In First Summit with International Business & Government Leaders, Essential Workers to Discuss Framework for Just COVID-19 Recovery
Ahead of the United Nations General Assembly, ‘Essential for Recovery’ Summit Brings Together Groups Representing Millions of Workers Worldwide in Formal and Informal Economies
Sophia Bush, Martin Sheen, and Yalitza Aparicio Martínez to Join ILO Director Guy Ryder, Brid Gould of Sodexo, Saadia Zahidi of the World Economic Forum, and Sharan Burrow of ITUC on Stage with Workers
WORLDWIDE — From September 8 through September 10, essential workers from North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia will meet with global business and government leaders to discuss a framework for a just economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the first global gathering of essential workers. Days before world representatives gather for the United Nations General Assembly, the Essential for Recovery Summit will center the demands of care workers and the 61% of workers worldwide who work in the informal economy, including domestic workers, agricultural workers, street vendors, and home-based workers.
Despite the egregious and life-threatening disparities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, workers around the world continue to fight for their rights in the workplace: far too many workers continue to endure limited access to healthcare, lack of social protections, lack of recognition, dangerous work conditions including exposure to COVID-19, and frequent harassment and violence while working. In conversations with cultural influencers like Sophia Bush, Martin Sheen, and Yalitza Aparicio Martínez, and powerhouse leaders of worker movements like Ai-jen Poo in the U.S., Myrtle Witbooi in South Africa and Carmen Britez in Argentina, essential workers will discuss the necessity for an ambitious social contract that puts the wellbeing of workers at the heart of government spending and corporate behavior, rather than piecemeal interventions or austerity measures similar to those that followed the collapse of financial markets in 2008.
Essential for Recovery Summit: A three-day summit that elevates the voices of essential workers worldwide, lifts up their experiences during the pandemic and presents their vision for a just economic recovery — in conversation with policy makers, business leaders, and cultural influencers. A complete schedule with speakers can be found on the website here.
Wednesday, September 8, 2021 – Friday, September 10, 2021, aired at the same time daily.
Live Broadcast Times (find rebroadcast times here):
Sophia Bush, a prominent American actress and social activist working to protect and advance women’s and girls’ rights globally, will serve as the host of the event.
“Essential workers deserve more than our praise. They deserve our action. They have taken care of us — and ensured that others were fed and cared for — at great risk and cost to their lives, and now world leaders must take action to make sure it’s not just the privileged or well-connected who get to recover. I’m proud to be a part of this event that’s bringing together visionary leaders from all over the world to make an indisputable case for an economic recovery that meets the needs of all people, no matter who they are, where they live, and what kind of work they do,” said Bush.
Domestic workers, agricultural workers, street vendors, care workers, and home-based workers have suffered enormous income loss since the pandemic began in early 2020, which compounded an already difficult situation for workers who have no accumulated wealth and limited access to food if they cannot work. Myrtle Witbooi, an international pioneer in the advancement of domestic workers’ rights, saw this firsthand in South Africa.
“We cannot fully recover or rebuild a better world if we don’t urgently and effectively protect all people, including those who work in the informal economy and make up 61% of the global workforce. In South Africa, this year, domestic workers have had a historic victory. We are now covered under COIDA, the compensation entitlement for when a worker is injured or falls ill while on the job. This is especially important as essential workers are at the forefront of the pandemic, but they seldom have similar protections,” said Myrtle Witbooi, a former domestic worker and current president of the International Domestic Workers Federation. “A strong recovery for domestic workers, street vendors, agricultural workers, and other informal economy workers will be the linchpin for a strong global economic recovery. At the Essential for Recovery Summit, workers from around the world will unite to make an urgent call to national governments and international organizations to address our demands for better income and social protections, so we can weather this crisis and also build a better future for ourselves.”
Workers will be in conversation with business executives, cultural influencers, and leaders of international organizations, including the International Labour Organization (ILO), a United Nations agency that sets international labor standards. Workers around the world have shaped C189 and C190, international labor standards passed at ILO conventions to address working conditions for domestic workers and address violence and harassment in workplaces.
“Extraordinary sacrifices are being made by people in the world of work to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, but we must never sacrifice our values of social justice, our fundamental rights at work or our determination to build a human-centred recovery that is inclusive, sustainable and resilient. Building back better means making deliberate and coherent policy choices to generate decent jobs, extend social protection, protect workers’ rights and to use social dialogue in every opportunity we have,” said Guy Ryder, president of the International Labour Organization, who will be participating on the third day of the summit.
Domestic workers, agricultural workers, street vendors, care workers, and home-based workers around the world will articulate their vision for a just COVID-19 recovery:
“Organizing internationally during the pandemic has been a learning process. We’ve had to learn how to use new technologies to organize on smartphones and laptops while using the Internet, all of which we have to personally acquire despite these difficult times. Furthermore, internet connectivity issues can interfere with live streams and ongoing meetings. Home-based workers are coping by trying to sell their products online, as the marketing aspect was the worst hit during the pandemic. Home-based workers require more capacity building and more knowledge of online marketing to add value to their products and reach clients,” said Jemimah Nyakongo, HomeNet International Working Committee member from HomeNet Kenya.
“For domestic workers, the line between work and life is often blurred. Our labor enables other sectors in the global economy to stay afloat, but without adequate social protections, we’re barely surviving. A just recovery must set in motion protections against violence, harassment, and access to financial relief for all workers, especially care workers who have been undervalued or overlooked,” said Novelita V. Palisoc from the International Domestic Workers Federation, a member of United Domestic Workers of the Philippines (UNITED).
