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Covid19 crisis: Mapping out trade union and social partners’ responses

30 March 2020

Last updated : 30 March 2020

With the health crisis caused by the epidemic spread of Covid 19 and the subsequent confinement measures taken, the economic and labour market implications are severe. Social partners and trade unions in OECD countries are issuing responses, agreements and calls for action. Below is a snapshot of these initiatives listed by country. It will be updated on regular basis, and broaden to other OECD and non-OECD countries to provide best practice sharing in these critical times. Actions at the sector level will also be included.

Other useful international trade union webpages:

Australia

  • The ACTU is calling on the government to introduce a two weeks paid leave for all workers impacted by Covid-19. There are currently over 3 million workers who do not have access to any paid leave, creating a significant health and safety risk as casual workers cannot easily leave their work. The ACTU has launched a petition to this end. In addition, the ACTU Centre for Health and Safety has launched the Covid-19 resource page. This page will be regularly updated to provide unions, HSRs and workers information on how they can protect their workplaces from Covid-19. (March 18)

Austria

  • AK and ÖGB jointly welcomed the governments fund worth 4 billion euro covering diverse purposes, from short-time work and entrepreneurial help to the purchase of instruments for the health sector. Initially, the social partners called for said measure (source). The proposal includes the following distribution of net replacement rates:
    • 80% net replacement rate if the gross wage before short-time work is over 2,685 euros,
    • 85% with monthly gross wages between 1,700 euros and 2,685 euros,
    • 90% with a gross salary of up to 1,700 euros. (March 12)
  • Unions and the chamber of labour have set up a website (http://jobundcorona.at ) and a hotline advising on the new short time agreement but also (un)employment, childcare, cancelling flights etc. (March 16)
  • The GPA union called on for limiting the working time of the 160,000 frontline employees in the food retail sector to opening hours to 8.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. This would still guarantee food security.

Belgium

  • Social partners have issued a couple of joint statements. On March 17, they supported government confinement measures and agreed to work together towards fending off social and economic impacts – also via the ‘Conseil national du travail (CNT)’, at company level and the public social security bodies that they are members of (source). On 10 March, they called for daily monitoring of the situation by assuming joint responsibilities to keep the economy running, while ensuring workers’ health and safety. An earlier joint statement was made on 6 March calling on to include social partner in discussions, to find solutions towards economic stability and protecting jobs, to spread information to avoid higher health risks, and to endorse consultations at company level. (March 18)
  • The FGTB called for additional measures to protect workers and their wages amidst the crisis. The union recommends to encourage as much mobile work as possible, while ensuring the safety at work that is deemed essential with additional support given to these sectors (health, transport, energy, etc.). In regard to wage and temporary unemployment coverage, it calls on to extend benefits from 70% to the actual wage (and indicates financing measures to do so); to expand access to temporary unemployment benefits to all workers; and to take measure to protect pregnant women (and their leave) amongst other. (March 18)
  • The CSC issued demands to the government to protect workers in temporary unemployment and increase their benefits regardless of their employment status, e.g. for temporary workers. In that regard, the proposals go beyond the government commitment to increase benefits from 65% to 70% of the average capped salary until June 30, 2020. The CSC calls on for wages to be maintained if a worker is asked to stay at home by his/ her employer. (March 16)

Canada

  • The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) set up an information portal including all of their statements related to the crisis. Upon the federal government response on March 18, the CLC welcomed the measures. Prior to that, Canada’s unions have called for direct income supports for those not eligible for Employment Insurance (EI), like the Emergency Support Benefit and Emergency Care Benefit – which is part of the package. Yet, the CLC deemed the quantum as too modest. Direct income support amounted to roughly 1% of GDP (3% with the tax measures included). The CLC cautioned of the need to provide income support to more workers going forward. It is assumed that measures have to scale up its initial efforts in the weeks ahead. A large portion of the measures announced to date have been aimed at providing emergency liquidity to banks and financial institutions and restoring confidence in capital markets. Clarification on the administration of the measures is further needed. The leave needs related to school and workplace closures also remain unadressed with a patchwork of diverse measures taken at province level. (March 24)
  • In a call to protect the rights of marginalized workers and refugees as part of its COVID-19 response, the CLC reiterates the call for immediate government action to ensure: healthcare for all, including those without status (e.g. refugees); comprehensive worker protections, including paid emergency leave; a stop on detentions and deportations; increased funding for community supports, including food banks; and emergency shelters. (March 24)

