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From refugee to digital worker

From refugee to digital worker

From refugee to digital worker. For Thon Mabior Jok, a young refugee from Kakuma camp in Kenya, working on a digital platform has meant some extra income but there are many challenges.

InfoStory – ILO Global Call to Action for a Human-centred Recovery

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InfoStory – ILO Global Call to Action for a Human-centred Recovery

What measures are needed to achieve a human-centred recovery from the COVID-19 crisis that is inclusive, sustainable and resilient? Find out more about the ILO roadmap to convert the moral and political aspiration of leaving no one behind into concrete action.

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Protect and manage mental health at workplace in time of COVID-19

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Protect and manage mental health at workplace in time of COVID-19

Mental health has become the concern of the ILO long before the COVID-19 was declared as a global pandemic in March last year. Grace Monica Halim, Technical Officer of the ILO Geneva, highlighted that mental health problems at work cost the global economy up to US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity. In Switzerland, for example, the cost of work-related stress during the pandemic increased by 600 million Swiss Francs each month from 7.6 billion pre-pandemic. Teleworking has brought new stresses, as workers find themselves isolated or juggling family and professional responsibilities She explained that work-related stress includes a variety of conditions, such as overwork, job insecurity and blurred work-life balance. Thus, she emphasized the importance of managing work stress to help reduce the risk of work injury that may result in lost days on the job and negative effects on productivity.

The employers have a key role to ensure workers’ welfare by addressing mental health issues through occupational safety and health (OSH) management.”
Grace Monica Halim, Technical Officer of the ILO Geneva

“The employers have a key role to ensure workers’ welfare by addressing mental health issues through occupational safety and health (OSH) management,” she stated before more than 2,200 viewers of the interactive webinar, “Pandemic Taking Toll on Mental Health of Workers: How ‘Smart Working’ Works?” on 9 September. The webinar was jointly organized by ILO and Tempo, a leading media in Indonesia. The webinar also marked the first webinar series of the ILO’s Enhancing COVID-19 Prevention at and through Workplaces Project. Funded by Government of Japan, it aims to share best practices and key inputs to the recovery of COVID-19 that can leave economies, enterprises and workers on a stronger footing during and after the pandemic.The increasing problem of mental health was also showed by Tempo’s quick survey conducted for the webinar. The survey revealed that 72.4 percent from 2,700 readers admitted that COVID-19 has affected their mental health with financial insecurity and lack of work-life balance as the main causes. Grace M. Halim Responding to the survey, Grace underscored the crucial role of workplaces as a venue to break stigma against mental health. Negative stigma against mental health has discouraged workers reluctant to be opened with their real mental conditions. “Health issues are not only physical, but also mental. Stress can cause other effects, including work accidents, decreased work quality,” she stated.The role of managers are therefore, according to Grace, more crucial to support their team to understand and speak up their mental health. “The pandemic has pushed us to acknowledge mental health issues as part of the workplace issues. When we think of OSH, mental health should also be at the forefront of our minds,” she added. Three ILO Conventions Nos. 155, 161 and 187 cover mental health issues under the principles of OSH policies. Thus, what could be done at the workplace to help address and promote workers’ well-being? According to Grace, the answer was clear: social dialogue. “As encourage by the ILO, social dialogue has been recognized as a means to improve labour condition through constructive cooperation between employers and workers.”

Indonesia can adopt global best practices in time of crisis to better address workers’ mental health. Malaysia, Chile, European countries and USA are few countries that have developed practical guidelines and policies on workers’ mental health and wellbeing.”

