We are essential workers.
We are the people who have kept the world running through the COVID-19 pandemic — and long before. We have provided crucial medical care, taken care of children and the elderly, sold and delivered your food and so much more.
We are the backbone of our communities and the global economy. And yet, the global recovery from COVID-19 threatens to leave us behind.
Sixty-one percent of workers globally work in the informal economy. These workers lost significant portions of their income when the pandemic hit. By June 2020, workers in the informal economy were, on average, making just 55 percent of their pre-pandemic earnings.
In the formal economy, care workers are also struggling, with a majority reporting they do not earn enough to provide basic needs — housing, food, transportation — for their family.
We’re coming together to lay out a vision for a just economic recovery that ensures protections for workers and advances workers’ rights.
Throughout our three-day forum, we will hear from essential workers worldwide to lift up our experiences during the pandemic and what we need for a just recovery — in conversation with policy makers, business leaders and influencers.This event will include English, Spanish, French, Arabic, and Hindi subtitles.
Broadcast Time Zones, September 8, 9, and 10:
08:00-09:00—Mexico City, Bogotá (CDT)
09:00-10:00—New York City (EDT)
10:00-11:00—Buenos Aires (ART)
15:00-16:00—Paris, Brussels, Berlin (CET)
16:00-17:00—Amman, Beirut (EEST)
Essential workers kept the world running through the COVID-19 pandemic — and long before — yet global recovery efforts threaten to leave us behind. On Day One, hear directly from essential workers about how grassroots organizing is crucial to ensuring pandemic recovery efforts center the needs of the people who are vital to every community.
Rosheda Muller, President of the South African Informal Traders Alliance, interviewed by Martha Chen, a lecturer at Harvard and senior advisor to WIEGO, on how street vendors are organizing globally
Legendary South African labor leader Myrtle Witbooi in conversation with Maina Kiai, senior official at Human Rights Watch and former United Nations Special Rapporteur
Special appearances from actor and activist Martin Sheen and actress Yalitza Aparicio
The pandemic has taken a devastating toll on essential workers. Millions work in harsh, unsafe working conditions and face threats of sexual harassment and abuse – all while struggling to earn enough income to support our families. This unjust treatment ends here. On Day Two, we uplift the voices of those who have experienced mistreatment and create space to address the increase in gender-based violence during COVID, and collaborate to ensure dignity and basic safeguards for all essential workers.
A just economic recovery must stabilize and support domestic workers, agricultural workers, street vendors, caregivers, and home-based workers. To accomplish this, world governments and employers should offer essential workers a seat at the table to share our experiences and the solutions that will make the greatest difference for us. On Day Three, we set the stage for essential voices to lead.
Sophia Bush is a member of the Directors Guild of America and has starred in various independent projects, shows and movies. Named one of the most charitable celebrities by CNN, Sophia devotes her free time to bettering girls’ access to education, the environment, and voting rights. She is the co-founder of I AM A VOTER, a nonpartisan group that works to increase voter registration and voter turnout.
Ai-jen Poo is the co-founder and Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, a non-profit organization working to bring quality work, dignity and fairness to the growing numbers of workers who care and clean in our homes, the majority of whom are immigrants and women of color.
Bambadjan Bamba is an award-winning actor, filmmaker and activist. In 2018, he received the ACLU’s Courageous Advocate Award, and he is known for his prominent roles in Black Panther and The Good Place.
Edyta Cisek is care worker in nursing home Toruń, Poland, and the Deputy Chair of the care sector union in OPZZ Konfederacja Pracy. Together with her colleagues, she created a network between a growing “Women’s Strike” movement in Poland in October 2020. Thanks in part to these actions, workers in Toruń won full PPE access and substantial pay increases during the crisis.
Gloria del Carmen Flores is a health care worker and President of FENASSAP (Federación Nacional de Sindicatos de la Salud Privada y Afines) in Santiago, Chile. During the pandemic, she spearheaded coordinations at the largest hospital chain in Chile to win protective equipment and employer-paid child-care accommodation. As a leader, she’s also ensuring that unions have a voice in the creation of Chile’s new constitution to be inclusive of women’s health needs.
Guy Ryder serves as the 10th Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO). The ILO is the United Nations agency for the world of work which brings together governments, employers and workers to advance social justice through decent work. In June 2021 ILO tripartite delegates unanimously adopted unanimously a Global Call to Action for a human-centred COVID-19 recovery that prioritizes the creation of decent jobs for all and addresses the inequalities caused by the crisis.
Mark Malloch‐Brown is president of the Open Society Foundations, the world’s largest private funder of independent groups working for justice, democratic governance, and human rights. He has worked to advance human rights, justice, and development for more than four decades in a variety of roles: with the United Nations, the World Bank, and as a British government minister, as well as with a range of civil society groups and business.
Multiple Emmy- and Golden Globe-winner Martin Sheen is one of America’s most celebrated and accomplished actors recognized for countless roles including the president of the United States, in the West Wing. Sheen is also an outspoken and effective activist standing alongside Cesar Chavez in support of farm workers, advocating to stop the Iraq war, and protecting our oceans and climate and raising standards for workers globally. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has even named a research vessel “RV Martin Sheen” in recognition of his steadfast support for ocean conservation.
Martha (Marty) Chen is a Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and Senior Advisor of the global network Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (www.wiego.org). An experienced development practitioner and scholar, her area of specialization is the working poor in the informal economy. Dr. Chen is Chair of the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research Board.
