Co-funded by the European Union

ILO Global Summit on “COVID-19 and the World of Work - Building a better future of work”: outcome of discussions and main messages

  • Employers’ representatives presented 10 key messages articulating the private sector needs and perspectives for a fast, sustainable and inclusive recovery.
  • Private sector led economic growth, a conducive environment for businesses development and resilience; tackling informality with innovative approaches; investment in skills and the role of the private sector within the multilateral system were highlighted as particularly relevant.
  • Workers’ representatives expressed their 4 priorities, mainly focusing on extended health and safety and social protection.
  • Governments stressed on the value of the Centenary Declaration as the framework for the recovery.

As mentioned in the June Newsletter, employers, workers and governments from all over the world gathered at the largest ever online meeting to address the economic and social impact of Covid-19 and to look ahead to the recovery phase.

Regional discussions on policies and practices implemented by each region were followed by three global events with the participation of over 50 heads of States and governments, as well as high-level employers’ organisations and trade union leaders.

In particular, during the opening session of the Constituents’ day (the last day of the Summit, on 9 July 2020), Mr Mthunzi Mdwaba, IOE Vice-President to the ILO, highlighted that, in order to “build back better” or “build a better normal”: “it is time to think bold, different and, more importantly, think big. It is time to innovate new policy approaches, recommendations and processes. The core of this new future should be based on social dialogue and tripartism, which will also need to be realistic, innovative and forward looking – for indeed this bold new future will define our second centenary of existence”.

During Panel 1 on Covid-19 response to support full and productive employment and decent work for all, Renate Hornung-Draus (Managing Director, European and International Affairs (BDA) and  IOE Regional Vice-President – Europe & Central Asia) explained: “The pandemic has shown everyone how important the private sector, how important SMEs, how important global supply chains are. Conducive environments for business are not an aim, but the basis for employment, growth and development. The former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated that ‘it is the absence of broad-based business activity, not its presence, that condemns much of humanity to suffering’. It is in this spirit that we need to rebuild our economies”.

Panel 2 on Covid-19 – the first shock: Tackling informality and gaps in social protection, was led by Guido Ricci, Legal Advisor from CACIF Guatemala. He focused on the challenges of informal workers and informal businesses, for themselves, for other businesses and for society as a whole. He emphasised that “we must be careful not to simplify informality as a socio-economic phenomenon. Not all informal sector workers are there for the same reasons. A few will be there by choice, seeking to avoid legal obligations; the vast majority will be moved by reasons such as lack of information, knowledge, resources, complicated regulations, bureaucratic barriers, costs associated with formality or weak or non-existent governance. […] We have to take advantage of the moment to solve once and for all the structural problem represented by informality. Innovative incentives must be implemented without delay, training and capacity building must be encouraged, taking advantage of the use of new technologies”.

In Panel 3 on Covid-19: Spotlight on most impacted sectors of economic activity and vulnerable populations, Mr M S Unnikrishnan – Chairman Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) National Committee on Industrial Relations & MD & CEO stated that “In the long term, the sectoral impact of the crisis remains to be uncertain and uneven across different sectors. Return to pre-crisis levels may not be observed until 2023 at best and structural issues could remain until 2030, unless policy makers adopt results-oriented policies now. A private sector led ‘sectoral approach’ is needed as industries have been hit in very different ways”.

Finally, for Panel 4 on Covid-19: Working together to build back better, Ms Gabriella Rigg Herzog – Vice-President, Corporate Responsibility and Labor Affairs (USCIB) reported the urgency of strengthening collaboration between the public and private sectors at all levels. She explained that “Multilateralism is under pressure, affecting the credibility of the UN system. […] The negative social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis worldwide add urgency to the already complex but important priority of UN reform, as well as the critical need to get back on track towards implementation of the UN sustainable development goals. To achieve both these priorities, all UN agencies will need to rely on stronger partnership with non-governmental stakeholders, like businesses and employer representatives, that can contribute to effective policies and concrete results to the benefit of all”.

From the workers’ side, Ms Sharon Burrow, ITUC Secretary General underlined the need to make sure that recovery comes with resilience for the world of work to respond to labour shocks, especially for workers in informality, workers in supply chain and all workers with still no access to internet: “building jobs build resilience, social protection builds resilience and national financing alone cannot build an inclusive future”.

Workers’ Vice-Chairperson to the ILO Governing Body, Catelene Passchier, intervention underlined the priorities for workers’ in order to move “from words into action”.


The urgent four priorities are:

  • Protect the health and safety of workers in essential services and recognize Covid19 as an occupational disease;
  • Provide for generous emergency packages of social protection including for nonstandards, informal and self-employed workers with sufficient duration;
  • Support for business continuity for employment, yes but to be made conditional on respect for human and workers’ rights and certainly a big no to tax
  • Alleviate the plait on migrant workers and those hit hardest from domestic workers and seafarers”.

She then expressed the workers’ objectives “for recovery and beyond”, including recognizing occupational health and safety as a core labour standard; works towards a universal social protection including through a Global Fund; address precarity and informality with a labour protection floor regardless of the employment status; address structural inequalities; ensure decent work in the global supply chain by regulating global responsibility of enterprises by mandatory due diligence. She then emphasised that these objectives can be achieved through the normative framework provided by International Labour Standards, as well as through the enabling rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining to ensure a social dialogue, and policy coherence in a multilateral system with a key role for the ILO.

Worth of note the proposal from the French Ministry of Labour to strengthen the social protection of all workers, based on a Global Fund (see here).

This tripartite debate reaffirmed the key role the ILO and its tripartite constituents play in tackling the socio-economic effects of the crisis.