Through social dialogues, both employers and workers can play active roles in creating a working environment that is psychologically safe. Apart from it, employers can create a supportive work culture through risk assessments and generate strategy with cross-functional approach by integrating human resources, risk managements and OSH management—a strategy that will intertwine workplace good practices as well as the elimination and prevention of risks.“Indonesia can adopt global best practices in time of crisis to better address workers’ mental health. Malaysia, Chile, European countries and USA are few countries that have developed practical guidelines and policies on workers’ mental health and wellbeing. A website, as a resource hub to navigate mental health information and guide people to necessary support needed, is also one of the ways,” told Grace. ILO has developed Stress Prevention at Work Checkpoints to improve workplace conditions and preventing stress at work that is also available online and in mobile application. This is essential for national authorities, companies, trade unions, OSH practitioners and other relevant parties to manage workplace stress prevention. It is in line with the ILO’s effort to build a strong and resilient OSH management, promote decent work, and social dialogue.The livestreaming of the interactive webinar can be viewed on ILO TV Indonesia.

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A blooming business for a young entrepreneur

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Taking every business training opportunity she could find, 25-year-old Mariam Kobalia has developed a thriving business in Georgia running a flower shop and growing roses in her own greenhouses.

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InfoStory – Trade unions in transition: What will be their role in the future of work?

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The future of trade unions is uncertain. Globally, membership has been decreasing, as well as their ability to organize and service workers. With the COVID-19 pandemic aggravating pre-existing labour market challenges, how can trade unions be revitalized? Explore our latest Infostory.

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Qatar issues a National Policy on Occupational Safety and Health to promote the right to safe and healthy workplaces

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Enhancing workers’ safety and health is a shared priority of the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (MADLSA) and the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH). Through a dedicated taskforce of experts and with the support of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the two ministries have drafted and published on 4 October 2020 a […]

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A better normal must mean tackling workplace violence and harassment

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Manal Azzi, Senior Specialist, Occupational Safety and Health
Violence and harassment is a persistent and pernicious issue in the world of work.
It transcends national boundaries, socioeconomic conditions, occupational sectors and working arrangements. It can manifest itself between co-workers, managers and subordinates, or between workers and their clients or the public, threatening the safety and health of all those subjected to it.
Violence and harassment takes different and shifting forms, not just physical or sexual. Psychological harassment, in particular, can be insidious and abusive in the most subtle of ways, and the mental toll it takes can lead at times to suicide.
The negative impact on workers’ well-being also affects businesses, contributing to absences from work and increased staff turnover, related to fear, illness and injury. These changes imply significant costs for enterprises, and can also damage productivity and performance.
During the current public health crisis, violence and harassment has appeared to increase. The unprecedented restrictions imposed on people during the pandemic have exacerbated stress levels. In some cases, this has led to violence and harassment being directed against essential personnel, healthcare workers and others on the pandemic frontlines.
© Nenad Stojkovic
There have been reports of doctors in Wuhan, China, being beaten and threatened in overcrowded hospitals. Essential workers in grocery shops have been subjected to violence and harassment when those stores ran out of supplies. More recently, a security guard in the United States was killed attempting to enforce a policy of wearing face masks in a store.
There has never been a more important time to recognize and address the causes and manifestations of work-related violence and harassment. A new ILO report, Safe and healthy working environments free from violence and harassment, does just that. It examines the scope of violence and harassment in the world of work and looks at existing occupational safety and health frameworks, initiatives and areas of action for preventing and addressing workplace psychosocial risks, including better Occupational Safety and Health management systems and training.
Last year, at the Centenary International Labour Conference, the ILO’s 187 member States adopted the groundbreaking Violence and Harassment Convention (No. 190) and accompanying Recommendation (No. 206). In doing this, they defined a global commitment to eliminating this scourge.
However, such an overarching commitment needs to be backed by grassroots action. Systems, cultures and individuals that perpetuate such harassment or allow it to continue need to be called out and corrected. We all want to build a ‘better normal’, post-COVID. Workplaces free from violence and harassment should be part of that equation.

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Let’s talk openly about mental health in the workplace

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Even before the term COVID-19 had entered our vocabulary, burnout, stress and anxiety were significant issues in the workplace. With the pandemic, things have become much worse. In recent months many workers have felt helpless in the face of the profound changes they have experienced.

