International News: Malaysia: Stop union busting at Edgenta UEMS

Malaysia: Stop union busting at Edgenta UEMS

In partnership with the National Union of Workers in Hospital Support and Allied Services. NUWHSAS is a national union representing all cleaning workers employed by private concessionaire companies providing cleaning services at all Government Hospitals in Malaysia.

 

UEM Group Berhad, a Malaysian government linked company (GLC), through its subsidiary, Edgenta UEMS, is currently engaged in a vicious union busting campaign, aggressively victimizing frontline hospital cleaners and their worksite union officials.

Since early 2020, the hospital janitors have been confronted by problems of widespread union busting activities in all its hospitals, like deliberate changing of workers’ working hours and shift unilaterally without prior consent from them. Workers active in the union have also been punished by arbitrarily transferring them out to hospitals far away from their residence. Workers are forced to work longer hours without overtime pay. The company is forbidding union activities by disallowing union worksite committees to have discussions with workers even during their legitimate break time and threatening disciplinary action against union officials. There is blatant discrimination against union members, not allowing them an opportunity to work overtime to increase their earnings. There is constant verbal harassment and intimidation by Edgenta UEMS supervisors towards the union worksite committee. Workers are denied proper PPE equipment when they clean COVID-19 wards and facilities, putting them at great risk of infection. There is an inadequate supply of facemasks and gloves. The company has discontinued subsidized transport services for workers to travel to and from Hospitals to work, causing further hardship and extra cost to workers.

Watch the video.

Congress warns that safety cannot be compromised as workers gradually return to the workplace

Congress warns that safety cannot be compromised as workers gradually return to the workplace

4 Jun 2020

virus

Patricia King, General Secretary of the ICTU said today, “It is crucial as we move to Phase 2 that we ensure the re-opening of the economy is done in a safe manner and in line with public health guidance”.  She was speaking on the eve of the likely cabinet decision to move to Phase 2 as we gradually emerge from the Covid-19 crisis.

The General Secretary said “now more than ever we must re-double our focus and ensure that as workers return to their various workplaces they are guaranteed a safe and secure working environment.

The recently negotiated National Return to Work Safely Protocol, which is mandatory in every employment, irrespective of its size, must be the cornerstone of any re-opening. The General Secretary underlined the following necessary measures:

  • Risk assessments must be carried out
  • Worker safety representatives must be appointed
  • The state, through the offices of the Health and Safety Authority, the statutory body for safety in the workplace, must ensure that the protocol is adhered to in full

Patricia King said “we have heard many calls in recent times from various sectoral business groups pushing for a speed up of the re-opening. Workers and their families and the entire community have made huge sacrifices during this pandemic. Sadly many have lost loved ones.

While progress has been made, we cannot cut corners and compromise on workplace safety. The trade union movement insists that all of the elements in the safety protocol, including the worker representative infrastructure, are adhered to and are seen as an enabler to the re-opening of a more secure and safer economy.

We must use this crisis as an opportunity to look at workplace safety through a different lens. There can be no going back to unsafe systems of work or unsafe workplaces,” concluded Ms. King.

Covid-19 TULF View

The Covid-19 pandemic represents a crisis of unprecedented proportions for the working classes and yet the response of the leadership of the large trade unions has been lacklustre to put it mildly. In an Irish Times article co-authored with SIPTU General Secretary Joe Cunningham (“Social solidarity must be central to post-emergency” April 20th), and again in a lengthy article on Fórsa’s website (“Ireland, the Pandemic and the EU Recovery Plan”), Fórsa’s General Secretary Kevin Callinan has articulated a vision for the way forward based on social partnership (re-packaged as “social dialogue”) at both Irish and EU level. The Trade Union Left Forum — which includes activists from different unions and seeks to build a radical alternative to the failed policies of social partnership — disagrees with this approach for a number of reasons.

