By Akanimo Sampson
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) says the COVID-19 crisis has put extraordinary pressure on employers and private sector businesses, to survive and continue to provide decent work.
Director of the ILO’s Bureau for Employers’ Activities, Deborah France Massin, explains how they have been helping with services and tools, and ensuring that the views of the enterprise are represented to decision-makers.
On what ILO’s employer constituents have been doing to assist their members during the crisis
The ILO’s employer
constituents have really shown leadership. Given the emergency health
situation, Employer and
Business Membership Organisations (EBMOs) have been
providing direct services and guidance to their members in areas such as
workplace safety and hygiene, teleworking, other workplace relations issues,
and linking with health service providers, etc. In addition, they have been
assessing the impact of the pandemic on enterprise health and sustainability.
There are no jobs if there is no business continuity. They have fed that
intelligence to governments and made policy proposals so that economic
maintenance and recovery measures are effective.
In addition to dealing with
the health emergency, the key message right now is the importance of providing
liquidity to firms, especially SMEs, in order to prevent massive bankruptcies,
business failures and unemployment, and to take care of the most vulnerable.
This is important not only in the short term but also in the medium to long
term, in the light of the predicted economic recession and increase in
unemployment. Building financial resilience in the private sector today will
ensure a swifter and more sustainable economic recovery.
It would be dangerous to think that businesses will be in a position to restart automatically as if nothing had happened. The right kind of support from governments is needed to facilitate and create an enabling environment for private sector resilience and growth that leads to decent and productive jobs. The private sector will be central to the recovery of employment and consumption and for investment and innovation to drive economies forward. Business confidence in the strength of government policy, in the clarity of its direction, and its steadiness over time, will be crucial. Someone once said that there are decades when nothing happens and weeks when decades happen. It feels like that right now. Dramatic policy choices are being made in hours rather than years and EBMOs will need to show real leadership and effective advocacy in the process of building back resilience and supporting change.
Role of social dialogue
The ability of representative
organizations to mobilize the views of the real economy and put together
proposals and solutions in hours or days shouldn’t be underestimated. We have
seen many examples of this and it’s been a critical tool in this crisis. The
efforts of social partners have provided social ballast to societies, rocked by
the voracity and suddenness of the virus. However, in some instances, our
constituents have told us that the state of emergency has been used to restrict
the role of the social partners, and consultative processes have decreased or
been abandoned. For democratic advancement, institutions such as business
representative organizations and independent trade unions are critical
countervailing forces that can speak truth to power. We need them in the COVID-fuelled chaos of today.
What ACT/EMP has been doing to support employer constituents
When the current situation started, our
constituents were clear – they needed practical tools and guidance to roll out
with their members. So far, assisted by some constituents, we have developed a
number of tools for EBMOs to use with their members, ranging from ways of
dealing with COVID-related workplace issues, a business continuity tool, an
enterprise survey tool and, recently, a back-to-work tool. Feedback has been
very positive, which shows we are on the right track. However, beyond this,
there is a very real challenge; we need to recognize that our constituents are
facing uncertain times. EBMO membership is a non-essential cost for businesses,
especially those struggling to survive. EBMO leaders are telling us they are
very concerned about membership retention in the short, medium and long term.
The paradox is that a strong, collective, advocate for the private sector is
needed more than ever. Our offer to them, therefore, needs to change and be
relevant in terms of strategies for resilience and leadership.
In collaboration with the International Organisation of Employers, we have just launched a survey of all the ILO’s employer constituent organisations. We want to get a global picture of their current and forthcoming challenges. Just as they need to listen to their members, the ILO will need to listen to them so that we can understand their realities and ultimately serve them better.