Denmark

  • A national level tri-partite agreement is set to to mitigate imminent financial and labour market consequences. The government pledged to cover 75 percent of a full-time employee’s monthly salary, up to a limit of 23,000 DKK (3,100 Euros) per month, with the remaining 25 percent paid by the company, when employees are in risk of being laid off. For short-term/ temporary workers, the government offers to cover up to 90 percent of the salary, up to a limit of 26,000 DKK (3,500 Euros) per month. So far, the agreement covers private businesses that otherwise would have to lay off at least 30 percent or more than 50 employees. The new wage compensation scheme will be valid until June 9 2020 with effect from March 9 2020. (March 15)
  • The compensation for self-employed was addressed as part of new government measures that were welcomed by unions as this was not covered by the tripartite agreement. The new measures will offer compensation to self-employed who loses 30 percent or more of their turnover. The government will offer a 75 percent compensation with a max of 3,100 Euros per month (extended to 4,660 euros if the spouse is co-worker). (March 18)
  • An agreement in the hospitality sector has been now complimented by a commitment of the government to cover up till 90 percent of employees salary in the hotel- and restaurant sector for workers who are laid off (March 17).

Finland

  • The amount of workers in negotiations has increased greatly during the week and currently amounts to 240 000 persons, either at risk, or already being temporarily laid-off. Trade Union focus is now on ensuring that the lay-offs are temporary and do not lead to actual layoffs. (March 27)
  • The Finish social partners made a joint proposal to the government that includes 16 points of action on March 18. It contained three pillars: temporary relief in employer pension contributions (by EUR 910 million); more rapid temporary lay-off proceedings to ensure that lay-offs remain a last resort; and safeguarding livelihoods. The proposal amongst other includes a relaxation of lay-off periods and negotiation times in the event of undertakings. At the same time, workers would be protected through better access to benefits including via a funding of lay-off allowance. After its submission and upon changes, the government took action based on the agreement and with a reduced time frame to 3 months was reached two days later. (March 24)
  • The ministry of economic affairs and employment is preparing the legal changes needed to temporarily include freelancers and self-employed workers to unemployment security. The idea is that businesses will be treated as part-time businesses and on that basis individuals will be entitled to unemployment benefit.  The amendment would not differentiate between different types of companies. The amendment to the Unemployment Security Act is time limited duration. Unions largerly support the changes as suggested (March 24)
  • SAK has an information portal for trade unions and STTK publishes day to day reaction on a daily basis.

France

  • In their response to government’s measures, trade unions call for more protection of vulnerable and precarious workers. They also insist on lifting the ceiling for the compensation of partial unemployment, so that workers do not lose out on wages. Several trade unions demand a prohibition of dismissals, with a view to protect employment.
  • French social partners have issued a short joint statement on Covid-19, asserting the essential role of social dialogue and collective bargaining. They are calling on governments and companies to put in place all the means required for health and safety of workers. Trade unions and employers agreed to stay in contact as much as possible and underline the role of social protection regimes. (March 19)
  • In the services sector, a Covid-19 solidarity fund has been negotiated between a trade union federation and  the supplementary health schemes for the hospitality branches. This fund allows employees and employers in the industry to be fully exempt from contributions for the second quarter of 2020 and to continue to be protected regardless of their situation. The hotels, cafes and restaurants branch has 800,000 employees and is strongly affected by the closure decisions linked to confinement.
  • The government’s decision to exclude the building sector from measures on partial unemployment has been severely criticised by social partners in this sector. (March 20)
  • Federations in the airlines sector are ringing alarm bells about speculations from the private sector and asks the government to keep hold of the first French airline.
  • A freeze on dividends for the year 2020 is also called upon so that liquidities can be kept within companies. (March 25)
  • Several trade unions (CGT, CFDT, FO, UNSA) have set up dedicated web pages to provide practical advice to workers.

Germany

  • The DGB and BDA issued a joint statement of solidarity pledging to work together in times of crisis and setting out demands to the government (March 13).
  • The DGB also releases new information for workers on dedicated site on a daily basis.

Italy

  • Last Sunday, the Italian government introduced a list of “essential” economic activities that could keep on operating under the current circumstances. The list included some 80 ATECO 2007 2-digit codes (the Italian version of the EU Nace Rev. 2 activities), which was deemed quite large by unions. CGIL-CISL-UIL reacted threatening a general strike and consultations between unions and the government went on until Wednesday, resulting in a revised and shortened list of economic activities deemed “essential”, thanks to a thorough examination at the 4-digit level (sub-sectoral). The unions define it as “important common work” and “great result”. (March 27)
  • Several union demands were taken into account in the Government’s “Care Italy” decree. The decree foresees funding of 25bn euros and mobilized 350 bn euros resources. Measures include a redundancy payment fund, extraordinary paid parental leave, one-off compensations for self-employed, artists and agricultural workers, SME funding and postponed fiscal deadlines amongst other. Important measures also include: 12 additional days of paid leave; the inclusion of quarantine days in the sick leave; and 60 days suspension of collective and individual dismissals on economic grounds. (March 18)
  • The CGIL, CISL and UIL have decided to make a financial donation with own funding and will make a call for donations. (March 18)
  • A “Joint Protocol to regulate measures designed to combating and containing the spreading of Covid-19 in workplaces” was issued by the government with 13 action points to be carried out by unions and employers respectively after pressure exerted by unions to prevent work strain for frontline workers and contangion at the workplace. The code of conduct foresees these measures to be replicated with the view of other measures regarding social safety nets, smart working arrangements and the general goal of maintaining economic activity while ensuring safe working environments (including via protocols). It also includes paid leave negotiated also by collective agreements, the call for specific agreements in operating sectors (March 14).

