Trade Union Forum

Report by Maria Helena André, Director of the ILO Bureau for Workers' Activities (ACTRAV)

October 30. 2020.

Impact of the pandemic on the labour market, the role and tasks of trade unions

 Dear Mikhail Shmakov,

Dear Representatives of the trade union federations of BRICS countries,  

 I am delighted to be speaking to you all today as part of the 9th BRICS Trade Union Forum. It is truly a pleasure to address the esteemed audience on the transformative impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has on workers and their representatives around the globe.

The health crisis has affected the lives and livelihoods of millions of workers also within BRICS countries, with poverty and inequality increasing dramatically since the beginning of the outbreak.

By the ILO’s own estimations, during the first surge of the virus, over 17% of working hours were lost, which was equivalent to 495 Million full time jobs worldwide. 

What is worse, in many countries we are seeing a resurgence of cases leading to further lockdown measures being put in place and threatening the health and livelihoods of millions of workers once again. Even if this is not the case in some of the countries represented here, such as South Africa or China, the economic impact of a second wave and subsequent lockdown measures in many parts of the world are being felt globally.

As such I am delighted to speak to you today and in this format, because it is my firm belief that this forum which brings together workers’ representatives of countries accounting for almost half of the world’s population, it is both timely and the only way forward to combatting the impact of such a truly global crisis. To this end, I would like to thank the hosts – the leaders of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, who, in spite of unprecedented tough times, spared no effort to ensure the continuity of the work of the forum. Also, availing this opportunity I would like to congratulate the FNPR on 30th anniversary of its foundation. 

As the Declaration to this very forum states, the pandemic has shown the need to “enhance our solidarity”, and “launch a joint international response to this pandemic”. Truly global challenges require truly global solutions that include constant dialogue between governments, workers and employers at national, regional and global level. I would therefore like to congratulate you on reaffirming through your declaration your commitment to “stay[ing] true to multilateralism and safeguard[ing] the international system with the UN at its core.”


Because the challenges we are facing together are considerable.

What is particularly devastating is the human toll that this crisis has brought upon workers and their families, many of who are risking their lives every day to protect and help others, be it directly fighting the virus in hospitals, as a first responder or by providing essential services that are vital for the continuation of our societies. 

It is a fallacy to believe that health and economic measures are somehow contradictory. It is of upmost importance to firstly address the pandemic itself through appropriate health measures and protect those workers who are dealing with the virus on a daily basis. This is also backed by ILO research showcasing that countries who invested more in health measures or were more efficient when it came to track and tracing, had less incidences of hours lost and therefore income for workers.

Therefore, greater efforts must be taken to protect workers at the workplace, which is a continuous concern also to us in the ILO.  Issues around occupational safety and health and universal social protection are part of an important pillar of ILO expertise, and a principal area of support to our constituents.

To that end it is encouraging to see efforts undertaken also by governments in BRICS countries to cushion the impact of the crisis, provide schemes to save jobs, incomes and support ailing enterprises that were hit hardest by the pandemic.

However, the crisis does not affect everyone equally. Particularly young workers, women, migrant workers as well those that are not in a formal employment relationship such as workers in the informal economy are most affected and without proper interventions it will be those who will suffer in the long term.

This is particularly true for young workers, who see a double impact by being predominantly employed in sectors that are hardest hit, often in the informal economy as well as struggling with the closures of education institutions. State intervention at national and regional level directly targeting young workers, such as the Youth Guarantee introduced in the European Union even prior to the pandemic, are vital to ensure that we are not steering towards a “lockdown generation” of young workers that will suffer long term consequences to their earning capabilities throughout their careers.

Public policies addressing the crisis effectively will have to take these factors into account, which unequivocally requires the direct engagement of the social partners, both in design and in implementation as a prerequisite for effective policymaking.

Ultimately, it is up to you as well, as workers’ representatives to ensure that those who are most affected by this crisis, are also those who will benefit from its recovery.

This will require the full participation of trade unions in the consultation and implementation of policies geared towards a job-led recovery as well as for trade unions themselves to adapt to the changing landscapes in the world of work.

The ILO and ACTRAV in particular has worked continuously to support and highlight the extent of trade union action around the globe.

Furthermore, within the BRICS countries we are directly supporting workers’ representatives in the efforts to strengthen bipartite and tripartite social dialogue, which has to be the cornerstone of any effective response to this crisis, as well as provide capacity building where needed during these trying times.

Furthermore, it is our firm belief that the crisis also presents opportunities, opportunities to discuss the transitions that the labour movement is currently undergoing as well as a revaluation in terms of governance structures to support those that are most vulnerable in society.

Because if there is one clear, it is that this crisis will not go away any time soon, and it is a fallacy to think that the world post-Covid, whenever it may happen, is going to be the same as the world we knew prior to this outbreak.

Now more than ever, workers organisations need to adapt to the growing challenges, as a champion of social justice, of peace and democracy, and give all workers a voice, particularly the most vulnerable ones in society.

I am therefore particularly happy to join you in this important forum, and I am looking forward to discussing how the labour movement can establish its important place in society, and “build back better” for all workers.

I thank you.




2020-10-30 12:10:00

Report by Ricardo Patah, UGT, President