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ILO issues guidance for safe, healthy, return to work during COVID-19

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Two guidance documents for creating safe and effective return-to-work conditions during the COVID-19  pandemic have been issued by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The Guidance Note  says that return to work policies need to be informed by a human-centred approach that puts peoples’ rights at the heart of economic, social and environmental policies. Social dialogue – bringing together governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations – will be critical in creating the effective policies and trust needed for a safe return to work.

The note draws on specialist ILO guidance documents and International Labour Standards, which provide a normative framework for creating a safe return to work. The document stresses that policy guidance should be embedded into national Occupational Safety and Health  (OSH) systems, as these create the basis for safe workplace environments. The guidance can therefore contribute to a culture of continuous, country-level improvement, in administration, institutions, laws and regulations, labour inspections, information gathering, and other areas.

Workers must feel safe at their workplaces, both from risks directly related to COVID-19, and indirect risks, including psychosocial issues and ergonomic risks related to working in awkward positions or with poor facilities when working from home, the guidelines say. They should have the right to remove themselves from any situation “which they have reasonable justification to believe presents an imminent and serious danger to their life or health”, and “shall be protected from any undue consequences”.

The document proposes that each specific work setting, job or group of jobs should be assessed before returning to work and that preventive measures should be implemented to ensure the safety and health of all workers according to a hierarchy of controls. For workers staying at home, the risk of infection in a work context can be eliminated; for all workers returning to workplaces, priority should be given to options that substitute hazardous situations for less hazardous ones, such as organizing virtual instead of physical meetings. When this is not possible a mix of engineering and organizational control measures will usually be required to prevent contagion, The specific measures to implement are specific to each workplace, but may consist of installing physical barriers such as clear plastic sneeze guards, improving ventilation, or adopting flexible working hours, in addition to cleaning and hygiene practices. The guidelines also recall that the use of appropriate personal protective equipment may be required to complement other measures, in particular for the most hazardous occupations, and that this equipment should be provided without cost to workers.

The needs of workers at higher risk of severe illness should be taken into account; including older workers, pregnant workers, those with pre-existing medical conditions, refugees, migrants and those in the informal sector. Special attention will be needed to ensure that return to work policies do not create discrimination related to gender, health status, or other factors.

“Unsafe work practices anywhere are a threat to both health and sustainable business, everywhere. So, before returning to work, workers must be confident that they will not be exposed to undue risks,” said Deborah Greenfield, ILO’s Deputy Director-General for Policy. “And, to help enterprises and economies get going as soon as possible, workers will need to cooperate with these new measures. This means that social dialogue will be particularly important because it is the most effective way to feed information and views into policies and actions, so creating the best chance for a swift and balanced recovery.”

The Guidance Note, A safe and healthy return to work during the COVID-19 pandemic , is accompanied by a 10-point, Practical Guidance action checklist for employers, workers and their representatives. This tool is intended to compliment and not replace national occupational safety and health regulations and guidance, to help establish the practical details of a safe return to work.

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Human Rights

WEF Launches Coalition to Tackle Racism in the Workplace

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The World Economic Forum has today launched the Partnering for Racial Justice in Business initiative, which will see a coalition of organizations commit to building equitable and just workplaces for professionals with under-represented racial and ethnic identities.

The Partnering for Racial Justice in Business initiative has been designed to operationalize and coordinate commitments to eradicate racism in the workplace and set new global standards for racial equity in business. It also provides a platform for businesses to collectively advocate for inclusive policy change.

What action looks like

Three steps are required to join the initiative:

  • Racial and ethnic equity must be placed on the board’s agenda
  • Companies must make at least one commitment towards racial and ethnic justice in their organizations
  • Companies must put a long-term strategy in place towards becoming an anti-racist organization

Examples of business commitments towards racial and ethnic justice range from allocating financial and human resources to racial justice work, setting representation goals for all seniority levels, and establishing mentorship programmes for racially and ethnically diverse employees.

One of the initiative’s starting points will be Black inclusion and addressing anti-Blackness. A broad-brush approach to racism fails to grasp its effects on different under-represented groups. Anti-Black racism is historically one of the most pervasive forms of racism. As such, a targeted and specific approach to tackle it in the workplace is required. As the initiative evolves, it will seek to increase the visibility of racially and ethnically diverse leaders throughout industries, and expand its focus to include additional racial and ethnic groups.

“With just 1% of Fortune 500 companies led by Black chief executives, the need to tackle racial under-representation in business is urgent and obvious. To design racially and ethnically just workplaces, companies must confront racism at a systemic level, addressing not just the structural and social mechanics of their own organizations, but also the role they play in their communities and the economy at large. The Partnering for Racial Justice in Business initiative provides an effective platform for businesses to take individual and collective action towards racially and ethnically just workplaces,” said Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director at the World Economic Forum.

