COVID-19 and the World of work

Health and safety at work in the COVID-19 pandemic: A key to reviving the labour market and the economy

The ILO has been supporting its constituents in the region since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure health and safety at the workplace. Without the protection of workers, the recovery of the economy cannot be possible.

News | 22 October 2020

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Seven months after the declaration of the pandemic, the global fight against the new coronavirus COVID-19 is far from over. The recent surge of infection cases in Europe raises great concern. In October 2020, countries in Central and Eastern Europe have recorded the highest number of daily cases and deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. See Table.

The world of work is profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Widespread workplace closures due to the lockdown have resulted in significant loss of labour income through higher levels of inactivity and unemployment. According to the latest ILO Monitor, the estimated working-hour loss was 17.3 percent in the second quarter of 2020. Despite the gradual lift of the quarantine measures, the disruption of labour supply has continued in the third quarter, and is likely to persist in the fourth quarter.
"Therefore, ensuring health and safety at workplace should constitute a crucial policy to revive the labour market."

Facing this unprecedented challenge, it is critical to maintain essential services, protect businesses and jobs, and bring the economy to a recovery trajectory. However, working should never come at the expense of workers’ health or lives. If the COVID-19 pandemic persists, strict quarantine measures could further delay the economic recovery. Therefore, ensuring health and safety at workplace should constitute a crucial policy to revive the labour market. Recent studies also show that inadequately protected workspace can form COVID-19 clusters and thus stringent workplace prevention is essential.

The COVID-19 pandemic calls for a new way of living and working through strengthened OSH measures, adaption of work arrangements, and management of stress and other psychosocial risks. See Box.

The crisis has highlighted the need for the ILO and its tripartite constituents – governments, workers and employers – to jointly address the issue of COVID-19 in the world of work through effective social dialogue. The key question is to find the right balance and sequence of health, economic and social policy interventions, particularly in the light of the evolving epidemiological situation in Europe.

In this context, the ILO Office for Central and Eastern Europe has been supporting the tripartite constituents. Examples below illustrate some of the recent and on-going activities:

•    In Albania, the ILO supports the State Labour Inspectorate and the social partners to implement practical COVID-19 prevention and mitigation actions at workplaces. Working closely with the Anti-COVID-19 Task Force in Tirana and Durres, the ILO trained 60 state labour inspectors and social partners who will replicate the training in high risk sectors (manufacturing, cement factory etc.). This is followed by on-site training in 20 select manufacturing enterprises with a focus on the garment sector.

•    For the Western Balkan countries covering Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, the ILO organized an Experts meeting on safe and healthy return to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. The webinar, conducted jointly with the “Employment and Social Affairs Platform” project, provided a forum for 28 representatives from four countries to discuss the common challenge in the region through the exchange of best practices and lessons learned.

•    In Moldova, the recently launched ILO project “Protecting workers and ensuring decent and safe working conditions in times of COVID-19 crisis and recovery” will strengthen the capacities of the government and social partners to implement OSH measures in the context of COVID-19 focusing on agriculture and manufacturing particularly small and medium enterprises. The project will also to strengthen the institutional capacity of the State Labour Inspectorate to conduct integrated workplace inspections in full compliance with ILO Conventions.

•    In Ukraine, the EU-ILO Project “Towards safe, healthy and declared work in Ukraine” is providing technical support to Ukrainian Government and social partners through the dissemination of technical information and advice and a series of capacity-building and knowledge-sharing activities to more than 500 participants. A webinar on food sector conducted jointly with WHO, FAO and INFOSAN focused on some of the most pressing issues such as the effective identification and prevention of food safety threats in the food processing operations for 200 participants and viewers. The technical resources and video tutorials are available in Ukrainian language at the project’s Website, Facebook and YouTube, which were accessed by more than 6,000 viewers.


Safe Return to Work: Ten Action Points

1: Form a joint team to plan and organize return to work
2: Decide when to reopen, who returns to work and how
3: Adopt engineering, organizational and administrative measures:
- Avoid physical interaction
- Ventilation
- Avoid concentration of workers
- Training and information
4: Regularly clean and disinfect
5: Promote personal hygiene
6: Provide personal protective equipment and inform workers
7: Health surveillance
8: Consider other hazards, including psychosocial
9: Review emergency preparedness plans
10: Review and update preventive and control measures as the situation evolves