Coronavirus: what is the role of trade unions?

Recommendation 205 on employment and decent work for peace and resilience

Recommendation 205, adopted by the ILO in 2017, speaks exactly to the situation we are currently facing with Coronavirus. It provides detailed guidance to constituents on the measures to be taken in the area of employment and decent work, both for prevention and recovery in the context of crisis situations, and for ensuring peace and resilience.

Recommendation 205, among other things, places social dialogue, the role of employers ‘and workers’ organizations, public services, education, social protection, labor rights and other relevant international labor standards, and international cooperation at the forefront of both preparedness to resist and recovery. The guidelines are based on international labor standards, but are adapted to crisis situations resulting from conflicts and natural disasters.

The guidelines are based on international labor standards, but are adapted to crisis situations resulting from conflicts and natural disasters.

  • Recommendation 205 considering the crisis situation that emerged as the cause of conflicts and disasters. The term “disaster” is defined in Recommendation 205 as “an event of any scale that seriously disrupts the life of local communities or society by combining dangerous events with existing levels of threat exposure, vulnerability and potential and results, individually or in combination with each other, in consequences such as loss of life, as well as material, economic or environmental damage and impact”. Dangerous events include biological hazards (viruses, epidemics, etc.).
  • The recommendation offers comprehensive guidelines and strategic approaches for responding to the crisis Recommendation 205 places great emphasis on social dialogue aspects and assigns a greater role to social partners: it recognizes the vital role of employer and employee organizations in responding to crises She calls on these organizations to ensure business continuity and help workers get out of the crisis through training, counseling and financial assistance. The recommendation calls for measures to be taken through collective bargaining, as well as other methods of social dialogue It offers measures on all four fundamental principles of decent work: employment, rights, social protection and social dialogue – > it contains specific sections on each of these topics It recognizes the need to respect International labor standards and mentions several key ILS in its text
  • It recognizes the crucial role of the public sector
  • It recognizes the importance of employment-enhancing investments
  • It pays special attention to population groups that have become particularly vulnerable as a result of the crisis. This includes, but is not limited to, children, persons belonging to minorities, indigenous and tribal peoples, internally displaced persons, persons with disabilities, migrants and refugees, as well as other persons forcibly displaced across borders
  • It takes into account gender equality issues
  • It focuses on the role of education and skills development It insists on the need for international cooperation, exchange of information, knowledge and best practices
  • This applies to ALL employees; health and safety recommendations also apply to volunteers
  • Employee organizations have responded in the context of the Ebola crisis: PSI (public service international) and its affiliates have launched an Ebola response Strategy. The goal of the strategy was “to empower trade unions through research, capacity-building and information exchange among trade unions so that they can play an active role in decision-making processes and advocate for a quality public health system, including improved working conditions for health workers, universal health coverage and social security”. More information can be found here:
  • Workers organizations are already responding to the crisis situation that arose in connection with the Coronavirus:

Please take a look at the web pages of organizations of workers, they are regularly updated. They contain, for example, information about Coronavirus, information about its impact on workers, information about measures taken by the government and tripartite bodies, and hotlines for members of the organization.

In particular, immediate action should be taken against workers on the frontline: medical workers, cleaners, and maintenance staff. Where any activity has been suspended, the necessary measures should be taken against employees of businesses that are still open, such as grocery stores, pharmacies. Similarly, measures should be taken with regard to workers in precarious employment who have little or no protection, paying particular attention to the most vulnerable groups (short-term contracts, temporary contracts, zero-hours contracts, independent work relationships, care workers, etc.), as well as workers who generally lose their jobs.


For example,

Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL) provides information about Coronavirus on its website. On March 14, 2020, a joint Protocol was signed between the government, employers and workers organizations. The document contains practical measures to curb the spread of Coronavirus in the workplace (it encourages the signing of specific collective agreements with companies that are still in production: the use of common space, disinfection of work areas, etc.).


Swiss trade union (UNIA) raised concerns about the situation of many temporary workers and the fact that many workers who are required to continue working are at increased risk of infection and spread of the virus. The General Secretary of Swiss trade unions gave an interview to national news (Lack of sanitary protection in some industries: interview with Alessandro Pelizzari, regional Secretary of the Union UNIA).

Congress of South African trade unions (COSATU) provides information on its website and gives the number of the national hotline. For example, the national Union of Mineworkers published a list of requirements for an effective response to the crisis in cooperation with industry and government.


See also


Resources of ACTRAV

ACTRAV – Policy summary, recommendation 205:

ACTRAV – Guide to Recommendation 205: