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Copyright World Economic Forum ( by Daniel Ammann

The choices made by world leaders and by business in 2021 will either heed the call of workers and civil society to reform the economic model and help create a just and sustainable future or maintain business as usual and see a model of corporate greed entrench inequality, exclusion and despair perpetuating instability for our communities and our planet.

Acknowledging the ugly face of vaccine nationalism will be a first test. The corporate greed that makes vaccines in South Africa more expensive than in the US is scandalous. But so too is the ‘profit-first’ approach that denies technology sharing to allow production to be undertaken wherever possible. Universal access to testing, treatment and vaccines is of paramount importance. …

In a world that is facing a massive depression and where the equivalent of 495 million jobs have been lost and up to 1.6 billion people in informal work face destitution every day, greed still motivates the pandemic profiteers who have grown considerably wealthier.

The global economy is expected to contract 4.4 per cent this year — the sharpest contraction in modern history — throwing millions into poverty, according to the IMF. But the world’s billionaires have grown wealthier compared with 2019, according to data compiled by UBS with total billionaire wealth reaching $14.2 trillion as at July.

And despite so many people and so many businesses reeling from the social and economic ruptures of the coronavirus pandemic as a second wave explodes across major economies, Swiss bankers harbouring the fortunes of the world’s super-rich along with the big tech companies report extraordinary profits. Zurich-based UBS, whose private bank operations are the world’s largest, reported its best quarterly earnings in a decade with Credit Suisse enjoying a similar windfall. …

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Caring for each other is the most important work in society. It goes to the core of our humanity. In the face of the challenge of both recovery and resilience, investment in care creates jobs and boosts the economy.

Whichever way you look at it, investing in care is an imperative

IMF research outlines that a spend of 1% of GDP can create 33 million jobs and research from the UK shows that investment in care can create 2.7 times more jobs than the same investment in infrastructure, including construction. …

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Reuters/Ahmed Yosri

The forthcoming G20 Finance Ministers meeting comes four months after the WHO declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, and governments began to put in place essential measures to stop or slow the spread of the virus. While the predictions of job losses and GDP contraction are now a daily reality for millions of workers, the full scale of the economic and social consequences are yet to be felt. In less than three months, the Covid-19 crisis wiped out the employment gains painfully achieved with the slow recovery from the Great Recession of 2008.

Even as the crisis continues the need for a roadmap for financing immediate and long-term recovery plans is now critical. Economic recovery plans will need to co-exist with government responses to control the virus. These plans must build resilience against future global shocks and will require coherence and international coordination. …

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From the very first cases of infection in Wuhan, the Covid-19 pandemic has been about workplace health and safety.

The virus has shone a spotlight on the inadequate protection of many working people against risks at work, on the way that insecurity of employment and low wages heighten exposures to risk, and on the systemic failures of occupational health and safety law, nationally and multilaterally.

As the latest outbreaks in meatpacking plants and abattoirs in North-Rhine Westphalia in Germany, in Anglesey in the United Kingdom, in Brazil and the USA demonstrate, workplaces are one of the main places where people become infected. …

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WTO Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought global trade under closer scrutiny. From news outlets tracking supplies of essential personal protective equipment from country to country to companies being exposed for not honouring commitments for supply chain orders — a pandemic in globalised economies is forcing a reset of years of political orthodoxy.

People and their politicians will increasingly call for greater transparency in trade arrangements and demand a more balanced approach to trade policy. Leaders can no longer ignore the need for reforms to ensure fair and inclusive global trade. And people, nationally and internationally, must have the democratic rights and freedoms to be involved in the consideration of political decisions concerning recovery and resilience. …

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(Courtesy Wikipedia, CC 2.0)

COVID-19 is exposing the enormous inequality for women in work.

With women making up 70% of the global health and social care workforce and 58.6% of that of the service sector, the pandemic spotlight is uncovering the wage and safety divide for female-dominated occupations.

Workers on the frontlines include women in health and community care, women in food production and supermarkets, women in call-centres relaying critical information and women in online administration who are all in relatively low paid jobs. …

A Global Fund for Universal Social Protection can put them in place in the most vulnerable countries.

Four weeks ago, on 11th March 2020, the WHO Director-General declared COVID-19 a pandemic. As Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus rang the alarm bell and called for political leadership, he said that “all countries can still change the course of this pandemic”, but he noted that some countries are struggling with capacity, resources or resolve.

Four weeks later, more than four out of five people (81 per cent) in the global workforce of 3.3 billion are affected by full or partial workplace closures.

The ILO’s latest analysis of the catastrophic effect of COVID-19 on working hours and earnings shows that in the next three months there could be a loss of 195 million full-time equivalent jobs, with 125 million in the Asia-Pacific region, 22 million in Africa and 29 million in the Americas. …

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Amazon workers in the UK protest. Photo: UNI Global Union

As countries struggle to contain the rising death toll of COVID-19 and the financial contagion that is putting millions out of work, global employers that continue to operate bear a special responsibility to protect the health of their employees and prevent further damage to the economy.

While traditionally responsible employers like Danone and Unilever quickly reacted to the crisis by promoting worldwide policies to safeguard the health and income of suppliers and workers, giant tech companies like Amazon have been more concerned with expanding their unchecked power and influence than protecting the workers that keep their businesses running.

Rather than investing in the safety and security of the workers that make Jeff Bezos the richest man in the world, Amazon is keeping employees in the dark about coronavirus cases in its warehouses while they seek to profit from people’s everyday needs from the COVID-19 lockdowns. Workers are telling Amazon: “This is how COVID-19 got out of control” and they are right! No wonder that workers from New York to Northern Italy are walking off the job because they don’t feel that Amazon is taking the necessary precautions to keep the virus at bay. Amazon has the resources and know-how to keep workers safe and informed. …

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The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the world by surprise, but it shouldn’t have. Scientists have been warning of the prospect of a global pandemic for years, even pointing to the possibility of a coronavirus and the risk to public health of ‘wet markets’ such as the Huanan market in Wuhan. But governments ignored their warnings. Some even responded by shooting the messenger, such as the Trump Administration’s closing of the US pandemic response team, or former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott sacking more than 1,000 government scientific staff in 2014.

In China, the signs were clear about the hazards of wet markets with exotic animals since the first SARS emerged nearly 20 years ago. Corruption by local officials may have played a role, but for whatever reason, the all-powerful government didn’t act. And when the first cases were identified last year, the whistle-blowers were threatened by the authorities, giving the virus a calamitous head-start. Elsewhere, autocrats like Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro are playing roulette with people’s lives in order to bolster their power. …


Sharan Burrow

General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation. Representing the world's working people.

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