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CNDH call for commitment to human rights in the world of labour after lockdown: Diligent companies for a resilient society

The Covid-19 pandemic is not only a health crisis but also an economic crisis that has caused widespread damage to businesses and the world of labour. Economic and social disruption due to the crisis threatens the livelihoods of many people in the long term. The crisis is also, and in many ways, a human rights crisis, due to the consequences on people's lives and their freedoms. It is, therefore, particularly important to measure the human rights impacts of the health crisis on workers’ rights. This will permit to define the possible interventions that guarantee the respect of these rights in the responses of the State and companies.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provide a set of guidelines for identifying and clarifying standards of corporate responsibility and the role of States. According to these Principles, companies must do all that is possible to avoid contributing in any way to human rights violations and environmental degradation.

This human rights due diligence is based on the willingness of companies. However, in the absence of a binding national or international legal framework, there can be no guarantee that companies will comply with these guidelines. The State must, therefore, ensure that companies respect human rights.

Impact of the COVID-19 crisis on workers

During the health crisis, economic activities were severely affected in our country as a result of movement restrictions and containment measures. While employees of public administrations, except health, safety, and territorial administrations, have, mainly, resorted to working remotely, workers in the private sector have, partly, continued to go to their working places. Some employers reduced the working hours of their workers, lowered their wages, and/or dismissed them. Cases of workers trapped at their workplace have also been reported.

Some "essential" workers were required to be present in the workplace in sectors related to health care, transport and logistics, agriculture and food production, retail trade, and manufacturing essential products such as protective equipment. The choice of workers designated as "essential" varies from sector to sector. However, companies have had the opportunity to appoint them. These “essential” workers are at higher risk of contracting Covid-19.

Besides, thanks to the providential commitment of the State, hospitalization and care costs of all the patients of Covid-19, including workers, are covered without discrimination.

Nevertheless, violations of workers' rights were reported during the crisis. These are cases of contamination occurring in companies and production units due to lack or insufficient prevention. More than 60 companies having reported Covid-19 outbreaks, and legal problems related to fixed-term and short-term employment contracts.

Furthermore, workers, having completely or partially lost their income, were not able to benefit from the payment of the monthly compensation of 2,000 MAD from the National Social Security Fund (known under its French acronym CNSS). These include workers whose employers, often subcontractors, have failed to submit the necessary documents of workers to qualify for subsidies. Problems relating to labor standards have also arisen in the private sector, such as the restriction of workers' representations and the suspension of collective negotiation processes.

For the informal sector, the impact of the health crisis was more severe, with a high contamination rate and alarming socio-economic precariousness. Indeed, many workers in the informal sector maintained their activity during the crisis, particularly retail traders, thus exposing themselves to the risk of contamination due to the absence of rationalized prevention measures.

However, it is, definitely, the impact of the crisis on the socio-economic situation of workers in the informal sector that was worrying.
Admittedly, the Economic Watch Committee (CVE) has implemented measures to help the informal sector households with a "RAMED" medical assistance card and affected by the imposed lockdown, with compensation varying between 800 and 1,200 MAD, depending on the number of people per household.

Still, a significant number of the active population in the informal sector was not able to benefit from the subsidy, which concerned only around 4 million households, of which 37% came from rural areas. In most cases, these derogations were due to the inadequacy of the provided declarations.

Directives of the authorities and the CGEM for the recovery of economic activity and public services

The National Human Rights Council (CNDH) welcomes the measures planned by various public authorities and the General Confederation of Moroccan Entreprises (CGEM) to conduct the recovery of economic and commercial activity. They invite Moroccan and foreign citizens to ensure compliance with these measures, mainly those set out in relevant important standards.

The Ministry of Economy, Finance and Administration Reform published, on May 22, 2020, a circular and a practical guide on work procedures and measures to be taken in public services after releasing the lockdown. The circular and the guide, which are addressed to administration, officials, and users, provide for various measures such as establishing an internal committee at the level of each administration. This committee aims at ensuring the implementation of the measures taken to avoid the spread of Covid-19, the establishment of an action plan for prevention, the continuation of telework for officers whose nature of work does not require their presence at the workplace, digitalization of administrative services, simplification of  administrative procedures and acceleration of their digitalization, and finally the permanent disinfection of workplaces. Officers are invited to take all measures of social distancing and to wear a medical mask during working hours. As for users, directives intend to strengthen measures to control their access to administrations, organize reception spaces, and adopt operational mechanisms to improve reception, advice, and guidance conditions through the dissemination of telephone numbers and electronic mails by various available communication channels.

