COVID-19 and challenges of economic development
The rampaging Coronavirus otherwise called COVID-19 crept into the consciousness of the world without much fanfare.
The initial response was lackadaisical as the world thought a simple containment in the quiet, yet busy town of Wuhan, a province in China, would be sufficient to keep the virus at bay.
About 12 weeks of announcing its arrival, COVID-19 has shown enough potency of wreaking phenomenal havoc on the global economy as British, United States, Spain and Italy economies are presently on a shaky ground.
With the super-power economies under immense threat close to nothing seen in the history of the world, the time to roll back the frontiers of the epidemic is now.
Indeed, the world is unanimous that global action is urgently needed.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) said the G20, as the leading economic bloc, has onerous task of lifting the gloom.
The Director-General of ILO, Guy Ryder, observed that taming the pandemic requires a global commitment and action.
Ryder called on G20 countries to work together to protect people, jobs, incomes and enterprises from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ILO chief welcomed the commitment of the G20 leaders as an important first step in constructing a truly global response to the unprecedented challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
His words: “The G20’s strong and clear commitment to do whatever it takes to overcome the intertwined health, social and economic impacts of the pandemic is a very welcome first step. Their decision to spare no efforts to protect people, jobs, incomes and enterprises is extremely important.
“This is the time for global solidarity, especially with the most vulnerable people in societies, and with the emerging and developing world. We must also offer our full support to the health workers who are in the front lines of the medical response.
“This is the time for global solidarity, especially with the most vulnerable people in societies, and with the emerging and developing world. We must also offer our full support to the health workers who are in the front lines of the medical response.”
Ryder submitted that the COVID-19 pandemic has quickly turned into a global economic crisis that could easily become a global recession, and called for specific measures to support workers, jobs and incomes.
According to him, these measures include extending social protection, supporting employment retention (i.e. short-time work, paid leave, other subsidies), and financial and tax relief, including for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.
“In the 2008/9 financial crisis, the world came together and the worst was averted. We have the chance to do the same now, and to do it better. But we must act now so that the 2020s are not a rerun of the 1930s,” he said.
Ryder also called for the use of social dialogue – engaging with workers and employers and their representatives – as a vital way for building public trust and support for the type of measures that work to overcome a crisis.
A preliminary ILO assessment of the outbreak’s effect on the global world of work published 18 March, found that it could increase global unemployment by almost 25 million, and push millions of people into underemployment and working poverty.
On its part, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) insisted that the people must be put first in the global response to the pandemic.
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 lock down 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,” the ITUC General Secretary, Sharan Burrow said.
The ITUC has identified five demands which will have the most direct impact on working people – paid sick leave, wage support and income support for freelancers, self-employed workers, 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,” Burrow added.
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, ITUC said 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.
It added that unions have been calling for serious measures and some support for these workers has been provided but much more needs to be done.
It stated further that all workers, but informal workers, in particular, are in need of income support, distribution of rations and loan relief.
Though governments have begun to respond to union concerns, it, however, said the response has still been insufficient.
In order to alleviate the financial resources needed, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement have launched a revised emergency appeal for 800 million Swiss francs (823 million US dollars) to help the world’s most vulnerable communities halt the spread of COVID-19 and recover from its efforts.
IFRC President Francesco Rocca said: “This pandemic is putting at risk entire health systems, and the situation will worsen in places where those are weak or inexistent. Strong community response is critical to stop the virus. COVID-19 affects everyone equally, but migrants and displaced people, those who are homeless, and those in disaster-prone areas are among those most exposed to infection, least able to access health care, and most impacted by the loss of income. They must not be forgotten. We must strengthen the support of our Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers who are on the frontline of this response.”
ICRC President Peter Maurer said: “The international community must increase support now to the under-resourced communities crippled by conflict, or risk allowing another humanitarian catastrophe to unfold on top of the countless others war-torn communities have endured. Viruses know no borders; this is a global problem that will only be solved by a global action.”
Work already being carried out by the Movement includes support to National Societies to increase their health care services, community engagement and pandemic preparedness activities for vulnerable populations.
In Nigeria, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), has raised the alarm that ‘bigmanism’ syndrome attitudes of wealthy and influential members of the society may put more Nigerians at risk.
Congress President, Ayuba Wabba said: “Even tracking processes are not conforming to global standards to confront the situation. To compound the situation, elitist syndrome or the Nigerian ‘bigmanism’ has severely impaired our response as some senior government officials refuse to subject themselves to routine test, self-quarantine and tracking. These negative attitudes contribute to the rising number of Covid-19 infection in Nigeria.”
Wabba submitted that Nigeria appears not prepared to contain the pandemic, saying, “no doubt, we are not prepared for the avoidable tragedy that looms over us. We do not have the requisite infrastructure for diagnosis and treatment on a large scale.”
As more lockdowns of critical sectors of the economy loom, NLC cautioned that workers must not be cannon fodders for these socio-economic fallouts.
“In all of these, we demand job and wage protection. To make this possible, factories and businesses will require fiscal stimulus, financial aids and other macro-economic support incentives at this critical time.
“For millions of workers in the informal sectors including our members in the transport, in the markets and all categories of artisans who are involved in involuntary lockdown, we demand cash grant through their associations to enable them to cope during this difficult time,” Wabba stated.