The Global Labor Movement's Response in the Face of the COVID-19 Crisis

Every day, the AFL-CIO works alongside our union sisters and brothers around the world. In times like these, it’s even more important to stay united with working families on the front lines when essential work has to be done. As the world endures this health emergency and economic crisis, the AFL-CIO will play its part in defending workers’ lives and jobs, and strengthening public health care and the social safety nets that have been greatly reduced in so many countries over the past few decades. In short, we need a new social contract to make our economies and societies sustainable and resilient. 

The most recent analysis of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and results of the latest survey of unions around the world make clear that we need commitments to building a global social protection that leaves no one behind as we work together to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Secretary Sharan Burrow summed it up: “The ILO gave a stark warning today with the projection of the decline in working hours (based on a full-time 40-hour working week) equivalent to a loss of 230 million full-time workers globally: There are difficult times ahead. Only by working together, with social dialogue between unions, employers and governments, and the commitment for global coordination, will people retain trust in governments. This is the basis for a post-pandemic future that leaves no one behind.”

As an affiliate of our global federation, the ITUC, the AFL-CIO joins with organizations representing more than 206 million workers in calling on governments, businesses and international organizations to meet with worker organizations and reach agreement that will reduce the negative impacts of COVID-19 now and rebuild the social and economic systems that can make our world more fair and sustainable.

Along with global union federations that bring together workers in the same industry with many common employers, the ITUC has delivered working families’ core message on the priority we all share: concerted, rapid and focused government action to save the lives, jobs and incomes of people everywhere.

In the short term, we are clear about the priorities everyone should be working on, and we name them in an ITUC letter to the governments of the world’s 20 largest economies:

  • Workplace protection for front-line workers.

  • Paid sick leave.

  • Wage/income protection.

  • Managed reduction of hours where necessary but with government support to maximize income security.

  • Mortgage, rent and loan relief.

  • Universal social protection and free access to health care.

  • Child care support for front-line workers in health care, supermarkets, pharmacies and vital service areas.

As the pandemic has spread, the global labor movement has continued to communicate worker and public health priorities and defend working families. On April 2, the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reinforced the need to focus on lives, jobs and incomes of working families.   

When possible, the global labor movement negotiates agreements with the business community to speak and act together in calling on governments to fulfill their primary function of protecting people. Governments can and sometimes do the right thing. As the COVID-19 crisis accelerated, some national governments made clear that they would put protecting people and jobs first, dedicating resources to that priority.

The health emergency and global economic crisis will undoubtedly hit hardest in poor countries least equipped to manage either the health or economic aspects of the crisis. Through the ITUC and the global unions in different industries, our global labor movement has made it clear that these issues must be confronted rapidly and on a massive scale by organizations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, we will post updates here on international union responses. Meanwhile, the ITUC has a page on its website dedicated to these issues, including a global survey from unions around the world on the pandemic, which will be updated every two weeks.

Key statements and information from global organizations

ITUC statement on the global response to COVID-19

ITUC resources on COVID-19

ITUC statement to G-20 

ITUC survey

TUAC statement to G-7

ILO information on COVID-19 and global employment 

Global unions in specific industries