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International: ILO Report on World Employment Trends Highlights Importance of International Labor Standards to Protect Workers’ Rights

(June 10, 2021) On June 2, 2021, the International Labour Organization (ILO) published the World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2021 report (WESO Trends report), which highlights the importance of international labor standards to protect workers’ rights. In particular, the WESO Trends report focuses on the disparate impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on workers, depending on the sector of economic activity, type of enterprise, and worker profile. The final analysis predicts significant long-term social scarring from the COVID-19 pandemic for micro and small enterprises, informal workers and enterprises, lower-skilled workers, women, and youth. 

The report also looks at specific impacts at the enterprise level, such as those affecting domestic workers and seafarers, noting that certain essential categories of work employ a high percentage of migrants and are characterized by a high degree of informality, low pay, and a high degree of risk of exposure to the virus, in addition to posing other occupational health and safety concerns. (See WESO Trends report, box 3.5.)

The WESO Trends report highlights several important ILO conventions and recommendations to protect these vulnerable types of workers in the context of COVID-19, including:

  1. the design and implementation of laws and regulations, employment policies, and rights and social protections;
  2. incentives to transition from the informal to the formal economy;
  3. compliance with and enforcement of laws and regulations;
  4. freedom of association, social dialogue, and the role of employers’ and workers’ organizations;
  5. data collection and monitoring;
  6. implementation of the transition from the informal to the formal economy.

The WESO Trend report also highlights other relevant instruments and provisions, including the 2016 Guiding Principles on the Access of Refugees and Other Forcibly Displaced Persons to the Labour Market, which provides a set of voluntary, nonbinding principles rooted in relevant international labor standards and universal human rights instruments, through cooperation between the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the ILO.

Additionally, the report notes that the specific labor conventions and recommendations noted above, while especially relevant during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, should also be seen in the context of the ILO Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which commit all ILO Member States to respect and promote freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced or compulsory labor, the abolition of child labor, and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

The WESO Trend report adds to the ILO’s significant research work on the COVID-19 crisis and the world of work—for example, the 2021 flagship World Employment and Social Outlook report on the role of digital labor platforms in transforming the world of work, and recent reports on working from home, wages, and women.