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Greater support needed for working families as COVID-19 takes hold – UNICEF and ILO

New recommendations aim to help employers strengthen support for families during the pandemic
30 Mar 2020

James Bennett holds his one day-old baby James, in a maternity ward in Exeter, UK.  Evidence suggests that when fathers bond with their babies from the beginning of life, they are more likely to play a more active role in their child’s development.

NEW YORK, 30 March 2020 – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its exponential growth, it is essential to support working families to minimize negative consequences for children, UNICEF and ILO 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.”

In new preliminary recommendations released today, UNICEF urges employers to consider the impact of their business decisions on workers’ families – and to support social protection wherever possible.

Download the preliminary technical note from UNICEF, ILO and UN Women on family-friendly policies and other good workplace practices in the context of COVID-19 here

UNICEF and ILO 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.

“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.

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.

In 2019 UNICEF Innocenti released the Research Report "Are the World's Richest Countries Family Friendly? Policy in the OECD and EU."  This highly influential report raised important questions about national paternity leave policies, and continues make international headlines today.

Christophe, 42, gets ready to go to work and drop off his son, Kevin, 2, at the Early Childhood Development (ECD) center where he attends day care on the tea factory where he is employed in Rwanda. During the first few years of life, a child’s brain develops at a speed of around one million new neural connections every second.

The preliminary recommendations for employers to mitigate the negative consequences stemming from COVID-19 include:

  • Monitor and follow national advice 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.
  • 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.
  • Support working parents with childcare options that are safe and appropriate in the context of COVID-19.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.

For more information about COVID-19 and guidance on how to protect children and families, visit: www.unicef.org/coronavirus