The idea that Covid impacts society as a whole in an equal manner has been proven wrong by the sharp divide in terms of inequalities that this crisis has aggravated. The injustice of unfair profit sharing between those who benefitted economically from the pandemic and their employees have, for example, forced the Belgian trade unions to go on strike amidst a recently announced lockdown. Although social dialogue usually runs smoothly, this time it was halted by the social partners as the employers refused to increase wages by more than 0,4%. This is having considerable spillover effects on the Belgian government's left-right axis and reminds us of the political divide that could emerge in many member states post-Covid as the non-recognition of the role of essential workers is not limited to Belgium.
But next to this more traditional challenge which the Covid crisis has left us with, it seems that time has come to think about the post-Covid world and the future of work. According to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report on the post-pandemic economy, more than 70% of the developed world workforce will be affected by Covid-induced trends such as remote work, e-commerce, digitization and automation. The expected workforce transitions will be more significant, and the shifting labour demand across occupations will affect the most vulnerable. Those trends will impact work arenas, countries and cities differently. If we want to avoid a two-speed world, policymakers and multinationals need to boost their creativity in the same way they have done in the past year. We won't be back to (the usual) business after everybody is vaccinated. We need to prepare for the post-Covid world of work with better digital infrastructures, faster reskilling of workers, and new worker benefits and support mechanisms that integrate the planet's limits.
The ETUI intends to anticipate and shape the future debates on the post-pandemic society, while providing alternative and credible narratives and reform proposals. In our new work programme, we have included a project on the effects that the pandemic has on the practice of remote working both during and beyond the timeframe defined by the current health emergency and social distancing rules. We will also explore the role of 'workers' voice and participation in social dialogue/decision-making in restructuring processes. Another new project focuses on 'surveillance at work', taking into account the new forms of remote work emerging during the pandemic. A significant milestone will be the joint publication “Reconstruction after the Pandemic – Proposals for the Future: Alternative narratives”. These are just some of the many innovative research pieces that the ETUI will endeavour in the coming work programme year, starting on the 1st of April.
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