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‘Social dialogue vital to post-COVID-19 recovery’

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ILO Director General Guy Ryder


Effective social dialogue and cooperation between the tripartite bodies – government, employers and unions – are indispensable in the designing and implementing appropriate strategies and policies that address the COVID-19 crisis. 
 
This is contained in a recent report by the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Bureau for the Workers’ Activities.
 
The report highlighted the need for global-scale responses based on effective social dialogue to recover from the COVID-19 crisis.
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The global trend analysis on the role of trade unions in times of pandemic revealed that 81 per cent of countries used social dialogue in response to the pandemic to achieve a consensus on targeted measures to protect workers and enterprises.
 
Director of ACTRAV, Maria Andre, said nations needed to reinforce social dialogue to ensure a lasting, sustainable and inclusive recovery, where no one is left behind. 
 
She maintained that strong, independent, knowledgeable and representative trade unions, as well as global solidarity, are more relevant than ever for achieving a brighter future amid pandemic.
 
The report recommended the need for trade unions to ensure that the temporary measures adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are a stepping-stone toward a sound recovery, focusing on a medium to a long-term perspective in line with the priorities identified in the ILO’s policy framework for responding to the pandemic crisis.
 
It said trade unions should regard the crisis as a wake-up call for contributing towards better and more inclusive labour and social agenda as they continue to play an important role as vehicles of democracy and advocates of social justice.
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It stressed trade unions’ agenda for resilience and empowerment should aim to: build political will, contribute to strengthening social dialogue mechanisms, build knowledge and capacity, increase representative capacity, continue to promote workers’ priorities, provide new services, expand partnerships, engage with the United Nations (UN) processes on sustainable development, share information and learn from previous crises.
 
The document stresses also an increase of violations of workers and trade union rights across the world as a result of the measures adopted by governments. These violations include, non-compliance with labour regulations with regard to layoffs, working hours and the payment of wages and a disregard of Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) regulations.
 
Among other recommendations to governments and employers’ organisations, it stated the requests for immediate action to include universal health care, extended sickness, unemployment and family benefits, cash transfers, job and income security, financial support to enterprises, compliance with OSH regulations, the provision of in-kind benefits and the recognition of COVID-19 as an employment injury.
 
The report, which hinted at medium and long-term recommendations, included strengthening social dialogue, extending social protection coverage, making long-term investments in social and welfare services and the partial or total forgiveness of debts.
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In his submission, Controller, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Lagos State, Nnamdi Enuah, said considering the second wave of the pandemic, year 2021 is not the time for hostile relations, but for effective labour relations among social partners. 
 
Noting that hostility won’t solve the problem, he urged employers and labour unions to apply the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) for dialogue for workers to stay in their jobs. He called for more cooperation with the government, which is doing everything possible to create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive.
 
According to him, it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war. “With the second wave of the COVID-19 and recession, the need for labour movement and employers to show solidarity to surmount challenges as they affect workers and the citizenry. It is time for robust dialogue, and not time for picketing, strikes or lockouts. It is time for workers to support their management through solidarity to enable jobs to continue while workers also stay in their jobs. It should be a time for mutual support and engagement.”
 
Similarly, a lawyer and labour expert, Paul Omoijiade, maintained that trade unions had been on a downward trend lately and urged unions to redouble efforts and safeguard interests of workers and also expand membership. He urged employers and workers to recognise their institutional identities.

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