 

 

We know from the experience of the bailout that the EU’s agenda is one of austerity, privatisation and attacks on the pay and conditions of workers, especially lower-paid workers, and as such it is futile to look to the EU for answers. If there is any international interest served by the EU, it is the interests of international business, and certainly not those of labour.

 

The prospects for social partnership at national level are not much better. The role fulfilled by trade unions under social partnership is basically equivalent to an advocacy or charity organisation. Even if social partnership were capable of delivering gains,  the fact that this takes place through the process of lobbying rather than mobilisation of rank-and-file members raises the question as to what incentive an individual worker has to join a trade union in the first place. Therefore it is no surprise that the years of social partnership saw a dramatic fall in trade union density, which halved from over 60% in the 1980s to just over 30% in 2009 (“Rising to the Occasion? Trade Union Revitalisation and Migrant Workers in Ireland” M. Hyland, 2015).

 

 

The top-down and fundamentally bureaucratic nature of social partnership also saw a general hollowing out of the rank-and-file activist base even of unions that did recruit large numbers of members during this period. This was severely exposed by the 2008 crisis and subsequent bailout, when unions were at a complete loss as to how to respond.

 

The end of social partnership formally came in December 2009, when, in the midst of an orgy of media vilification of public servants, the Government reneged on a deal with unions to bring about “savings” of €1.3 billion in public-sector pay and instead unilaterally imposed pay cuts. Union leaders cried foul at the Government reneging on the deal, yet the deal they supported — essentially to have their members furloughed without pay for two weeks each year — would have cut their members’ pay anyway, and the fact that they were prepared to agree to this says more about the bankruptcy of social partnership than anything else in the preceding 20 years. However, some unions took a more radical stand than others. When the Government announced plans to extend the pay cuts to workers in semi-states, the unions in that sector threatened “unholy war” and the Government backed down.

 

 

As we face into another recession, unions must realise that the only means through which to protect their members is by organising from the ground up and targeting the structural obstacles to inter-union solidarity, such as the 1990 Industrial Relations Act, rather than by pinning their hopes on external sources, whether that is the Government, the EU or the electoral process. As Frederick Douglass noted, power concedes nothing without a struggle.

 

 

The Covid-19 pandemic represents a crisis of unprecedented proportions for the working classes and yet the response of the leadership of the large trade unions has been lacklustre to put it mildly. In an Irish Times article co-authored with SIPTU General Secretary Joe Cunningham (“Social solidarity must be central to post-emergency” April 20th), and again in a lengthy article on Fórsa’s website (“Ireland, the Pandemic and the EU Recovery Plan”), Fórsa’s General Secretary Kevin Callinan has articulated a vision for the way forward based on social partnership (re-packaged as “social dialogue”) at both Irish and EU level. The Trade Union Left Forum — which includes activists from different unions and seeks to build a radical alternative to the failed policies of social partnership — disagrees with this approach for a number of reasons.

 

 

We know from the experience of the bailout that the EU’s agenda is one of austerity, privatisation and attacks on the pay and conditions of workers, especially lower-paid workers, and as such it is futile to look to the EU for answers. If there is any international interest served by the EU, it is the interests of international business, and certainly not those of labour.

 

The prospects for social partnership at national level are not much better. The role fulfilled by trade unions under social partnership is basically equivalent to an advocacy or charity organisation. Even if social partnership were capable of delivering gains,  the fact that this takes place through the process of lobbying rather than mobilisation of rank-and-file members raises the question as to what incentive an individual worker has to join a trade union in the first place. Therefore it is no surprise that the years of social partnership saw a dramatic fall in trade union density, which halved from over 60% in the 1980s to just over 30% in 2009 (“Rising to the Occasion? Trade Union Revitalisation and Migrant Workers in Ireland” M. Hyland, 2015).

 

 

The top-down and fundamentally bureaucratic nature of social partnership also saw a general hollowing out of the rank-and-file activist base even of unions that did recruit large numbers of members during this period. This was severely exposed by the 2008 crisis and subsequent bailout, when unions were at a complete loss as to how to respond.