The initiative originates from the World Economic Forum’s New Economy and Society Platform, which is focused on building prosperous, inclusive and just economies and societies. In addition to its work on economic growth, revival and transformation, work, wages and job creation, and education, skills and learning, the Platform takes an integrated and holistic approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, and aims to tackle exclusion, bias and discrimination related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity. It produces data, standards and insights, such as the Global Gender Gap Report and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 4.0 Toolkit, and drives or supports action initiatives, such as the Community of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officers, The Valuable 500 – Closing the Disability Inclusion Gap, Hardwiring Gender Parity in the Future of Work, Closing the Gender Gap Country Accelerators, Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality and the Global Future Council on Equity and Social Justice.

Founding members

The founding members of the initiative are: A.P. Møller-Maersk, AlixPartners, AstraZeneca, Bank of America, BlackRock, Bloomberg, Boston Consulting Group, Bridgewater Associates, Centene, Cisco Systems, Cognizant, Dentsu International, Deutsche Bank, EY, Facebook, Google, H&M Group, Henry Schein, HP, Infosys, Ingka Group (IKEA), Jacobs Engineering Group, Jefferson Health, Johnson & Johnson, Kaiser Permanente, Kearney, LinkedIn, ManpowerGroup, Mastercard, Mayo Clinic, McKinsey & Company, Microsoft, Nestlé, PayPal, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, PwC, Salesforce, SAP, Standard Chartered Bank, Tata Consultancy Services, The Coca-Cola Company, Depository Trust & Clearing (DTCC), Thermo Fisher Scientific, Uber Technologies, Unilever, UPS and Willis Towers Watson.

“This initiative is an important step in helping accountable business leaders do more to change the foundational systems that interfere with achieving equity. Kaiser Permanente is taking bold actions within our organization to evolve and advance our equity, diversity and inclusion strategy, and we look forward to being part of this coalition, both to help its work and learn from others.” — Greg A. Adams, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Kaiser Permanente

“At IKEA, we side with the many, and we believe that a better every day is also an equal every day. We are committed to create a fair and equal workplace for everyone, no matter their ethnicity, race or nationality. We see three main reasons: It is about fairness, it’s about reflecting the diversity of our customer base to meet the dreams and needs of our customers in better ways. And finally, it opens up more and new opportunities to attract and recruit the best talents. By working together with the Forum and other businesses we hope to accelerate the pace and scale of change to create more fair and just workplaces and society.” — Jesper Brodin, Chief Executive Officer, Ingka Group (IKEA)

“The new global standards established by Partnering for Racial Justice in Business come at a time of heightened global focus on racial injustice, underscored by a pandemic that has disproportionately affected Black and Latino communities in the United States, along with other marginalized communities worldwide. We believe companies – critical enablers of wealth creation and professional mobility – must play a leading role in building a more equitable future for all. And as an organization that exists to create economic opportunity for the entire global workforce, we are honoured to join this initiative.” — Rosanna Durruthy, Global Head of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, LinkedIn

“At P&G, we aspire to create a company and a world where equality and inclusion are achievable for all people. For us, this starts with ensuring equitable and inclusive workplaces, and drives the actions we take with our brands and business partners and throughout communities around the world. The Forum’s Partnering for Racial Justice in Business initiative will help foster cross-sector collaboration towards this aspiration and enable P&G and many companies to accelerate progress faster than any of us could do alone, and we’re proud to lend our support.” — Shelly McNamara, Chief Equality and Inclusion Officer, Procter & Gamble

“In order to have an economy that works for everyone, we all have an obligation to address the inequalities that have existed for too long; that includes systemic racism. At Mastercard, we believe that our success comes by ensuring decency, well-being and inclusion are part of everything we do. Bringing together groups like this creates the potential for greater impact, accelerating our ability to learn from one another and deliver action at scale.” — Michael Miebach, Chief Executive Officer, Mastercard

“As a global organization that runs with purpose, we will only have done our jobs if we create opportunities for every employee to flourish and for social justice to prevail. We must understand the role we play, the things we can do better, and the actions we can take to ensure equality for all. Let our work together be a shining example of the change we are advocating.” — Judith Williams, Head of People Sustainability and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, SAP

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Health & Wellness

Pandemic will not end for anyone, ‘until it ends for everyone’

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The COVID-19 pandemic “will not end for anyone, until it ends for everyone”, an independent UN human rights expert said on Friday, advocating for an equitable and globally-coordinated vaccine distribution programme. 

“The virus can still travel from the vastly unvaccinated massive population of the Global South to the Global North, including in its increasingly mutating forms”, Obiora Okafor, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and international solidarity, said in a statement

He explained that with mutations constantly evolving, only inoculating rich countries would likely “complicate or delay” the eradication of the virus. 

Skewed vaccine delivery 

The last few weeks of 2020 witnessed the approval of several COVID-19 vaccines by regulators in various countries, “offering much hope to billions of people worldwide”, according to the UN expert.  

And while several States, mostly in the north, have already secured large quantities of vaccine and have begun inoculation campaigns, this has not been the case for most of the Global South, where close to 90 per cent of the world’s population lives. 

“The world, therefore, faces a sharp and highly problematic vaccine-divide in which the much richer Global North States, which host a very small percentage of the global population, have so far cornered the vast majority of available COVID-19 vaccines, leaving the bulk of the world’s population with almost no access to these medicines”, Mr. Okafor said.  

“A globally coordinated vaccine distribution programme is highly preferable to the individualized approaches adopted by all-too-many of the richer States”, Mr. Okafor said. 

International vaccine solidarity  

He said it was vital that States and non-State actors cooperate – such as through the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX), which, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), is part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator – or risk a stalled recovery. 

While noting that COVAX aims to fairly distribute two billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021, Mr. Okafor emphasized that “international vaccine solidarity” be favored over “international vaccine competition”. 

“Given the great urgency of ensuring for everyone, everywhere, as rapid and effective access to COVID-19 vaccines as possible, I, therefore, urge urgent and strong action by States and other actors toward a course correction”, he said. 

Click here for the names of the UN experts who endorsed the statement. 

Fair access for migrants 

Separately, UN independent experts González Morales and Tlaleng Mofokeng have urged States to ensure that migrants are also included in national COVID vaccination programmes, saying that global immunization access for everyone who needs them “is the only solution” to ending the pandemic. 

This includes priority groups of vulnerable people “regardless of who they are” or their migration status, said the rights experts. 

They also called on world leaders to refrain from discriminatory discourse that could lead to the exclusion of migrants in irregular situations from the global public health response. 

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council and are neither UN staff nor paid for their work.  

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Development

Pandemic disruption to learning is an opportunity to reimagine, revitalize education

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Students at a primary school in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on the second day after their school reopened. The students, teachers and school administrators wear masks while at the school and maintain physical distancing. UNICEF/Seyha Lychheang

To mark the third International Day of Education on Sunday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres paid tribute to the resilience of students, teachers and families in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic that, at its peak, forced almost every school, institute and university to close its doors.

“When education is interrupted, it affects everyone”, he said, and “all of us pay the price”, stressing that education is the foundation for expanding opportunities, transforming economies, fighting intolerance, protecting our planet and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Although this disruption has led to learning innovations, he said, it has also dashed hopes of a brighter future among vulnerable populations.

Avert generational catastrophe

With that in mind, the UN chief said that as the world continues to battle the pandemic, education – as a fundamental right and a global public good – must be protected to avert a generational catastrophe.

Even before the pandemic, some 258 million children and adolescents were out of school, the majority of them girls. Indeed, more than half of 10-year-olds in low and middle income countries were not learning to read a simple text.

“In 2021, we must seize all opportunities to turn this situation around. We must ensure the full replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education fund, and strengthen global education cooperation”, the Secretary-General explained.

“We must also step up our efforts to reimagine education – training teachers, bridging the digital divide and rethinking curricula to equip learners with the skills and knowledge to flourish in our rapidly changing world”, he said, adding: “Let us commit to promote education for all — today and every day.”

Struggling at home

Volkan Bozkir, the President of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, commended all teachers, who have adapted their classrooms and undertaken remote lessons in order to ensure continuity in education. He also applauded parents, who have done their utmost to facilitate learning at home.

“Above all, I am thinking of all students around the world who are struggling to learn at home, perhaps missing their friends, feeling frustrated or despondent about the future. Do not despair. You will get through this difficult period and you will pursue your dreams”, the Assembly President said in a video message.

He said that it is up to UN Member States to ensure this becomes a reality.

“We need to take urgent action in this Decade of Action and Delivery to invest in our education systems, including improving access to technology so that we can recover from this tumultuous period”, Assembly President Bozkir said.

He explained that if the UN and wider international community are to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all, “we need to build resilient, inclusive education systems that allow all students to return to school.”

“To do so, we must meet the needs of those at risk of being left behind. Including children with disabilities and those living in conflict-affected areas, as well as the 11 million girls who are at risk of not re-entering the classroom.”

‘Recover and Revitalize Education’

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will co-host an event on Monday, 25 January, planned around three main segments: learning heroes, innovations, and financing.

The agency says that as a new year begins, now is the time to step up collaboration and international solidarity to place education and lifelong learning at the centre of the recovery and the transformation towards more inclusive, safe and sustainable societies.

In a concept note on the event, UNESCO says it is the time to invest in better gearing education systems everywhere to the reality of interdependence that the pandemic has made necessary, and to making education a vehicle to foster social justice, peace, respect for diversity, human rights and democratic values.

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