If there was ever a time to recognize and celebrate the work of our frontline workers, this would be the time to do it. As most of the world continues to abide by the stay-at-home orders, and maintain social distancing guidelines in the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic, our healthcare, retail, restaurant, and other essential businesses continue to do their jobs putting their own personal safety at risk to ensure that all of us are cared for and can purchase the essential items we need.
April 28th is World Day for Safety and Health at Work created in 2003 by the International Labour Organization (ILO) with the defined purpose of raising awareness and seeking to avert accidents and diseases in the workplace. The ILO’s institution of a day to heighten a greater understanding of keeping workers safe takes on added significance in 2020. The slogan for this year is: “Stop the pandemic: safety and health at work can save lives.”
In 1919, the ILO was established through its inclusion in the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I. The year following the creation of the United Nations in 1945, the ILO “…became the first specialized agency…” of the global body. Its core mission is to advance the cause of social justice and advocate for labor and human rights around the world. The ILO believes that advancing social justice globally will lead to widespread and sustained peace.
The COVID-19 pandemic poses serious challenges in the workplace, none greater than for our healthcare workers who seek to treat patients while maintaining a level of safety for themselves. The highly contagious coronavirus has spread so rapidly across the globe it has caused a significant threat to the world economy. To mitigate its spread, and to protect workers, governments have issued orders for the shutdown of non-essential businesses. These closures, of course, has ceased a good deal of economic activity worldwide. However, in recent days we have witnessed the relaxing of these restrictions in several states in the U.S. which has caused concern. To open to soon, public health experts warn, threatens to erase the efforts that have been made to “flatten the curve.”
Many workers are hurting economically, and it is certainly understandable that everyone seeks to return to work sooner rather than later. However, April 28th is a day set aside to recognize the importance of worker health and safety and if businesses reopen prematurely, and workers return to work too soon, medical experts warn that the consequences of increased infection rates could be dire. This is certainly not the outcome we seek. The health and safety of all workers should be paramount.
Based on certain estimates, the unemployment rate in the U.S. is 17% with 22 million people having filed unemployment claims in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of unemployed workers is projected to see an exponential rise in the coming months both here in the U.S. and around the world.
A report published by the ILO this year titled, In the face of a pandemic: Ensuring Safety and Health at Work, cites the fact that the global health pandemic will have an impact on “…working conditions, wages and access to social protection, with particularly negative effects on specific groups that are more vulnerable to adverse labour market outcomes.” There are certain groups of workers who are adversely affected, according to the report. Specifically, those who have preexisting conditions; younger workers who already see high unemployment rates; older workers, whose health is a greater risk; women who make up a greater proportion of those designated as frontline workers; “gig” workers who lack protections such as paid or sick leave; and migrant workers.
We have all seen the images of our brave frontline workers laboring in what amounts to virtually impossible situations. On Tuesday, April 28th, should your paths happen to cross, perhaps it would be a nice thing to thank them and convey your appreciation for all they are doing.