 

The end of social partnership formally came in December 2009, when, in the midst of an orgy of media vilification of public servants, the Government reneged on a deal with unions to bring about “savings” of €1.3 billion in public-sector pay and instead unilaterally imposed pay cuts. Union leaders cried foul at the Government reneging on the deal, yet the deal they supported — essentially to have their members furloughed without pay for two weeks each year — would have cut their members’ pay anyway, and the fact that they were prepared to agree to this says more about the bankruptcy of social partnership than anything else in the preceding 20 years. However, some unions took a more radical stand than others. When the Government announced plans to extend the pay cuts to workers in semi-states, the unions in that sector threatened “unholy war” and the Government backed down.

 

 

As we face into another recession, unions must realise that the only means through which to protect their members is by organising from the ground up and targeting the structural obstacles to inter-union solidarity, such as the 1990 Industrial Relations Act, rather than by pinning their hopes on external sources, whether that is the Government, the EU or the electoral process. As Frederick Douglass noted, power concedes nothing without a struggle.

 

 

 

SIPTU calls on Programme for Government negotiators to stop pension age increase

Press Release

SIPTU calls on Programme for Government negotiators to stop pension age increase

Date Released: 28 May 2020

SIPTU representatives have called on Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party to ensure that the deferral of the planned pension age increase to 67 next year is included in any agreed Programme for Government.

SIPTU research, Michal Taft said: “The campaign to stop the increase in the pension age to 67 next year and to establish a Stakeholders Forum to examine the future of our pension system won the support of many voters in the general election earlier this year. During their canvassing, politicians heard the message on the doorsteps and most of the political parties agreed, at the very least, to defer the age increase pending a review.

“In recent weeks, the Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, indicated that he had agreed to the deferral of the pension age increase with An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, in their early discussions on government formation. Fine Gael has declined to confirm this version of events. The Green Party has stated consistently that it supports the demands of the STOP67 campaign, notwithstanding speculation that changed economic circumstances mean the age should increase next year, as planned.

“The reason the issue came to the fore during the election campaign was because of the inequities that have emerged with the pension age transition from 65 to 66, in recent years. This meant people aged 65 being forced on to unemployment payments while awaiting their pension entitlements. It has unfairly subjected people who have worked all their lives and contributed to their pensions being means tested for unemployment payments.

“Absurdly, retired people have been refused payments because they are not available for work. In many cases, older people have received no income at all during the transition period due to the anomalies that have arisen. Raising the age to 67 next year will only deepen the inequities involved. These are among the reasons why all political parties on the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection, in 2017, recommended that the pension age increase be suspended.”

SIPTU Deputy General Secretary, Ethel Buckley, added: “As we know, the Covid-19 crisis has disproportionately affected older people. To use the crisis as a further reason to damage the quality of life of those who have contributed so much to society through their working lives, and paid into the social insurance fund, is inhumane and unacceptable. To ignore the views of so many of those people who voted against the pension age increase, is insulting and undemocratic.

“A Stakeholder Forum, involving trade unions, civic society organisations, employers and government can address these anomalies and inequities and develop a more sustainable state pension system, which also takes into account economic realities.”  

 

National Return to Work Safely Protocol

Exposure to COVID-19 is a public health risk which affects all citizens. The COVID-19 pandemic also has implications for all workplaces as it can present a health risk to workers and other persons at a place of work. The reopening of the economy goes hand-in-hand with the provision of public health measures to reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19 as well as the existing occupational health and safety measures. Watch this video

SIPTU representatives call on Aer Lingus to ensure current pay arrangements continue

SIPTU representatives call on Aer Lingus to ensure current pay arrangements continue

Date Released: 22 May 2020

SIPTU representatives at Aer Lingus have called on the company to continue with current pay arrangements following a statement by the company that it will unilaterally cut pay and working hours after 21st June.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, Neil McGowan said: “The management of Aer Lingus has informed union representatives that the current pay arrangements for staff will continue until 21st June. However, it said that, after this date, it intends to unilaterally make further reductions in working hours and pay, including lay-offs in some sections. For the last number of months, our members in Aer Lingus have been working 50% of normal hours and the airline has been availing of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme.”

