The pandemic, and the response to it by governments globally has also brought in its wake the increased tendency towards the curtailment of the right to work of citizens and residents, as well as the right of workers in the economy. Arbitrary decisions have been taken, including the unilateral, without discussion, suspension of wage payments or reduction in wages of workers. Often businesses and governments have asked workers to work from home without providing the means to make this happen, or requested certain categories of workers to continue coming to work, or placed workers on a roster ostensibly in response to physical distancing measures, without providing workers the necessary equipment and facilities to guarantee their safety.
Frontline and essential services workers have been known to be deployed without providing them with personal protective equipment [PPE], while several have had their approved allowances un paid as well. What some employers, both private sector and public sector have tried to do is to utilise the public health emergency context and measures as the pretext to assault workers rights and violate existing conditions of service and employment contracts to the detriments of workers, without consultation, while also working to silent and punish legitimate dissent.
To curb the assault on workers rights and conditions, and to ensure the implementation of inclusive policies and measures to overcome the impact of the pandemic, workers need to remain vigilant, to increase their awareness, to intensify their organising and mobilising, and to build solidarity across the working class and between the working class and the rest of the working people in order to be able to amplify their voice and enhance their collective capacity to defend and promote their rights.
Covid 19 Vaccine Justice [Injustice] Dimension
Before we go on to examine the proposals for measures to contain COVID 19 and overcome the impact of the pandemic, it is necessary to pause for a while to examine the justice and inequality issues around the search for and deployment of vaccines to prevent COVID 19 infection and facilitate its containment.
As soon as the infectious disease was identified, described, defined and proclaimed a pandemic by the WHO, the race to develop a vaccine against COVID 19 began in earnest. And in a little over a year since the declaration of the pandemic, there are now at least seven COVID 19 vaccines approved and in use globally now, with a further 200 in development, of which at least 60 are in various stages of clinical development.
This rate of vaccine development is in and of itself a record. The COVID 19 vaccine development process has shattered old conventions regarding vaccine development and rewritten the facts with respect to pace of development. This has happened because of concerted global effort, including the commitment of humongous sums of money in investments to finance vaccine development, manufacture and distribution. Compare this with the decades long process to develop a vaccine for Ebola, another virus infectious disease outbreak, but one that is restricted to the tropics and the developing countries of the world.
Another dimension of the COVID 19 enhanced inequality and social injustice can be glimpsed from the types of countries that have had a head start with respect to access to the approved vaccines.
As of March 7th 2021, globally more than 304 million doses of the approved vaccines have been given, at a rate of 7.93 million doses per day, with 65.4 million people already fully vaccinated with two doses of the two dose vaccines.
Of this amount 90.4 million doses have been administered in the US at a current rate of 2.16 million doses per day. A further 22 million doses have been administered in the UK, 22 million in the EU, and a record 73 million in India, where 15% of the population have received the first dose, and 7% of the population of have received the full two doses of the two homegrown approved vaccines.
Of the two approved vaccines in India, both of which are manufactured in facilities in India, one is on license from AzraZeneca, while the other is fully home developed.
And whereas Cuba, a small island country, but one with a robust people centered and people driven governance system, has two vaccine candidates in development, with one already in phase 3 clinical trials, and showing promising results with more than 85% efficacy in trials; Nigeria, and the entire continent of Africa is dependent almost entirely on the global COVAX facility led by the WHO which is committed to securing 600 million doses of various Vaccines to Africa by the end of 2021, with 12 million doses already shipped to various African countries, including the 3.9 million doses that arrived in Nigeria on March 2nd, 2021.
Additionally, the African Union through its African vaccines acquisition task team [AVATT], is also committed to securing additional supply of 670 million doses of vaccines to Africa by the end of 2021. Together the commitments from the WHO led COVAX facility and the AU led AVATT will deliver some 1.2b doses of vaccines covering 600 million Africans, about 45% of the African population of 1.3b by the end of 2021.
The unequal nature of the access is manifest in the fact that by the end of 2021, the US, the UK, and the EU would have fully vaccinated between at least 80% of their populations, with countries like the US projecting 100% vaccination of the population.
Yet, while the case of unequal relations between the developed and the developing nations is made more glaring by this skewed COVID 19 vaccine development, production and distribution process, what is also clear is the absence of active agency of the African leadership, the inherent incompetence, as well as the congenital selfishness of the African ruling class.
If Cuba and India can invest in vaccine development, what stopped African leaders and the AU, in addition to participating in the COVAX facility and establishing the AVATT mechanism [both of which are for purchase of vaccines], from establishing a Common African Vaccine Development Task Team [CAVDETT] facility to pool their resources and investment together towards developing African COVID 19 Vaccine candidates?
This fact of the interplay of imperialist domination and neocolonial subordination of the African ruling class is brought out even more forcefully by the active agency of the India and Cuban ruling classes.
What Should Be Done?
