks of massive layoffs.

The global trade system has been shaped since 1980 to prioritise corporate production and marketing chains, for profit, rather than people’s needs expressed through democratic processes. It is now failing to respond to the global health and social crisis.

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. Only 50% are providing free health care.

More countries (29%) are providing bail out funds for business than providing sick leave or part time leave for workers, with only 23% of countries providing part time leave for carers and only 21% of countries providing sick leave for all or some workers..

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.

Despite the needs of millions of people in lock down, income support and cash payments are only in place in 12% of countries.

The ITUC has set out six key measures needed to support workers:

  • Paid sick leave from day one;
  • Wage/income protection;
  • Managed reduction of hours where necessary, with government support to maximise income security;
  • Mortgage, rent and loan relief;
  • Universal social protection and free access to healthcare; and
  • Childcare support for frontline workers in health, supermarkets, pharmacies and other vital

The ITUC said that support for developing economies must prioritise health services for all and pay for the foundations of universal social protections including unemployment income, child protection, maternity protection and pensions.

The World Health Organisation launched its Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19 on March 25, calling for over US$2 billion to fund health plans in developing countries:

“Ensuring that humanitarian plans are fully resourced is essential to avoid further loss of lives and suffering, and the aggravation of vulnerabilities. It will also help affected people to better cope with the new emergency and will be an important stabilizing factor in these fragile contexts.”