Greater support needed for working families as COVID-19 takes hold – UNICEF, ILO and UN Women
Newly released recommendations for businesses aim to help employers strengthen support for families during the pandemic
Date: Wednesday, April 1, 2020
[Joint press release]
New York/Kathmandu — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its exponential growth, it is essential to support working families to minimize negative consequences for children, UNICEF, ILO and UN Women said today. Job loss, school closures, and unavailability of childcare mean that families, especially those in low-income households, need extra support.
“The fallout from the pandemic – job losses, prolonged stress and a deterioration of mental health – will be felt by families for years to come,” said UNICEF Chief of Early Childhood Development Dr. Pia Rebello Britto. “For the most vulnerable children, the absence of adequate social protection systems exacerbates their exposure to the crisis.”
Children below the age of 10 years represent the poorest age subgroup in Nepal, according to the Nepal Multidimensional Poverty Index 2018.
“In Nepal, a child’s protection and development is strongly correlated with multiple socio-economic deprivations, including access to services and exposure to violence and exploitation. COVID 19 will further exacerbate these vulnerabilities especially among the poorest and most marginalized households,” said UNICEF Nepal’s Representative, Ms Elke Wisch. “Now, more than ever, family and child-friendly employment practices in the private and public sectors, as well as social protection measures adapted to this evolving situation, will be critical to protect children and their families from the most detrimental fall-out of the pandemic.”
Family-friendly policies and practices, including employment and income protection, paid leave to care for family members, flexible working arrangements and access to quality, emergency childcare can make a critical difference. They enable workers to protect and care for themselves and their children and enhance workers’ productivity and sense of security.
“The evidence is also mounting that the economic impacts of COVID-19 will affect women more harshly, as more women work in low-paying, insecure and informal jobs,” said Ms Wenny Kusuma, Representative, UN Women Nepal. “We also have an opportunity to “unstereotype” the gender roles that play out in households in many parts of the world and support an equitable division of care and domestic work amongst family members or those residing in the household.”
In Nepal, 90.5 per cent of women in employment are in informal sectors, according to National Labour Force Survey 2017/18. Self-employed, domestic workers, female-headed households, and those in casual or temporary agency employment are at particular risk. Within households too, women bear a disproportionate burden of unpaid care and domestic work, which includes caring for children, the elderly and sick family members.
Where governments or businesses put income protection in place, this can ease these dilemmas, sustain incomes and avoid driving households into poverty. This response must also include those in the informal economy; and take into consideration women’s disproportionate care burden.
The UN agencies also call on governments to strengthen social protection measures, especially for vulnerable families, including by supporting employers to continue providing employment and income, and to guarantee financial support for those who lose their jobs or are unable to continue their economic activities.
“It is essential that government, workers and employers in Nepal quickly negotiate solutions which will support business sustain the impact of this crisis while also protecting workers and their families. Micro enterprises, especially the women entrepreneurs, will require immediate and longer-term support” said Mr Richard Howard, Country Director, ILO Office in Nepal. “The Covid-19 situation has also highlighted the essential need for government’s policies and programmes to extend social protection to informal sector workers for their protection against the harsh impact of this and similar other crisis in the future.”
“Social dialogue - consultation and collaboration among governments, workers and employers and their representatives - is essential. If responses are to be effective and sustainable, they have to be built on trust and a wide range of experiences,” said Manuela Tomei, ILO Director of the Conditions of Work and Equality Department.
The preliminary recommendations for employers to mitigate the negative consequences stemming from COVID-19 include:
- Seek advice and support from employer and business membership organizations who can channel concerns to the government and shape policy measures that support business resilience and the situation of workers and their families.
- Monitor and follow national advice and direction on social protection measures by local and national authorities and communicate critical information to the workforce.
- Assess whether current workplace policies provide sufficient support to workers and their families irrespective of the type of contract they hold.
- Focus specifically on gender-responsive measures and vulnerable and/or marginalized groups. Among others, this can include informal, temporary, young/older, migrant, pregnant or nursing workers, single parents, health and care workers and those who lack entitlements to employer benefits.
- Apply good practices when implementing existing or new policies based on social dialogue, national labour laws and international labour standards. Ensure all workers are entitled to workplace support measures, without discrimination, and that all workers know about them, understand them and feel comfortable using them.
- Protect the workplace against discrimination and social stigma by facilitating training and ensuring reporting mechanisms are confidential and safe.
- Implement family-friendly working arrangements to give workers greater freedom of when and where they can fulfil their job responsibilities. If flexible working arrangements are not possible, consider alternative support for working parents such as childcare support. Employees can be more productive and efficient if provided with family-friendly environment and social protection.
- Support working parents with childcare options that are safe and appropriate in the context of COVID-19.
- Monitor the situation of most vulnerable households to ensure they are targeted in social assistance programs
- Prevent and address workplace risks by strengthening occupational safety and health measures. Provide guidance and training on occupational safety and health measures and hygiene practices.
- Implement measures to prevent and address discrimination, violence and harassment in the workplace (in the context of COVID-19 and beyond). Domestic violence is likely to increase due to confinement and mobility restrictions. Psychosocial counselling support is needed.
- Encourage workers to seek appropriate medical care in cases of fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
- Support employees coping with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Support government social protection measures to cover COVID 19 impact in line with ILO Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention No. 102 and ILO Social Protection Floors Recommendation No. 202. Company support can include, for example, subsidies for workers to access health, unemployment and inability to work insurance, and should extend to workers in the informal sector.
- Encourage and support workers to participate in the social protection schemes offered by the government.
- Gather and report on sex-disaggregated data related to evolving rates of infection, economic impacts, care burden, and the incidence of sexual violence and abuse
- Investment in family-friendly policies is an investment for the future as it helps businesses develop capable human resources for the future as well.
For more information about COVID-19 and guidance on how to protect children and families, visit: www.unicef.org/coronavirus
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