GENEVA (18 May 2020) – As countries begin to ease recent restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, a group of UN human rights experts* call on Governments and businesses to ensure all workers are protected from exposure to COVID-19.
“No worker is expendable. Every worker is essential, no matter what category is applied to them by States or businesses. Every worker has the right to be protected from exposure to hazards in the workplace, including the coronavirus.
We are concerned at the number of frontline workers who have not been given adequate protection during peak periods of contagion in various countries and economic sectors. And as Governments continue to reduce restrictions and workers begin to return to work, we urge all States and businesses to ensure preventative and precautionary measures are in place to protect every worker.
We are also deeply concerned about the disproportionate risk presented to workers that are low-income, minorities, migrants, older persons and those with pre-existing health conditions, women, as well as the informal sector and those in the ‘gig’ economy.
We urge States and businesses to work with labour unions and other worker representatives to help ensure necessary safeguards are in place.
Following our call at the International Labour Conference in 2019, we welcome ongoing discussions on including the right to safe and healthy work as a fundamental right and principle of the International Labour Organisation. However, it is long overdue that the ILO recognises safe and healthy work and we urge the Organisation’s governing body to acknowledge this right without further delay, along with other internationally recognised human rights.
Forcing vulnerable workers with little choice but to endure conditions that put them at risk, including by dismantling previously established labour rights, can constitute a form of forced labour, according to the ILO.
We express our respect and admiration to workers on the frontline of this pandemic, providing healthcare, food, water, sanitation, and other necessary goods and services, and our condolences to the families of those who have lost loved ones in such service.
Our message today is simple, but crucial: every worker must be protected, no matter what.”