“While we fully accept that the airline is deeply affected by the Covid-19 crisis and the consequent downturn in aviation, it is vital that the company which has consistently made record breaking profits for a number of years prior, continues to supports its workers. It is extremely disappointing that Aer Lingus has decided to take unilateral action and we will continue to insist that the current pay arrangements are continued beyond June 21st and for the duration of the crisis.”

“SIPTU representatives will continue to protect the livelihoods of our members, seek to maintain employment and, to the greatest possible extent, their earnings at the airline. We will be consulting with the elected union representatives over the coming days.”

“We are also calling on the Government to extend the wage subsidy for aviation workers for the duration of the current crisis in the industry. The subsidy has played a significant role in maintaining employment and it will be required for a longer period in aviation given the global impact of the Covid-19 virus on air trave

High visibility and Covid-19: returning to the post-lockdown workplace

In the current crisis, we are hearing a lot about digital tools to track, monitor and share data about people. In the workplace, technology has the potential to help us respond to the health pandemic – and causes concerns about data, privacy and power.

Digital monitoring and data gathering by employers has been growing at pace over the past few years. There is already evidence that workers are either unaware or being excluded from information and decision-making about workplace surveillance. Our own research at Prospect shows that most workers are unsure what data is currently collected about them by employers. The workplace is a critical arena for testing the relationship between digital transformation and issues of consent, rights and how the benefits of new technology are shared.

Covid-19 has put this debate into sharper relief.

The new world of workplace surveillance

Surveillance used only to be viable at state level but is increasingly being used by private employers. Growing numbers have been turning to new technologies to monitor quality standards, analyse work processes or assess individual performance. This offers genuine opportunities to improve management and productivity – Prospect’s members are generally positive about new technologies, and many of them are involved in developing it.

But we also hear worrying reports of bad practice – for example, employees finding data they had shared for an agreed purpose being used for another, or significant decisions being taken about people’s working lives or careers on the basis of inaccurate information or faulty analysis.

Some of these excesses may involve breaches of relevant legal frameworks such as GDPR; however awareness and understanding of these rights is generally not high and many questions have not been tested in case law. We have found that the most effective counter to the increase in unaccountable power that technology can create is the collective union voice – which not only protects the rights and interests of employees but can, if engaged with, provide the context of assurance and legitimacy that can allow new technologies to be deployed effectively for the benefit of all. It is also why we continue to press for the inclusion of workforce perspectives in many of the governance structures related to digital technology, such as company advisory committees or regulatory bodies.

There is another dimension worth discussing here as well. The focus on data as an individual right also obscures the impact of technology on collective rights or as groups of people.  There are two reasons for this. First, personal data is a collective asset, as this pandemic is showing us. Second, more of the issues around personal data involve ethical decisions, as they involve trade-offs. For example, privacy risks can be managed to tolerable levels, but what about the unintended consequences? If health data is collected on individual workers during the pandemic, can it be aggregated or repurposed?

This is particularly important in a work setting, where activities are governed by a contractual – or power – relationship. For example, workplace surveillance provides a means to monitor individuals and groups of workers. In the case of a wearable wristband in a packing warehouse, this could measure individual performance as well as other characteristics – how fast was the performance of a entire shift? Are younger workers better than older workers?

Or take the impact of algorithmic decisions that may discriminate in performance management against people of colour. Prospect has already had to take up cases of discrimination embedded in supposedly objective systems for evaluating people for promotion The potential for inequalities to be deepened by hidden biases in complex, ‘black box’ algorithms is even greater, as the case of Amazon’s hiring software demonstrates. The result is discrimination at both individual and group level. This combination of bias and power creates the basis on which systemic breaches can be made into our data rights and lives.

How Covid-19 is accelerating these changes

The use of technology to contain Covid-19 shifts the digital workspace towards datafication and surveillance. The worry in many quarters is that we could be sleepwalking into further surveillance without safeguards in place. There is already a major reshaping of work underway – the question is whether we are adapting to this tech rather than these technologies adapting to us (and who is making the decisions on this).

The widespread move to homeworking during lockdown has meant that video conferencing and digital technologies are being used more and more. This accelerated advance of digital technologies into workspaces mean many more employers will have the potential to accumulate huge amounts of data on their workforces.

The debate shouldn’t just be about what video conferencing platform is the most secure for companies, but about what the fair and appropriate relationships are between workers and their supervisors, between spaces of autonomy and lines of accountability, and between workers’ private and domestic lives at home and the hours they give to work.

A recent Institute for the Future of Work report said that employers were ‘panic-buying’ monitoring systems as their employees shift to remote homeworking. The availability of keyboard tracking technology, video monitoring and work engagement tools open up further opportunities to monitor performance and control behaviour.

Many of these tools bring benefits in enabling workers to keep connected and to check in on  wellbeing. In industries like construction or engineering where physical proximity is more often needed for certain activities, digital technology can help ensure social distancing remains in place.

Wearing a hi-viz jacket in some jobs is pretty commonplace: these kinds of wearable devices have been around for a while with the ability to detect the presence of dangerous substances and keep people safe. But if the same jacket also detects whether you are maintaining social distancing rules at work and sends data to your employer tracking who you congregate with and for how long, doesn’t that shift the boundaries on data and workers’ rights? What happens post-crisis if an employer decides to keep on monitoring?

As lockdown is lifted, the turn to contact tracing may add a whole new layer of data being accumulated about where we go and what we do. The work setting is a critical arena to get right, as the inherent asymmetry of power between employer and employee creates distinct opportunities for abuse, breach of rights and discrimination.   Earlier this month the ICO issued new guidance for employers on workplace testing, but it was largely silent on the role of consultation with workers on negotiating the balance between privacy and legitimate safety needs.

It has been positive to see a number of suggestions in recent weeks about how we get this balance right. This is a welcome briefing from the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) on contact tracing apps. The work of Lilian Edwards and team on the Coronavirus (Safeguards) Bill has set out a framework to examine data use in a crisis. Christina Colclough and Valerio De Stefano argue strongly about the role of data rights and workers’ voices in testing and tracing. Will workers be pressured to prove that they are using the app? Or to hand over their data to employers? What boundaries should be set for how data on work testing is collection, stored and for how long? Getting this balance right is important to trust, transparency and buy-in, especially if we want to avoid the negative consequences of a discussion around testing or immunity passports becoming about the relative status of infected workers, who could be  denied work unless they disclose their health data.

Future of work: enforcing consent and data rights in surveillance

We need solutions that can harness the benefits of digital technology while protecting privacy and workers’ rights. How do we harness the value of data for public health without sleepwalking into a world of automated surveillance and decision-making over which we have no control? GDPR and privacy rules exist for a purpose, and a crisis should not be a reason to ignore them. We need to be careful that the precedent we set now, particularly in the work setting, does not become a future screen for permanent disempowerment.

These are four areas that can help address these risks:

