15th May 2020 International Roundtable themed “Compliance with International Labour Standards by EU and EAEU Member-States in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic” has taken the place. The event was jointly organised by Research and Educational Centre for Human Rights, International Law and Problems of Integration, Department of International and European Law (Kazan Federal University) and Department of Labour Law and Social Security Law of Kutafin Moscow State Law University (MSAL).
Key-note speakers were presented by Jean-Michel Servais - Visiting professor at Gerona (Spain) University, Honorary President of the International Society for Labour Law and Social Security, Former Director of the International Labour Office (ILO), Lejo Sibbel - Senior International Labour Standards and Labour Law Specialist, ILO Decent Work Technical Support Team and Country Officer for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Beryl ter Haar - Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, Institute for Public Law and Social Law, Leiden University, Daria Cherniaeva - Associate Professor, Faculty of Law School of General and Interdisciplinary Legal Studies, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Muslim Khasenov - assistant professor, Kazakh State Law University named after M.Narikbaev, Zakaria Shvelidze - Invited lecturer, Tbilisi State University, Faculty of Law, Georgia
Meeting has started with warm welcome from moderators of the event- Professor Rustem Davletgildeev and Professor Nikita Lyutov. After floor was given to the first key-note speaker professor Jean-Michel Servais, who addressed the ILO role during the current International Sutiation. Thus, it was mentioned that ILO through two main legal tools: Recommendations (and Research), and Basic Standards on Protective Measurers is aimed to provide best possible solution for all the concerned parties. Problems occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic touch the employers’ interests, maintaining business related issues, and also rights of employees on Social Security. Number of ILO instruments addressed the importance of maintaining good health of employees at the work places. In this context, current situation concerns mainly medical professions- doctors, nurses etc. However, the situation of mentioned categories of employees is far from being ideal, and pandemic of COVID-19 reveals the existing problems, so States have to find new solutions to guarantee employees right on health at the work places.
After word was given to Lejo Sibbel. Mr.Sibbel pointed the attention of the audience on some relevant facts: 4 of 5 employees were affected due the COVID-19 pandemic, which is approximately equal to 80% of all the employed people worldwide, the same time economic crisis of 2008-2009 impacted only 20% of respected party. Due the work places closure, impact on work performances of self-employed people, all this gives the right to presume, that current situation is high-impactive new economic crisis. Mr.Sibbel consider, that the big amount of work places closure will bring up dramatic number of court cases, as employees left literally unprotected.
The discussion was followed by Professor of Leiden University Beryl ter Haar pointed out, that pandemic situation has the dramatic impact on Healthcare systems, which almost leaded to failure in case of Italy and Spain. As EU has very limited competence in the field of Social Policy, EU could not react as fast as it was needed in order to take drastic measures to combat the pandemic and support national systems. In case of the Netherlands, government has started to support business from the first days of situation occurred by providing financial support to help to pay the employees. Pandemic has big impact on all the sectors of national economics, and Dutch government implies mainly ILO standards due the situation, however if confinement would have been prolonged for longer period, it might lead to major failures of financial systems of the state.
COVID-19 pandemic affects a lot the category of platform workers and persons, who involved in non-standards forms of employment- addressed Professor Rustem Davletgildeev. One of the main questions is regulation the informal economy, currently only EU has the legal instrument ruling the non-standards forms of employment- the Directive on Transparent and Predictable working conditions of 2019. EAEU, same as EU facing now the problem of workers mobility, even though there are legal in the framework of organisation, nonetheless it is not being applicable due the situation. But informal economy exists all over in all regions already, and ILO could be the organisation providing universal and legal-binding rules for regulation of non-standard forms of employment.
Furthemore, Jean-Michel Servais pointed out, that in order to guarantee Social Security rights of workers, States should refer toy only to major ILO Convention 102, but also use the other instruments in the field of Social Security and establish the dialogue to find better ways for solution, as in using social assistance instruments. Question of whether the pandemic situation could be considered as force-majeure was risen during the discussion. According to Jean-Michel Servais, pandemic impacts the contracts and performing work activities, but normally States should secure the employees using unemployment benefits instrument. “it also depends on what is announced officially in a country and, apart of this, what is the wording of a particular contract. Sometimes a force-majeure clause in a contract doesn’t cover cases like pandemics”- added Daria Cherniaeva. Same time according to Turkish national law, pandemic situation is being qualified as force-majeure.
The second part of Round-table was devoted to cases of particular states, combating pandemic and measurers taken by governments to face the problems risen due the current situation. Professor Nikita Lyutov referred to Russian Federation case during COVID-19 pandemic. Russia has implied variety of regulations, facing pandemic. Taken into account, that Russia is structured as federation, it should not be forgotten, that subjects/regions of the federation remain to be autonomic and have their own competences according to law. Russian government announced that 150 billion US dollars were relieved to face economic shock, meanwhile this amount is equal to only 1,5% GDP of the state. The most important issue remains to be the protection of workers- even though minimum wage of 165 US Dollars is guaranteed, most of the categories of workers, performing work activities for private companies, self-employed persons do not fall under the scope of application of new regulation. According to new regulations employers will be able to receive financial loans with reduced interest of the bank. What makes situation uncertain, is that “non-working days” or official holidays were announced. Such situation does not meet any definition or regulation by national law, so it was not clear what categories should remain working/dismiss work activities. It all creates dramatic legal gaps and does not help defining situation in order to regulate it in legal order.
Muslim Khasenov shared the situation in Kazakhstan, the state of emergency was announced for the period of almost 2 months, restricted measurers of people movement was introduced as well. It goes without saying, that In this conditions State was facing the economic impact caused by pandemic. Nonetheless, the payment of minimum wage of approximately 100 US Dollars was guaranteed, vulnerable groups of population were provided with social assistance benefits. Kazakhstan implemented the state program "Economic of simple things” according to which companies and business representatives will be allowed to receive financial loans with reduced interests of the banks.
Zakaria Shvelidze presented experience of Georgia during pandemic period. Georgia has introduced some restrictions on people’s movement. Thus, some mandatory regulations were introduced aimed to provide safety and maintaining good health conditions at work places. Health at work remains to be one of the most important issues, as 20% of infected people are medical professional, working with COVID-19 positive patients. Georgia did not applied any social security measures, even though government provided program to maintain economics, as in measurers to guarantee employees rights, but informal sectors of national economics remain outside the scope of application of national regulations.
Round-table attendees also discussed other issues, concerning International Labour Standards: such as guarantee of annual payment, working hours, problems of regulation and supervising employees while performing teleworking, impact on business and possible solutions of finding legal instruments to combat the pandemic. During the discussion participants stressed that ILO provides minimum International Labour Standards which have to be followed by States on regular basis, and most important, have to be applied during the crisis situations.
Video recording of the roundtable is available here