That’s why it’s so important to talk about mental health clearly and openly.

Teleworking has become the new normal. It has brought new stresses on workers, as they find themselves isolated or juggling family and professional responsibilities and experiencing blurred lines between their work life and personal life, while working from home. The phenomenon has been so sudden and so massive that no teleworking rules provide an adequate protection in this new workspace.

© Aleksandr Safonov – Dreamstime.com

Frontline workers, such as health care and emergency workers but also those involved in the production of essential goods, in delivery and transportation, or in ensuring the security and safety of the population, are also facing many stressful situations as a result of the pandemic.

These past few months they have suffered Increased workloads, longer working hours, with almost no rest and with the constant fear of being infected at work and passing the virus to family, friends.

Many have also been physically attacked. One of several disturbing stories I’ve heard about was of a grocery shop owner in Pakistan who was beaten with sticks by customers over the shortage of flour in his store.

All this has deeply affected workers’ mental health and wellbeing.

On top of that, many are worried about losing their jobs. Mass layoffs are affecting all sectors of the economy. With unemployment at the highest level since the Great Depression it’s no wonder we all feel uncertain about the future.

Faced with this incredible level of uncertainty, workers may experience mood swings, low motivation, exhaustion, anxiety, depression, burnout and even suicidal thoughts. A range of physical reactions can also occur, such as digestive problems, changes to appetite and weight, dermatological reactions, fatigue, cardio-vascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, headaches or other unexplained aches and pains. It can also lead to an increased use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs as a way of coping.

© KB Mpofu / ILO

If not appropriately assessed and managed, these psychosocial risks can trigger or deepen distress and turn into real mental health problems.

To protect the well-being of workers during these times of crisis and change, the ILO has published a new guide for employees, employers and managers – “Managing work-related psychosocial risks during the COVID-19 pandemic”.

It contains ten areas for action in the workplace, both in times of lockdown and during the return to work.

The guide includes advice on how to organize the physical environment in the workplace, including layout and points of exposure to hazardous agents; how to assess the workload and work assignments in the specific context of COVID-19; how to deal with violence and harassment; and how strong and effective leadership can have a positive impact on employees.

It also tells workers how to protect themselves from unfair dismissal in situations where they refuse to work for fear that their life or health could be endangered.

Living through this pandemic is tough. Many of us have not been in this situation before. We have no rules or experience or role models to turn to. That’s why having guidelines and talking about mental health in the workplace is vital, in order to break the taboo.

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COVID-19 shows why domestic workers need same rights and protection as others

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Liliam Marrero, General Secretary of UNFETRAH-FENAMUTRA

Personally, COVID-19 has impacted me very badly. I have been a domestic worker and care-giver all my life. For more than seven years I have taken care of a 95-year-old woman in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. But now I am in quarantine at my house with no salary. My employer terminated me without payment because she can’t pay me.

I know that the impact of COVID-19 on domestic workers in the Dominican Republic has been pretty traumatic.

From the moment I wake up I listen to the messages from our members – their needs, pains and suffering. We communicate with our members through our WhatsApp groups. As a union leader my day-to-day workload has tripled because the needs and demands from members have increased. Our responsibilities towards them have expanded to support their health conditions and basic needs, like food and care. We have mobilized support from other organizations and churches. I have arranged for the union’s Executive Committee members to deliver food, soap, hand sanitizer and toothpaste for the kids, to a neighbourhood where many domestic workers live.

My first fear is for those who might be infected but don’t have the possibility to get a medical test. The COVID-19 test is expensive, more than $DR 5,000 (USD$86). That is roughly half the monthly salary of a domestic worker here. While domestic workers were eventually allowed to receive some income support through a government programme called “Quedate en casa”, my union estimates that only 40 per cent of domestic workers have received it. Hence, my fear is that domestic workers will be left on their own.