Israel

  • Histadrut and the government expressed intention to sign a collective agreement that will regulate the employment of public sector workers during the COVID-19 crisis. Non-essential workers would go on a paid mandatory leave taken from their vacation leave. Public sector employers and trade unions will set up a joint vacation days fund for emergencies. (March 16)

Japan

  • RENGO has issued a set of demands to the government following a wave of measures taken (including school and educational facilities closings). They include: (1) To secure safe place including after-school care programs for children; (2) To inform employers and workers adequately to establish subsidy scheme and to prevent the dismissal or lay-off, so that the parents are able to take leave due to the school closure; (3) To provide support and introduce the subsidy scheme, as well as utilises the Employment Adjustment Subsidy, for the micro-, small and medium size companies which will face drastic change of business environment, so that they can secure their jobs. (March 5)

New Zealand

  • The Council of Trade Unions issued a statement welcoming the government’s package as a good immeadiate reaction. They called upon employers and businesses to now take actions parallel to slow down the virus spread and allow all workers (regardless of the employment status) to isolate or take sick leave. The new wage subsidy scheme is deemed as a good way to support companies. The additional $500 million for health services should go into supporting health sector workers specifically. The ‘Council’ also alerted employers to work with unions to prepare critical sectors (– aged care, cleaners, health workforce, public sector, retail and hospitality). (March 18)

Netherlands

  • The social partners expressed support for government emergency measures. These whole-of-government measures envision to enable “companies can continue to pay their staff, bridge the gap for self-employed workers and allow money to remain in companies through relaxed tax regimes, compensation and additional credit facilities”. The package includes a 3-month temporary arrangement for compensation for wage costs was set up to avoid redundancies, supplements to the income for self-employed and independent entrepreneurs (to attain a minimum level), and compensation schemes, tax credits and other measures for affected sectors and SMEs. The FNV welcomed that measures extend beyond regular employees to self-employed and non-permanent workers.  (March 17)

Spain

  • The CCOO demanded additional urgent measures from the government against dismissals and responsibility to the business community. The union acknowledges measures taken to prevent lay-offs. It is assumed that hundreds of thousands would be temporarily suspended. However, companies seem to fire workers without taking on short-term employment schemes, yet are receiving liquidity measures. The CCOO calls on to prevent lay-offs of fixed-term and temporary workers. They refer to the Italian measures of a temporary ban on economic lay-offs and to impose conditionality on companies. For workers who have been victims of these unprotected layoffs and who do not have access to any benefit or subsidy, additional benefits are requested. (March 25)
  • The government released a new set of emergency measures via royal decree (see UGT information page). Social partners welcomed the measures that include a funding commitment of up to 200,000 billion euros (20% of annual GDP) from private and public ressources, job protection measures that allow to reduce working time, temporary lay-offs, telework, the facilitation of compensantion to self-employed workers and social security exemptions and liquidity measures to companies, also to avoid lay-offs (March 17).
  • UGT Comercio and CCOO Servicios have secured an agreement for supermarket workers. This includes a reduction in working hours, an increase in the number of part-time workers, and a guarantee that every worker is equipped with masks and gloves. The unions are also calling for financial compensation for the extra workload, a limit to the number of people allowed in stores, and tighter restrictions on distancing between customers to keep people from spreading the virus. (March 18).
  • Unions and business organisations had sent a common set of requests to the government. The proposals by CCOO and UGT on the union side and CEOE and CEPYME on the business side. They demand a royal decree-law in addition to labour market and social security measures. The requests concern: • Partial unemployment by force majeure • Economic, technical and organizational causes of production • Protection of intermittent workers • Situation of isolation or contagion of workers • Measures to compensate for the closure of school centers, dependent persons centers and restrictions on mobility • Mobile work (March 12).

