In times of crisis, international labor standards provide a solid basis for key policy responses that focus on the crucial role of decent work in achieving a sustained and equitable recovery. These standards, adopted by government representatives, workers and business organizations, provide a human-centered approach to growth and development, including by leveraging policy levers that stimulate demand and protect workers and businesses. Policy responses should focus on two immediate objectives: health protection measures and economic support on the demand and supply side.
- Workers and employers and their families must be protected from the health risks of COVID-19. Protective measures in the workplace and in communities must be introduced and strengthened, requiring large-scale public support and investment.
- Timely, large-scale, coordinated political efforts must be made to provide employment and income support and to stimulate the economy and demand for work. These measures not only protect companies and workers from immediate job losses and income, but also help to avoid a chain of supply shocks (for example, losses in workers' productivity capacities) and falling demand (for example, suppressing consumption between workers and their families) that can lead to a prolonged economic recession.
- Proactive, large-scale and integrated measures in all policy areas are necessary to cause strong and sustained impacts. As the crisis is evolving rapidly, careful monitoring of the direct and indirect effects of all interventions is crucial to ensure that policy responses are and remain relevant.
- Building trust through trust and dialogue is crucial to making policy measures effective. Especially in times of high social tension and lack of trust in institutions, reinforced respect and reliance on mechanisms for social dialogue creates a solid basis for strengthening the commitment of employers and workers to joint action with the government. Social dialogue at the business level is also crucial.
Support measures for the social protection of workers and their families
Regarding the social protection of workers and their families, the Portuguese Council of Ministers approved the following measures:
- The attribution of justified absences for employees and independent workers who have to stay at home to accompany their children up to 12 years old;
- Exceptional financial support for employees who have to stay at home to accompany their children up to 12 years old, in the amount of 66% of the basic remuneration (33% paid by the employer, 33% paid by Social Security);
- Exceptional financial support for self-employed workers who have to stay at home to accompany their children up to 12 years old, in the amount of 1/3 of the average salary;
- Extraordinary support for reducing the economic activity of the self-employed and deferring the payment of contributions;
- The creation of extraordinary support for professional training, in the amount of 50% of the worker's remuneration up to the limit of the National Minimum Wage, plus the cost of training, for the situations of workers without occupation in productive activities for considerable periods;
- The guarantee of social protection for trainees and trainers in the course of training activities, as well as for beneficiaries engaged in active employment policies who are prevented from attending training actions;
- Equating the disease of the situation of prophylactic isolation for 14 days of employees and independent workers of the general social security regime, motivated by situations of serious risk to public health decreed by the entities that exercise the power of health authority . With this change, workers who are decreed, by the health authority, the need for prophylactic isolation will have ensured the payment of 100% of the reference remuneration during the respective period;
- The award of sickness benefits is not subject to a waiting period;
- The granting of childcare and grandchildren subsidies in case of prophylactic isolation without dependence on the warranty period.
Protecting workers in the workplace
Protect workers in the workplace to minimize the direct effects of the coronavirus, in accordance with WHO recommendations and guidelines:
- Improve OSH measures, including social distance, provision of protective equipment (especially for healthcare workers, volunteers and others in permanent contact with people), hygiene procedures and ways of organizing work (supported by information campaigns and awareness) and through social dialogue between employers and workers and their representatives;
- Encourage flexible work arrangements, such as teleworking;
- Prevent discrimination and exclusion related to COVID-19;
- Improve universal access to health services;
Stimulating the economy and looking for work
Stimulate the economy and demand for work through economic and employment policies to stabilize economic activity:
- Active tax policies, particularly social protection measures, including targeted transfers and automatic stabilizers, such as unemployment benefits, in addition to public investments and tax benefits for low-income people and micro, small and medium-sized companies;
- Monetary policy (reduction of the interest rate, relaxation of the reserve rate, targeted liquidity provisions);
- Loans and financial support directed to specific sectors to protect companies, especially MSMEs. Investing in healthcare systems is crucial in building resilience against COVID-19, but it also offers an opportunity to create decent jobs.
Protect employment and income
Protect the employment and income of companies and workers adversely affected by the indirect effects (closure of factories, interruption of supply chains, ban on travel, cancellation of public services, events etc.):
- Social protection through existing schemes and / or payments to workers, including informal, casual, seasonal and migrant workers and self-employed workers (for example, through access to unemployment benefits, social assistance and public employment programs);
- Job retention schemes, including short-term work arrangements / partial unemployment benefits and other long-term support for companies, such as salary subsidies [and temporary cuts in wage tax / exemptions from social security contributions], paid vacations and extension of existing benefits from related rights, subsidies and schemes;
- Financial smoothing measures for revenues, with a fixed term, to support business continuity, mainly MSMEs and self-employed workers (for example, subsidies, credit mediation / refinancing to overcome liquidity restrictions).
While these measures will undoubtedly help contain the pandemic, respond to the needs generated and pave the way for a gradual recovery, it is clear that more needs to be done. Past crises and the experiences of several other countries, which reacted too late in the context of the current COVID-19 crisis, show that preparedness and early action are critical.
This pandemic is unique in many ways, but there are still lessons to be learned from previous economic crises that highlight the central role of employment, social protection and social dialogue in mitigation and recovery policies. Accurate, consistent, timely and transparent information is essential not only to combat the pandemic, but also to reduce uncertainty and increase confidence at all levels of the economy and society, including the location and jobs. A decline or lack of confidence affects consumer spending and business investments, inducing an economic slowdown and hindering job recovery.
Focus on employment, including self-employment, is key to facilitating the recovery process. Previous responses to health emergencies and natural disasters have shown that intensive investments in health and water, sanitation and hygiene, and services are an important means of immediate job creation in crises. Policies that support skill development and entrepreneurship cushion the impact of unemployment.
Constructive and persistent social dialogue between governments and social partners plays a crucial role in developing effective responses at the business, sectoral and macroeconomic levels, as demonstrated by the historic economic crises. The government cannot tackle the causes and consequences of the crisis, nor can it guarantee stability and social recovery through unilateral actions. Social dialogue is an irreplaceable tool for balanced crisis management and accelerating recovery, as well as an essential instrument of good governance in relation to change. Communication channels and continuous dialogue with the government are essential to allow workers 'and employers' organizations to originate the company's restructuring in a sustainable manner and preserving jobs.