  1. We need to make better use of existing legal tools to test and scrutinise surveillance technologies. We need to ensure there is guidance on how existing laws can assess and protect collective data rights. The legal basis for this exists: Article 88 of the GDPR is explicit about the fundamental rights of workers over how our data is processed for recruitment, performance and equality. Article 35 lays out the scope for Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs), including consultation with data subjects and their representatives. Unions and workers’ representatives should be consulted by employers before the introduction of new data processes, including surveillance technology. Similarly, Prospect are working with the Institute for the Future of Work on how the Equality Act could be applied to new workplace technology.
  2. Building trust. Winning public support is necessary to get people to use these apps and make them effective. And trust is all important if tech is to be adopted safely and at a participation level that is effective. This applies to centralised or proprietary contact tracing apps as much as it does to tech in the workplace. How do we ensure oversight and ways to get the public involved – a case that the Ada Lovelace Institute regularly makes.
  3. Discussing data rights as collective rights in the workplace. If we do not understand the contractual relationship at the heart of employment, then it will be difficult to address the scope for discrimination and a breach of group privacy rights. This should be part of a renewed policy focus post-crisis on how worker consultation and unions could be involved in establishing acceptable boundaries for monitoring technology at work.
  4. Data governance as a public good. The debate about contact tracing apps and Covid-19 data highlights again the prevalence of private companies managing our data. Much of the data we need for public decisions – on our movements, our health, our energy – is held in private hands. How do we make this a public good? How do we build a data infrastructure that builds in transparency and control, not just the idea of individual consent. How do we ensure citizens – and, in this case, workers – are actively involved in setting the rules around data?

Privacy, rights and collective empowerment should not be something to be sacrificed in the campaign to contain Covid-19. This isn’t a zero-sum game, and privacy and rights should be seen not as opposites, but as mutually complementary. Getting this right is the only way to unlock the full potential of new technology, both to protect our health and to rebuild and redesign our economy, for the benefit of all.

 

 

Dorel Giurca, 53, died of Covid-19 on May 8th

Dorel Giurca, 53, died of Covid-19 on May 8th. He had been earning €10.80 an hour working as a cleaner in St James’s Hospital in Dublin.
 
His wife Mirela, who has Covid-19, said from her hospital bed “I don’t know how I will live without him”.
 
Momentum Support Ltd, Dorel’s former employer, say they have adhered strictly to the protocols and guidelines that have been put in place by the relevant authorities in response to Covid-19.
 
Clearly, the company didn’t do enough to protect Dorel. 
 
Dorel died keeping people safe for €10.80 per hour. He was not just cleaning a hospital ward, it was a Covid-infected hospital ward. He came here from Romania three years ago. 
 
From the photograph of him enjoying his pint, one can imagine punters at the same bar giving out about “foreigners taking Irish jobs” and other such ignorant remarks.   Dorel was probably paying extortionate rent to a parasitic landlord. Plenty of middle-class people would look down on him, “he’s only a cleaner”or “an unskilled worker” – the usual guff.  Such essential work, not low-skilled at all but certainly low-paid, is normal life for a huge section of workers in Ireland.  Rogue employers paying poverty wages condemns you to a precarious existence. 
 
We live in a society that accepts this inequality.  Many profit from it. It’s no accident that the vast majority of workers on the frontline are on low pay.  The same low pay experienced by the retail and construction workers who returned to work today. 
 
Workers must join a union, get organised, and fight back against this race to the bottom in work.  The Irish state has the highest level of low pay in the EU and the second highest in the OECD.  The statistics are almost as dismal in the six counties. 
 
Workers and their unions must fight for decent pay, conditions, and dignity in life. A good starting point would be to abolish the 1990 Industrial Relations Act, and the equivalent legislation in the north, which restricts workers and unions taking strike action. 
 
Four trade unions – Mandate, and Connect, Unite and Fórsa (civil service section) – representing 153,000 workers have already adopted as policy the call to abolish the Act.  The next generation of workers in the Union of Students in Ireland representing 367,000 students are also calling for the act to be abolished.
 
If the 1990 Industrial Relations Act is abolished it will give workers the power to fight against rogue employers like Momentum Support paying front-line staff €10.80 an hour to clean Covid-infected wards.
 
 
 
 
 
 

International: Plug social protection gaps in developing countries to prevent future crises

GENEVA (ILO News) – The COVID-19 crisis  has exposed devastating gaps in social protection coverage in developing countries, and recovery will only be sustained and future crises prevented if they can transform their ad hoc crisis response measures into comprehensive social protection systems, according to new analysis from the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Two briefing papers released by the ILO warn that the current gaps in social protection could compromise recovery plans, expose millions to poverty, and affect global readiness to cope with similar crises in future.