The 7th Edition of the ILO Monitor notes that, “There are signs of a recovery on the horizon, with evidence of a significant rebound in economic activity and labour markets in the second half of 2020. However, the recovery will continue to be uneven and subject to great uncertainties, threatening to increase inequality within and between countries. The actual speed and quality of the recovery in 2021 will depend on a wide range of political, economic and health‑related factors. ”
It goes on to state that, “Policy interventions must focus on robust and broad‑based recovery by addressing employment, income, workers’ rights and social dialogue: a human-centered recovery. ”
To achieve this and make this possible, the ILO recommends that five interrelated issues need to be at the forefront of policy makers considerations in 2021;
1. Macroeconomic policy will need to remain accommodative in 2021 and beyond to combat the large work deficit and income losses generated by the pandemic. Fiscal stimulus packages, particularly income support measures, continue to be necessary to protect households and businesses and to boost aggregate demand. Investment, spurred by public investment, is crucial to rebuilding economies and creating jobs.
2. International action to support low- and middle-income countries will continue to be critical. Many developing countries not only have limited financial means to buy vaccines, but are also constrained in implementing the economic and employment policies needed to support the recovery. The continued impact of the crisis in particular on young people in these countries can undermine growth, and potentially cause long-term structural damage and increasing informality. All this threatens to undo the significant achievements in poverty reduction made over the past decades. A widening gap between developed and developing countries would result, reversing the trend of global economic convergence. For this reason, international solidarity in rolling out vaccines (as exemplified by the COVID‑19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility) and financial and policy support to counter the ongoing employment effects of the crisis, including debt relief, are urgently needed.
3. The crisis has had particularly devastating effects on many vulnerable population groups and sectors around the globe. Young people, women, the low-paid and low-skilled workers have less potential to achieve recovery quickly, and the risk of long-term scarring and detachment from the labour market is all too real in their case. Policy measures will need to be targeted at them, since general support will not automatically reach them.
4. A carefully balanced sectoral policy dimension in recovery strategies is needed to support sectors that have been hit the hardest and that risk continuing to fall behind, while realizing the full potential for creating jobs in fast‑growing sectors. At the same time, measures are needed to assist businesses (especially micro, small and medium‑sized enterprises), workers and jobseekers to adjust to the post-COVID-19 economy, including employment services, active labour market programs and skilling initiatives, all adapted to the new realities.
5. Against a backdrop of structural change and persisting deficits, policymakers need to seize the opportunity to develop and implement recovery strategies, through social dialogue with employers’ and workers’ organizations, that will reshape trajectories to meet longer-term goals and promote the transition to a more inclusive, fair and sustainable economy.
What the crisis has shown is just how much economies and labour markets depend on each other. Thus, this interdependence should provide the opportunity going forward for building a more inclusive and sustainable world order.
For instance, as of the end of May 2020 “Over 170 countries, for example, have allocated a total of $9 trillion to fiscal stimulus plans. Building on these steps and in order to accelerate the transition to a more inclusive, and sustainable and resilient world, large-scale and proactive policy actions should be pursued in the following three areas .”
1. Provide Immediate Support For At-Risk Workers, Enterprises, Jobs And Incomes:
Urgent steps are required in the short-term to avoid enterprise closures, job losses and income decline and mitigate the shift in work and labour into the domestic sphere. Interventions should build on existing institutions, while steering workers and enterprises towards sustainable development for a better and stronger recovery.
2. Ensure A Comprehensive Approach To Returning To Work:
Combatting the pandemic and restarting the economy are not competing priorities. On the contrary, they must go together. Returning to work does not mean giving up on protecting the health of workers or forgoing hard-won gains to suppress the spread of the virus. And protecting health does not mean keeping enterprises and economic activity locked down. Policies should ensure that both happens at the same time.
3. Creating Decent And Productive Jobs For A Green, Inclusive, And Resilient Recovery:
The world of work will not and should not look the same after this crisis. The fragilities and fault lines exposed by the crisis need to be tackled. What is needed is a coordinated global, regional and national effort to create decent and productive jobs for all as the foundation of a green, inclusive and resilient recovery. In doing so, demographic shifts in ageing societies as well as the transition towards climate neutral economies, which saw increased support from wide parts of societies before the crisis began, need to be considered.
Over all, it is important that steps must be taken and measures designed and implemented in consultation with workers and citizens towards ensuring, enabling and protecting the right to work, the right to decent job, the right to accessible and affordable basic social services in health, education, housing, transportation, among others, as well as the right to social protection for the vulnerable.
To conclude, as workers, as trade unions and as members of the working class, who are some of the most affected by the pandemic, and who have borne and are bearing the burden of some of the most severe impact of the responses to the pandemic, effects and impacts that are leading to some of the most unprecedented changes and transformations in, and on the world of work; we have a duty to ensure that we are actively engaged in the processes, and significantly influencing the changes and transformations in the world of work towards ensuring a more equitable, more inclusive, more socially just, and more rewarding world of work.