Mercedes D’Alessandro leads Argentina’s Directorate of Economy, Equality and Gender, which gives a gender perspective to economic policies and contributes to closing inequality gaps. In 2015 Mercedes founded Economía Feminista, an organization dedicated to the diffusion of economic and feminist issues. She is the author of Feminist Economics. How to Build an Egalitarian Society (Without Losing Glamour).
Myrtle Witbooi is a legendary South African labour activist. She currently serves as the general secretary of the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU) and as the first president of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF). In the 1960s, as a young domestic worker, she began organizing other workers in apartheid South Africa from the garage of her employer.
Norma Palacios Trabamala is the General Secretary of the National Union of Workers and Domestic Workers (SINACTRAHO), the first national, worker-controlled union of domestic workers in Mexico.
Rose Omamo is the General Secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Kenya Metal Workers. She trained as a mechanic and started out working as an assembler but as one of only two women working with hundreds of men she realised that the only way to defend her rights was to stand as a shop steward. Known as “Mama Union”, the members of her organisation are still 90% male.
Rosheda Muller is the President of the South African Informal Traders Alliance (SAITA), with a background in education. She is also an entrepreneur and chairperson for various trader associations.
Saira Feroze is HomeNet International’s International Working Committee member from Pakistan and the Finance Secretary of HBWWF, a union of women home-based workers. Saira has worked as a home-based worker since her childhood and has spent the last 15 years working for the empowerment of home-based workers. Her organization, HBWWF, has played a key role in organizing and achieving a policy for home-based workers in two provinces of Pakistan.
Sharan Burrow is General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation. Previously President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) from 2000 – 2010, Sharan is a passionate advocate for women’s rights, the environment and labour law reforms. She has led union negotiations on major economic reforms and labour rights campaigns in her home country of Australia and globally.
Tom Perriello is executive director of Open Society-U.S., which supports efforts to advance equality, fairness, and justice with a focus on marginalized communities in the United States. Perriello is a former U.S Congressman and has dedicated his career to organizations and campaigns fighting injustice, climate change, economic inequality, and crimes against humanity.
Dr. Xanthe Scharff is the CEO and cofounder of The Fuller Project, a global nonprofit news organization dedicated to groundbreaking reporting on women to raise awareness, expose injustice and spur accountability. She heads several dozen editors, reporters, global contributors and senior business leaders. The Fuller Project’s reporting has prompted critical reform after exposing sexual abuse and harassment in the garment factory supplying a major US activewear brand, the return of mothers illegally expelled from the United States without the birth certificates of their citizen children, the repatriation of Filipina domestic workers stranded abroad by abusive employers during the pandemic, and much more. Xanthe’s own reporting has been featured in Newsweek, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and beyond. She was among the first to write about the disproportionate economic impact of the pandemic on women in the United States, for which she was named a 2021 SPJ DC Dateline Award Finalist.
Yalitza Aparicio was born on December 11, 1993 in the city of Tlaxiaco located in Oaxaca, Mexico where she studied to become a teacher. It was almost by accident that she auditioned for the role of Cleo, protagonist of the film Roma (2018) directed by Alfonso Cúaron. Her extraordinary performance made her the first indigenous woman ever to receive an Academy Award® nomination in the Best Actress category. Yalitza was also the first indigenous woman to appear on the cover of Vogue Mexico. Since her cinematic debut she has advocated for different social causes such as gender equality, the rights of indigenous people and constitutional guarantees of domestic workers.In October of 2019, Yalitza was appointed as ambassador of Good Will for indigenous people by UNESCO.
Prior to the pandemic, we were working in jobs without decent income and little-to-no security or rights. Many days, we weren’t able to feed our families. Since March 2020, many of us have experienced significant losses in working hours and income.
After the 2008 economic crisis, the “recovery” plunged working people further into poverty. That can’t happen again. By investing in social programs and promoting collective bargaining now, we can chart a course that creates, not undermines, economic parity: fair incomes and secure livelihoods, targeted economic relief and humane working conditions.
No one should experience sexual harassment and violence at work. But too often, we lack the resources and protections we need to keep us safe, particularly for those of us who identify as female and those who work in the informal economy.
We must have the protections we need to ensure a workplace free of sexual violence that supports survivors. That includes paid leave, union representation, flexible work arrangements and protection for victims of sexual violence, the inclusion of sexual violence in workplace risk assessments and connection to resources and awareness-raising about the effects of sexual harassment and gender-based violence.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we were the people keeping the economy running –– and the people most exposed to this deadly pandemic.
At the same time, we often lack access to affordable healthcare and we do not have protective equipment or the ability to keep ourselves safe and healthy at work. We need to make sure essential workers have what we need to keep ourselves safe while working hard to keep the world moving.
The legacy of COVID-19 can be a global economy built on a solid foundation, which means that essential workers are paid fairly and have the right to paid leave, either when we are unwell ourselves or have to look after our families. Many essential workers, and virtually all informal economy workers, cannot take time to rest, recover and spend quality time with our families. We are simply calling for fair incomes for the work we do and the value we provide for our communities.
We can — and must — put people before profits. That’s why essential workers around the world are demanding social protections for a just economic recovery that stabilizes and supports essential domestic workers, agricultural workers, street vendors, caregivers and home-based workers.
Let’s come together and listen to one another. We can create sustainable jobs, guarantee rights to all workers, and ensure that essential workers—especially in the poorest countries—are not left behind.