The papers take a detailed look at the role of social protection measures in addressing the COVID-19 outbreak in developing countries, including the provision of sickness benefits during the crisis.

The brief on Social protection responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in developing countries , describes social protection as, “an indispensable mechanism for delivering support to individuals during the crisis”. It examines the response measures some countries have introduced, including removing financial barriers to quality health care, enhancing income security, reaching out to workers in the informal economy, protecting incomes and jobs, and improving the delivery of social protection, employment and other interventions.

© Ploy Phutpheng / UN Women

“While the virus does not discriminate between rich and poor, its effects are highly uneven”, the brief says, adding that the ability to access affordable, quality, healthcare has become “a matter of life and death”.

The brief also warns policymakers to avoid a singular focus on COVID-19 because this could reduce the availability of health systems to respond to “other conditions that kill people every day”. It cites the example of how, during the Ebola epidemic, a focus on this virus exacerbated mortality from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

According to data in the brief, 55 per cent of the world’s population – as many as four billion people – are not covered by social insurance or social assistance. Globally, only 20 per cent of unemployed people are covered by unemployment benefits, and in some regions the coverage is much lower.

The other Social Protection Spotlight brief covers Sickness benefits during sick leave and quarantine: Country responses and policy considerations in the context of COVID-19 .

While the virus does not discriminate between rich and poor, its effects are highly uneven […] The ability to access affordable, quality, healthcare has become ‘a matter of life and death’.”

It warns that the COVID-19 health crisis has exposed two main adverse effects of gaps in sickness benefit coverage. Firstly, such protection gaps can force people to go to work when they are sick or should self-quarantine, so increasing the risk of infecting others. Secondly, the related loss of income increases the risk of poverty for workers and their families, which could have a lasting impact.

The brief calls for urgent, short-term measures to close sickness benefit coverage and adequacy gaps, pointing out that this would bring a three-fold benefit: support for public health, poverty prevention, and promotion of the human rights to health and social security.

The proposed measures include extending sickness benefit coverage to all, with particular attention given to reaching women and men in non-standard and informal employment, the self-employed, migrants and vulnerable groups. Other recommendations include increasing benefit levels to ensure they provide income security, speeding up benefit delivery, and expanding the scope of benefits to include prevention, diagnosis and treatment measures, as well as time spent in quarantine or on the care of sick dependants.

“The COVID-19 crisis is a wake-up call. It has shown that a lack of social protection affects not just the poor, it exposes the vulnerability of those who have been getting by relatively well, because medical charges and loss of income can easily destroy decades of family work and saving,” said Shahra Razavi, the Director of the ILO’s Social Protection Department.

“The examples from around the world clearly demonstrate once again that countries with robust and comprehensive social protection systems are in a much stronger position to respond to, and recover from, a crisis. Policymakers need to build on the momentum generated by growing public awareness of the importance of social protection and the urgency of investing in it as a society, to ensure preparedness for future crises.”

Workers north and south are being sacrificed for beef barons’ profits

A member of Unite the Union working at Moy Park Dungannon sadly passed away this week after contracting Covid-19.    Workers in the Dungannon and Portadown plants are isolating at home in fear of their own safety that of their families.   Moy Park will not facilitate testing of staff.   A similar story has unfolded in meat processing plants in the twenty-six counties, where SIPTU has reported over 600 confirmed cases among workers who are badly paid and forced to flout social distancing guidelines during shifts.  

The agrifood industries in both parts of Ireland are closely connected – many workers cross the border every day when commuting to, and as part of, their work.   The only solution is to have one single set of measures for easing restrictions in Ireland.  Workers’ safety north and south must be the priority – not the profits of beef barons or any other agrifood monopolies.   

Workers need a union to fight their corner and protect their lives – they cannot rely on government ministers, who only serve the interests of capital.  

No going back to normal – we need one all-Ireland public health service NOW.