“Workers in the informal economy had nearly no rights and few social protections in normal times. Throughout the pandemic, we fought an even greater uphill battle for recognition and survival. Vaccines are in limited quantities and health care is not accessible to most of us. We are raising a collective voice to prioritize the health and dignity of global essential workers, so together we may chart a just path to recovery,” said Shawna Bader-Blau, the Executive Director from Solidarity Center and an advocate for safe, dignified, and family-supporting livelihoods.
“The pandemic has displaced many street vendors who have been pushed out of public working spaces in major cities. We must find alternative workplaces so we can continue to earn our livelihoods. Now that the economy is slowly opening, street and market vendors are still not considered in economic recovery plans. We need capital to resume our businesses and continue to sell essential goods that are used daily in homes across the globe. We are essential workers and we are essential for recovery,” said Mwijuka Jesca, a street vendor and Deputy General Secretary of Uganda Markets and Allied Employees Union (UMAEU), an affiliate of StreetNet International.
“The virus is a natural disaster, but the tragic toll on essential workers—on care workers—has been a man-made catastrophe. The good news is that we know the steps we must take to make work safer. Frontline workers like those in nursing homes need PPE, sick leave, safety committees, and the chance to collectively bargain. Without these basic protections, the world’s capacity to recover from crises and keep everyone safe will be compromised,” said Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union, which represents more than 20 million workers from over 150 different countries.
“When COVID-19 hit, workers everywhere cared for the sick, put food on our tables, and kept the economy moving. Despite all that, workers have experienced more exploitation, increasing surveillance, blocking and intimidation of unions, and even violence and murder. It will take a new social contract to rebuild the trust that has been shattered by repressive governments and abusive companies as we look towards recovery and build sustainable economies,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, representing 200 million workers in 163 countries and territories with 331 national affiliates.
“Millions of informal economy workers saw their incomes plummet during the pandemic, and government aid was often inadequate — or did not reach them at all. More than ever, informal economy workers need support to get back on their feet. National governments must protect, not cut, spending on social protection and key public services — like health and child care. These will protect workers and their families from falling into further poverty, vulnerability, and exclusion,” said Sally Roever, International Coordinator at Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO).
The Essential for Recovery Summit unites workers around four key themes: income and working conditions; healthy and safe workplaces; social protections; and an end to violence and harassment.
COVID-19 only exacerbated the vulnerability and exploitation that millions of low-paid, precarious, and informal workers — primarily women, migrant workers, minorities, and other groups subject to discrimination — experience every day. Over the last year especially, domestic workers, agricultural workers, street vendors, caregivers, and home-based workers were recognized as essential and hailed as heroes, yet they remain among the most economically undervalued and underserved. Meanwhile, CEOs have raked in record profits during the pandemic, and eight of the ten wealthiest people in the world have grown billions of dollars richer over the past year.
This pattern followed the response to the 2008 economic crisis when drastic austerity measures plunged low-income workers further into poverty. Essential workers in both the formal and informal economies are rejecting the failed track record of austerity, in favor of investments that improve working conditions for all. That includes workers having a voice at their workplace through a union or workers’ organization so they can collectively fight and bargain for more secure livelihoods and protection from dangerous conditions, from harassment to global pandemics.
Key COVID-19 Statistics:
Essential workers face unparalleled risks during the COVID-19 pandemic and, regardless of industry or status, deserve a voice in the design and governance of occupational health and safety programs. After the failure of corporations and governments to deliver essential equipment and prevent illness on the job, democratically-elected worker health and safety representatives, or a committee of workers representing a workplace or a group of workers, must become the standard.
Worker-led safety initiatives and the recognition of COVID-19 as an occupational disease would provide workers adequate medical care, protection from dismissal, and compensation during recovery. Until advanced economies take a greater role in mitigating vaccine inequity around the world, governments must protect health and safety support for workers in the form of adequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, basic work infrastructure, PPE, and clear guidelines for informal employers. Additionally, coverage from occupational health systems must apply to workers in the informal economy.
A just economic recovery following COVID-19 must stabilize and support essential domestic workers, agricultural workers, street vendors, care workers, and home-based workers. All workers are in urgent need of governments protecting and expanding access to basic social protections like health care, child care, disability benefits, pensions, and free schooling.
Social protections must work together with labor protections to protect workers in both the formal and informal economies from poverty, including universal paid sick leave so workers don’t have to choose between going to work sick and losing their livelihood. The International Labour Organization’s Home Work Convention also sets a standard for the recognition of home-based workers across sectors and nations, by mandating participating nations to adopt policies that ensure workers are compensated fairly, able to organize themselves, enjoy maternity protection, and benefit from social programs such as retirement benefits.
For all workers, especially women and those from marginalized groups, harassment and violence are all too common. Far too often they are abused by government officials and the police, other workers, customers, family members, and powerful interests who have the power to control working conditions. Policies and legislation designed to protect workers from violence at work must cover the diverse range of workplaces, including the private homes, streets, construction sites, and markets where the world’s two billion informal workers earn a living.
Workers, and informal workers especially, often lack access to state-provided complaint and recourse mechanisms or the financial means to seek legal recourse. For women especially, governments must strengthen regulatory frameworks that expand women’s access to justice in cases of physical, sexual, and psychological violence. Ratification and implementation of Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment — driven by women — would be the first step, which the vast majority of countries have so far failed to do.
The Essential For Recovery Summit is hosted by a global collective of domestic and care workers, street vendors, farm workers, labor unions, activists, NGOs, and philanthropic organizations from dozens of countries around the world who are coming together to stand with essential workers. The project is led by non-profit labor organizations — including HomeNet International, International Domestic Workers’ Federation, International Trade Union Confederation, Solidarity Center, StreetNet International, UNI Global Union, and Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing — and supported by the Open Society Foundations.