A demonstrator, wearing a face mask and shield for protection againstcoronavirus, chants slogans during May Day protests in Istanbul, May 1, 2020.
A demonstrator, wearing a face mask and shield for protection againstcoronavirus, chants slogans during May Day protests in Istanbul, May 1, 2020.

LONDON - On the eve of International Workers’ Day on May 1, the United Nations International Labor Organization (ILO) warned that half of all workers worldwide – amounting to 1.5 billion people - are in danger of having their livelihoods destroyed by the coronavirus pandemic.

“May Day” is normally marked by demonstrations in cities around the world to demand stronger rights and better working conditions. This year, the lockdown in many countries means the protesters will be forced to stay at home.  

International Workers’ Day 2020 is an opportunity to thank the frontline workers who are risking their lives, says Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.

“Those courageous workers in health, who go to work every day along with others in care settings, risk their health and safety, and that of their families, to save lives,” Burrow told VOA. “But there are others who make themselves available in services, in transport, in our supermarkets, in many areas that equally serve us, so we can survive while they in fact put their lives at risk.”  

Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions wearing face masks to help protect against the spread of the new coronavirus, shout slogans as they march during a May Day rally in Seoul, South Korea, May 1, 2020.

The ILO’s director-general Monday urged governments to do more to protect frontline workers. “It is only by implementing occupational safety and health measures that we can protect the lives of workers, their families and the larger communities, ensure work continuity and economic survival,” ILO chief Guy Ryder told reporters.

The ILO report highlighted the impact that the coronavirus pandemic has already had on informal workers, who have lost 60 percent of their income on average.

“This virus has exposed the fragility of our world,” says Burrow. “When you consider that 60 percent of the global workforce work informally – no rights, no minimum wages, no social protection, no rule of law to deal with grievance – that’s simply an economic risk, as well as a social devastation that has to be undone. We must rebuild a more equal world that guarantees democratic rights and freedoms and allows for more equal development.”

Before that can happen, millions of people face a struggle to get through the coming economic crisis. Earlier in April, the head of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, warned that the pandemic is causing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and that a massive response would be required to ensure recovery.

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