Collective Bargaining Eases COVID-19 Impact

An International Labor Organization survey in 80 countries finds collective bargaining agreements and practices are critical to improving working conditions, closing the gender wage gap, and in reducing inequality and discrimination in the work place. The ILO has just launched the first in a series of reports on Social Dialogue.

The report finds one third or one in three workers around the world benefits from collective bargaining agreements negotiated between trade unions and employers.

One of the more dramatic examples of that is the crucial role collective bargaining has played in mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employment and earnings.

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder says the negotiating parties arrived at solutions that proved critical in protecting workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. He says those solutions have proved crucial in preserving essential health care, social care, and other services.

“Secondly, collective bargaining helped prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace through paid sick leave provision and the joint oversight of workplace safety and health during successive lockdowns and workplace returns. And, thirdly, and as with previous crises, collective bargaining helped save jobs, protect earnings, and safeguard business continuity.”

Much attention recently has been given to efforts to unionize corporate giants Amazon and Starbucks in the United States. However, the ILO report highlights the important role collective bargaining plays in developing, as well as developed countries. Lead author of the ILO report Susan Hayter says 57 of the agreements reviewed were in African countries. She says country studies found that collective bargaining in those countries is as effective, if not in some ways more effective, than in developed countries.

“Let me just take the example of Sierra Leone, where we did not have the employment retention measures that perhaps other countries in Europe had. And the parties sat down at the bargaining table and really sought to find a way to ensure that employment in tourism, that workers were able to come in on a rotational basis given the lockdown so that all workers could at least get some income.”

Authors of the ILO report say collective bargaining will be an essential tool to face the fundamental changes that are shaking up the world of work. They call the process a powerful problem-solving tool, which can be used for the benefit of workers and employers alike.

Rather than being a controversial issue, they say collective bargaining should be used as a public good.

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