Labour Day under COVID-19 shadow

“Labour Day”, today, is a special public holiday set aside for the workers of Guyana to reflect on their condition and to bring their concerns to the rest of the populace.
This year, like last year, Labour Day comes at a time when millions around the world are facing the same fate as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19).
The disruption to Guyana’s economy, and more so the world’s economies, caused by this pandemic has wiped out jobs or reduced working hours to the equivalent of 255 million jobs, the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) said earlier this year. This “massive impact”, the ILO said, was nearly four times the number lost during the 2009 global financial crisis.
Lockdown measures across the globe are, no doubt, having devastating consequences on labour markets. As a matter of fact, the International Labour Organization’s (ILO’s) Director-General Guy Ryder had previously warned that “this is the greatest test for international cooperation in more than 75 years.”
With the end of the pandemic being nowhere in sight, a report by the ILO has reminded us of the massive economic and social impacts the virus is having, and will continue to have, on almost every aspect of human existence, especially as it relates to the world’s workforce.
The COVID-19 impact on the world is the “worst global crisis since the Second World War,” the ILO head had said, adding that workers and businesses are facing catastrophe in both developed and developing economies.
In a report, the ILO had stressed the need to uphold labour rights and strengthen health protection, but also the need for fiscal and monetary responses to support the most affected sectors and vulnerable people, including financial assistance for enterprises. To quote the ILO Head, “We have to move fast, decisively, and together. The right urgent measures could make the difference between survival and collapse.” Generally, unemployment and poverty are two of the main challenges that countries, both developed and developing, face.
Locally, COVID-19 has affected thousands of workers – some of whom are either on a pay cut, fully unemployed, or are working from home. Workers in the informal sector and small and medium-size enterprises will no doubt be facing the blunt of the impact, and will certainly need income support to survive and put basic food on their tables. Thus, the COVID-19 cash grant implemented by the Dr Irfaan Ali administration was most welcome to Guyanese.
We agree with President Ali who, in his Labour Day message, said Guyana’s workers are most indispensable to national development, and added that “they provide the brain and muscle of our economy. Workers are the prime force in transforming our resources into wealth. They help drive and sustain economic growth, and are the protagonists of human development. Without workers, our economy would grind to a halt.”
Today, the trade unions that represent the interests of labour will not be marching in the streets to show their solidarity; but, nonetheless, they, too, need to step forward and address measures that would help the thousands of workers whom they represent, and who diligently pay their union dues. Not much has been said by the Unions as to what tangible aid/support they have been giving to the thousands that pay their dues to them. While there is indeed representation for increases in salaries for workers by the Unions, we agree with the Head of State when he said: “This is not the time for squabbling or confrontation.”
As we observe Labour Day today, let us ponder on the words of ILO Director-General Guy Ryder in his 2021 message: “Solidarity is key to our common survival and prosperity, within borders and across borders. As we deal with today’s crisis and look to the future, one thing is clear: we need a human-centred recovery, with justice and equity, a recovery that is sustainable and inclusive of all.”
Happy Labour Day!