From contracts to time off, a plan to protect workers during coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Companies are under growing scrutiny for how they treat their workers during the coronavirus crisis, but with health, safety and costs on the line, some may not know what steps to take.

Addressing domestic abuse to child care needs to expiring contracts, a global civic alliance has written a template for businesses and charities around the world to use.

“There is no excuse for any organization not to put some level of social protection measures in place,” said Lysa John, secretary general of CIVICUS, an alliance of groups working to strength civic action, based in South Africa.

She spoke to the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of International Workers’ Day on Friday, as activists warned that women and low-income workers would be disproportionately affected by economic losses in the months to come.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has estimated that the pandemic will wipe out nearly 200 million jobs worldwide, far more than during the 2008-09 financial crisis.

In some countries workers can apply for unemployment benefits, but in many places they cannot, said the United Nations, estimating that more than 40% of the world’s population has no social protection.

The plan by CIVICUS, based on ILO recommendations, includes using funds budgeted for new hires to retain staff, not letting workers go even if their contracts are expiring and allowing employees to reduce hours or take time off as needed without any cost.

“I’m a single mother, and just mentally knowing that if I want to stop I can stop... it releases your energies because you don’t feel the pressure of having to push yourself through,” said John.

The policy has raised productivity in the organization rather than the opposite, she said.

CIVICUS also created a communication system grouping employees by where they live, so if anyone faces an emergency at home they can call a colleague in the area.

Domestic violence is expected to surge under coronavirus lockdowns.

More than 200 organizations have signed on to the protocol, said John, and she hopes companies will be next.

The World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA), which works with CIVICUS, said they will be looking at how the world’s most influential companies respond to the pandemic.

WBA ranks 2,000 companies by how well they are doing at achieving the U.N.’s global goals, an agenda to resolve such issues as gender equality and poverty by 2030.

“Coronavirus provides significant additional challenges and may set progress back substantially,” said Daniel Neale, WBA’s lead for social transformation.

“It also provides an opportunity to reframe the role of business in society – hopefully for a positive and just transition to a society and economy that works for every person,” he said.

Reporting by Nellie Peyton, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit