One World: Global solidarity for recovery and resilience

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This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders – from around the world and all parts of society – address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. It aims to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge. Opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

To keep updated on all of the OECD's work supporting the fight against COVID-19, visit our Digital Content Hub.

Tackling Coronavirus (COVID-19): Contributing to a Global Effort

COVID-19 will be remembered as the pandemic that stopped the world. We are living through a period that can only be described as one of the great acts of solidarity in history as people give up civic freedoms to save lives. And while we all agree that managing the health crisis is the overwhelming priority, the economic consequences are – and will – be dramatic in a troubled world.

Before the SARS-CoV-2 virus began to spread, we already faced a convergence of crises. Massive inequality was driving an age of anger, with civil unrest and distrust in democracy already recognised as major risks to economies and societies. Action on the climate emergency is and will remain an imperative to save human beings from extinction. Progress on every indicator has stalled for women, and violence against women not only remains largely unchecked but has increased dramatically since the pandemic began. Racism and xenophobia are on the rise as a platform of fear fuelling far-right politics. We are facing the choices associated with the best and worst impacts of technology. Multilateralism is in crisis as people lose trust in globalisation and international institutions.

On 1 May, we salute the workers in health, care and other frontline sectors whose commitment is essential to saving lives and providing vital products and services. At the same time, we must prepare for the economic consequences and start to build anew.

And now we are confronted with COVID-19 and the very real potential for 200 million jobs to be lost, up to 250 million people facing starvation and possibly half a billion people thrown back into poverty

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The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on people’s health and economies: as we seek to slow or prevent the rapid spread of the virus within communities and protect the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions, shutdowns and confinement now apply to most of the world’s population.

On 1 May, we salute the workers in health, care and other frontline sectors whose commitment is essential to saving lives and providing vital products and services. At the same time, we must prepare for the economic consequences and start to build anew.

The impacts of this crisis have brutally exposed the failings of the globalisation model imposed on working women and men. Public health systems have been debilitated by austerity, and the erosion of workers’ rights has left untold millions of workers exposed. Women, migrant workers, ethnic minorities and others who face discrimination are bearing a particularly heavy burden. This must change.

We need to strengthen social dialogue to respond to the on-going global health crisis: Lessons from Denmark by Lizette Risgaard, Danish Confederation of Trade Unions

The antidote to this crisis is in the solidarity that is the lifeblood of trade unions, throughout history and today. All countries must work together to overcome the initial COVID-19 infection waves and to prepare for the future. We applaud those governments that are making full use of social dialogue to tackle the crisis and secure wages and income support for their people.  But we ask them to do more: to act in global solidarity and deliver a global protection fund, to support the poorest of countries and to fill coverage gaps in lower to middle income developing nations where people face destitution. Promised by the UN after the Bachelet report almost a decade ago, it would be a minuscule amount compared to the potential USD 10 trillion cost of the emergency phase of this crisis. USD 35 billion would fund 5 years of social protection for the 28 poorest countries and build both a basic economy and resilience against the next crisis. Every dollar beyond that would assist coverage in other countries. If we can’t share some of the USD 10 trillion for health and income support now, then when?

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“People are no longer coming to our kiosk to buy tea or coffee since Coronavirus started. I am the breadwinner for my family of 9 (father, mother and 7 siblings), feeding them from what I earn from selling tea or coffee. Nonetheless, I cook the tea every morning, but no one comes to my kiosk. Yesterday I did not earn even one shilling, I went home empty-handed”.

– Jamila Hussein, 26 year-old manager of with a tea kiosk in Mogadishu

Even in these dire times, there are still governments that refuse to co-operate with unions at home or with other countries internationally, that deny the reality of the pandemic or allow violence and human rights abuses at enormous cost to their own people.

As an increasing number of countries start to navigate their way out of the confinements and closures that have been in place for weeks, many workers have to contemplate a return to work in unsafe conditions, with only one-fifth of countries rated as having good protection measures. And health and care workers still face shortages of personal protective equipment even in some of the world’s richest countries.

At the same time, while many companies are behaving responsibly, there are those who are seeking to profit from the crisis, including by violating fundamental workers’ rights. Governments must hold these pandemic profiteers to account. In addition, the involvement of big tech companies – some of which are experiencing windfall profits – in responses to the crisis in areas such as contact tracing will require stringent privacy safeguards.

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And extreme right political groups are seeking to harvest support, including by mass circulation of misinformation, when the pressures on journalists and reliable, quality media outlets are severe as advertising revenues fall yet further. At the same time, public broadcasters have already been weakened by austerity, and in some countries by governments seeking to avoid accountability. Good information is essential to combatting the pandemic and we must remain vigilant and ready to tackle extremism and heightened threats to democracy.

We should also recognise that scientists have been warning for years of the high risk of a new and destructive pandemic. Warnings that went unheeded by most governments, as economic orthodoxy ruled the day. This lesson must not be ignored. The OECD, with its interdisciplinary mandate, expertise and the involvement of the social partners, can play a crucial role in this as in the other policy areas addressed here.

Read: "Social Partnership in the times of the COVID-19 Pandemic"

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No one can be left behind. Massive investment in public health and in care to ensure everyone’s access, as well as the full respect of all workers’ rights, have to be at the heart of the recovery and pave the way to our reconstruction and resilience.

The re-launching of the global economy must ensure robust public services with three other critical objectives:

  • JOBS: Millions of jobs are being destroyed. Full employment must be the goal, with decent work for all, healthy and safe conditions, an end to precarious work and formalisation of informal work.
  • INCOMES: The wages share of the global economy has been falling for decades and risks plummeting with this crisis. Minimum living wages must be in place everywhere, the right to collective bargaining has to be ensured for all workers and the gender pay gap must be closed.
  • SOCIAL PROTECTION: Billions of people have been left without social protection and are at grave risk from the devastating health and the economic effects of this crisis. Now is the time for global co-operation to fund social protection for all. The world cannot turn its back on those most in need, now or in the reconstruction of an inclusive and resilient future.

These jobs and services must be consistent with the labour movement’s demand for a just transition to full employment on a living planet. 

These are foundations of the new social contract that must frame and underpin our future. There can be no return to simply business as usual.

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Go to the profile of Sharan Burrow

Sharan Burrow

General Secretary, ITUC

As a passionate advocate and campaigner for social justice, women’s rights, the environment and labour law reforms, and Sharan has led union negotiations on major economic reforms and labour rights campaigns in her home country of Australia and globally. First elected to the post of General Secretary of the ITUC in 2010, Sharan represents 200 million workers in 163 countries with 332 national affiliates.

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