Papuan domestic worker © A. Mirza / ILO

A second fear is about the financial challenges the domestic workers’ families and kids are facing. I get phone calls every day from our members telling me that they don’t have enough food. On top of this they cannot go out to work or look for a new job, since many employers do not want domestic workers to come into their houses.

These worries are growing every day because soon they will have neither food nor savings.

While my union work is hard, our commitment now is stronger. We cannot let our members become sick with COVID-19 because most likely they will not be diagnosed and receive medical treatment. Our strategy is prevention and information on how to take care of ourselves.

We also must continue to advocate for social protection. We were doing such great work to get social protection for our sector and starting to see results, but now all that has stopped.

Here in Dominican Republic, the government has ratified ILO Convention 189 on decent work for domestic workers. But COVID-19 has exposed the needs our sector has. To make sure domestic workers never face this situation again, we need laws that will implement the rights and protections that Convention No. 189 grants us. We want to be given the labour rights and protections that other workers have.

The trade union Union Nacional FENAMUTRA de Trabajadoras del Hogar, represents 1,200 domestic workers in the Dominican Republic, including Haitian migrant domestic workers.

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Hand washing at work – The key to staying safe

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Hand washing at work – The key to staying safe

Carlos Carrion Crespo, ILO Specialist for public services and utilities

Like many workers around the world I’ve been working from home to stay safe and to protect others. As part of this regimen I wash my hands frequently. I learned as a child that this was the main way to prevent getting sick from many diseases, and this now includes COVID-19.

Soon I will be returning to my office. So, I began thinking about the facilities at work.

Then I asked myself; what about the 1.6 billion people who live in places where they don’t have safe water, at home or at work? Or the 4.2 billion people who don’t have access to safe sanitation? How do they prevent contagion? And if they are returning to workplaces that have not been inhabited for months, will the water be of adequate quality?

It turns out, I am not the first person to ask such questions. A bunch of ILO standards and tools – including nine Conventions, numerous Recommendations and 19 Codes of Practice – detail requirements for hand-washing facilities in workplaces and workers’ housing. These instruments cover a wide range of economic activities, ranging from agriculture and office work to mining, maritime activities and road transport. This is no small achievement when we consider that every word and detail has been negotiated by governments, workers and employers from the ILO’s 187 member States.

© Arlington County

These are some examples of ILO standards that provide COVID-relevant guidance:• The Hygiene (Commerce and Offices) Convention, 1964 (No. 120) requires work premises and equipment to be properly maintained and cleaned, supplied with sufficient, wholesome, water or other drinks, and sufficient and suitable washing and sanitary facilities.• The Workers’ Housing Recommendation, 1961 (No. 115) advises employers on providing adequate sanitary and washing facilities for workers in employer-owned accommodation.• The Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155) requires employers to provide appropriate training and information on safety and health, and allow workers and their representatives to inquire into all aspects of work-related safety and health, in accordance with national law and practice.• The Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience Recommendation, 2017 (No. 205) protects the safety and health of workers engaged in crisis response.

But it’s not just the responsibilities of employers that are covered. Governments are also asked to provide advice on workplace hygiene, and monitor employer facilities. And workers are required to comply with workplace safety and health requirements.

The ILO’s Employment-Intensive Investment Programme launched a COVID-related initiative in South Africa that hired 20,000 young people to help with the distribution of sanitizers and soap, provide education on hygiene-prevention measures, disinfect high risk areas and conduct clean-up campaigns.The ILO’s Better Work Nicaragua programme has helped the national garment sector develop an emergency COVID-19 response. Prevention measures include frequent handwashing and guidance for employers.

Many collective agreements also include clauses on sanitary facilities.

Workplaces have much to contribute towards preventing COVID-19 infections. Until treatment or a vaccine is available, solidarity is the only cure. As countries reopen for business, governments, workers and employers must join forces to stifle the pandemic with safe working practices and facilities. Ensuring all workers have the facilities to wash their hands safely and adequately at work will be an important tool in the struggle against this and future pandemics.

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