Sweden

  • LO-Sweden has regular contact with the government and the employers’ organisation, the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, as well as the majority parties in the Riksdag. The Swedish government proposes budget allocations to avoid redundancies and bankruptcies, including by providing 90 percent of pay to workers upon short-term lay-offs, sick pay would be covered by the government for the next 2 months, while companies can defer their social security contributions and some of their taxes. These measures were consulted upon with social partners. LO-Sweden however recommends further measures including a strengthened unemployment insurance with increased compensation and opportunities for more people to be able to benefit from the insurance. LO also calls for measures to use the opportunity for skills development, as well as to prepare for potential school closings (March 18).
  • At sector level, the Hotel and Restaurant Union in Sweden has signed an ad-hoc agreement based on the new short-term lay-off rules covering all workers except one-day hires. The period of the short-term lay-off is set at the firm level and can go up to 6 months (+ extension of 3 months). In terms of wage adjustments, the following distribution has been agreed:
    • With a work reduction of 20%, the salary is reduced by 4%.
    • With a work reduction of 40%, the salary is reduced by 6%.
    • With a work reduction of 60%, the salary is reduced by 7.5%. (March 18)

Switzerland

  • The SGB calls for further federal government responses includng:
    • No layoffs thanks to short-time work: In this difficult situation, companies should not lay off staff, but should switch to short-time work. With the short-time work, the federal government has a powerful tool to continue paying wages even in the event of a drop in sales in the companies and thus also to secure a large part of the companies’ liquidity.
    • Apply short-time work more broadly: The Federal Council must close the gaps in fixed-term contracts and hourly wages as quickly as possible – before it is too late.
    • Wage guarantee for parents: If parents have to stay at home to look after their children, the employer must fundamentally continue to pay wages. In order for wages to be secure in any case, the SGB also demands a wage replacement for parents with childcare obligations. To this end, existing structures of the EO scheme should be used.

UK

  • The TUC has released a set of recommendations to the government, whose announcement of a package to protect jobs and workers it deemed insufficient. The TUC’s proposals structure around 5 steps: (1) ensure that business support measures are conditional on support for jobs; (2) fix the sick pay system to provide better sick pay for all (see the initial call for a reform of the system amidst the Covid-19 crisis and call to sign on a petition to the government); (3) introduce targeted support for parents who need to take time out of work to care for kids; (4) provide more help to families – and a stimulus to the economy; (5) bring together a taskforce of unions and employers to help co-ordinate the national effort. The TUC’s report estimates the effects on workers and sectors. It underlines that the government support packages to businesses and the £330 billion of loan guarantees should be made conditional upon businesses setting out measures to protect jobs. The TUC calls on to establish ‘Jobs and Fair Wages Plans, agreed with recognised unions as a condition of access to government support , with further details to be agreed by the coronavirus Union and Business Taskforce’. It further demands steps to provide wage subsidies for short-time working and temporary layoffs. For working families, the TUC calls on for emergency measures including:
  • Guaranteed paid parental leave for one primary carer for the duration of the school and nursery closures, with government reimbursement for employers.
  • Protection from unfair treatment or dismissal for parents who take up this leave, no matter how long they’ve worked in their jobs.

Going forward, the TUC also calls for a stimulus to support household incomes (March 18).

  • One of the UK’s teachers’ unions NASUWT issued a comprehensive guide to members regarding all aspects affecting professionals in this sector. Recommendations are provided on self-isolation, on income and social security coverage of supply teachers (agency workers), on short-and long term school closures, and mental health. (March 18)

US

  • As the US Covid-19 bill is under discussion, the AFL-CIO released a further statement urging the measures to be agreed on and take additional steps thereafter. The AFL-CIO welcomes suggested measures ‘on expansion of the unemployment insurance program; increased funding for schools, hospitals, and state and local governments; relief for the airline industry that includes worker rights protections; and critical funding to keep transit workers on the job’.  However, they outline missing pieces such as workplace standards – in particular on OHS, the challenges around multi-employer pension schemes, and more support to the U.S. Postal Service. (25 March )
  • The AFL-CIO (USA) has created a dedicated webpage including resources and guidance about the COVID-19 pandemic, and recommendations to limit its impact on working families. The AFL-CIO encourages 14 paid sick days, free testing and no out-of-pocket medical expenses for all workers. The AFL-CIO calls for revisions to unemployment insurance to protect workers immediately susceptible to job loss:  aviation, education, entertainment, hospitality and construction workers.  The AFL-CIO cites legislative action as essential:  investment in infrastructure and medical facilities and adopting the Protecting the Right to Organize (“PRO”) Act, and the Public Service Negotiation Act.
  • AFL-CIO President, Richard Trumka Public Statement (19 March )
  • The American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) developed a dedicated page for frontline workers to consult on health and safety. The page also includes stories from workers.