According to a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the Global Deal Partnership, the pandemic has exposed and intensified underlying inequalities and is having a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups already facing difficulties, such as the low-skilled, informal workers, young people, and women.
The report, Social Dialogue, Skills and COVID-19, argues that social dialogue and collective bargaining help build more inclusive and sustainable economies in which the benefits of growth are distributed across the whole of society.
ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder said, “In these difficult times, social dialogue has never been more important. It helps us build resilience and find ways forward during the crisis. When tough decisions need to be taken it helps us find legitimate, accepted outcomes. The social dialogue will also help promote lifelong learning and skills development once we move to the recovery phase.”
It points to agreements between business, trade unions, and governments, which have helped establish short-time working arrangements aimed at protecting incomes and enterprises during lock-downs. Key ingredients have been commitments by employers to retain workers, agreements by unions on reduced working time, and support from governments through benefits and wage subsidies.
Such agreements can help shore up consumer confidence by keeping workers in jobs and by maintaining incomes.
The report highlights a number of country case studies, including Denmark, where a job retention scheme limited the rise in unemployment to 0.1 percentage point between February and May 2020. In Korea, the social partners (workers’ and employers’ organizations) agreed to increase in the country’s employment retention subsidy from 63 percent to 75 percent, with additional emergency support available for small businesses and workers on non-standard contracts.
The report points to the importance of involving all social partners in ensuring safe working conditions during the pandemic. Individual workers may be reluctant to voice concerns for fear of losing their jobs, however, social dialogue provides a forum in which workers’ concerns can be expressed and balanced approaches negotiated.
With many essential frontline workers – such as those in healthcare, food processing, and retail – on low wages, the setting of appropriate minimum wages via statutory provisions and/or collective bargaining can improve standards of living. Fairness and equity will result in a more resilient labour market and a stronger economic recovery, the report says.
Beyond the challenges brought by the COVID-19 crisis, labour markets are having to adapt to technological change, creating a demand for new skills. The report says clear policies and mechanisms are needed to promote lifelong learning and skills development. Social dialogue is needed at the national, sectoral, and firm-level. Involving workers in decision-making can facilitate the effective adoption of skills development programmes.
Read the report: Social Dialogue, Skills, and COVID-19.