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The following section details what ideally should happen to protect workers’ rights. In many production countries, workers and suppliers operate with little margin, no social safety net, restrictions on freedom of association, and/or lack of supportive government measures. With every measure brands take in their supply chain in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, they should consider the consequences, including the gendered impact, such measure will have on the workers in the garment factories and knowing that both the brand and the suppliers are faced with severe consequences, should together look for solutions in a collaborative way.
Workers’ wages should be paid their full regular wage during work stoppages. Piece rate workers must be paid the wage according to the standard stipulated in the labour contract. Factories need to follow existing legal regulations. In the absence of legal requirements or financial support from the government, brands, local NGOs and unions should work together with suppliers to provide support to workers. Where needed, Fair Wear can facilitate such collaboration. Factories should engage in dialogue with trade unions or worker representatives, to discuss jointly and consult on the measures that need to be taken to ensure safe workplaces, safe transport to work, or to ensure continued payment of wages of workers. While women have often been underrepresented in unions, it is important to ensure that their voices be included in these discussions. If workers are fired, they should receive legal compensation. When a factory must close or sudden bankruptcy occurs, all workers should receive legal dues, such as wages, benefits and severance pay.
If a factory remains open, the employers should take extra measures to ensure safe forms of travel to and from work, ventilation, adequate spacing between workstations, hygienic work floors and toilets, appropriate hand-washing facilities, breaks and facemasks. Information should be provided on how to prevent infection; worker representatives and trade unions should be collaborated with to help ensure all workers receive and understand this key information. When workers contract COVID-19, employers should provide paid sick leave according to legal requirements. Workers who have been at risk or present with symptoms should be requested to stay home on paid leave in order to present further spreading the virus. Recognising the burden that mostly falls on women, financial support could be given to parents caring for children or sick family members, especially single parents. To address concerns of violence and harassment at this time, suppliers can distribute contact details for local women’s organisations that provide support for victims of violence. The right to a workplace free from violence and harassment should be reiterated.
Suppliers should provide a mechanism to address questions from workers and involve them in decision making. Workers must have access to a trade union or worker representation to collectively respond to measures or to raise issues. Employers have a responsibility to inform workers of relevant information concerning COVID-19. In case of (temporary) shutdown or significant changes to company policies, measures and working practices must be negotiated with worker representatives. Social dialogue is a key tool to be used during this time to ensure that both the interests of workers and companies are heard and addressed. It is in the interest of both parties to ensure workers remain safe and healthy and that companies do not close.
To support the above and in the spirit of partnerships and collaboration, brands should not make decisions that significantly impact the businesses and workers in their supply chain without proper discussion and negotiation with their suppliers, and ensuring consultation with the relevant trade unions and worker representatives takes place. They should initiate a dialogue with their supplier and worker representatives to discuss and negotiate interventions, the mutual impact of any changes that are made, but above all also the solutions that can be elaborated together.