Moreover, the Ministry of Labor and Professional Integration published, on May 21, 2020, the "Protocol for the management of the risk of contamination by Covid-19 in the workplace". The Protocol is a follow-up to the "Guide on the prevention of Coronavirus infection in the workplace", published on May 4, 2020, by the ministry. This guide is composed of practical job descriptions. The protocol aims to provide guidelines to support companies in developing prevention plans and concrete precautionary measures issued by the authorities to combat the spread of Coronavirus in the workplace, to protect the health of employees, and ensure the continuity of economic activities.

The Protocol is intended for companies that have continued their economic activity or which plan to resume their activities after lockdown. The guidelines contained in the Protocol on the planning and organization of work including distancing, health, safety, and hygiene measures, catering at the workplace, transport and access conditions in the workplace, as well as caring for people with signs of the disease. The directives also relate to information, training, and awareness-raising actions.

For its part, with a view to resuming economic activity, the CGEM has implemented three practical guides and a training kit for the benefit of companies that have to resume their activities. These practical tools, presented on April 29, 2020, aim to support companies in terms of precautionary and health measures to ensure safety for their employees and customers.

Recommendations of the CNDH

Starting from the repercussions of the health crisis on the world of labour mentioned above, and considering the valuable efforts made by the State to protect businesses and workers and compensate for their economic and social damage due to the pandemic, the CNDH urges the government and employers to respect the human rights of workers, employees, users and all those who are in a workplace or public services.

The CNDH calls on the government mainly to:

Honor its obligations to protect human rights and hold companies and administrations accountable for human rights violations linked to their activities, especially in the context of Covid-19;
Ensure that economic compensation measures focus, in priority, on the most vulnerable people and that they include clear and applicable conditions;
Include social protection measures in post-COVID-19 support plans, for those who have lost their income because of the crisis and who are unable to provide for their families;
Provide its support plans to the public and include provisions allowing companies to increase the transparency of their plans and measures;
Broaden the range of beneficiaries of the subsidy intended for workers in the informal sector, by adopting flexible criteria for this subsidy.
Ensure the protection of economic and social rights, including the rights to housing, health, food, water, sanitation, education, social security and work, and, above all, avoid exacerbating social inequalities;
Strengthen the labor inspection institution and ensure that workers who consider themselves victims of rights violation can have access to effective remedies;
Ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of the preventive measures against Covid-19 within companies and encourage them to undertake human rights and environmental due diligence;
Ensure security and maintain preventive measures in public and private transport. Indeed, in the current circumstances, a significant number of people could soon return to work using unsafe or insecure travel conditions, since several people will have to use public transport (bus, tram, collective taxis, etc.);
Fight against commercial behaviors which have negative repercussions on consumers, such as price gouging;
Guarantee additional protection for marginalized groups and human rights defenders;
Identify, assess and adequately take care of the new health risks caused by releasing lockdown;
Keep public opinion informed of the actions conducted and the preventive measures planned for the protection of workers, customers, and users of public services.

The CNDH also calls on businesses to:

Assume their responsibilities in respecting human rights during this period, particularly: respect the right to paid holidays of workers and employees, provide them with safe working procedures, and modify working hours to respect the guidelines on social distancing;
Mitigate the economic impact of the virus through avoiding collective redundancies and the loss of social benefits, by prioritizing financial decisions that protect the standard of living of employees;
Respect collective agreements, maintain contracts with suppliers, be mindful of the most vulnerable, commit, with the State, to meeting the immediate health and financial needs of workers, and demonstrate responsibility and human rights due diligence by being transparent about the faced challenges;
Ensure the safety of their customers or users, by providing the necessary preventive measures, including hygiene and social distancing measures;
Maintain a social dialogue with workers’ and employees' representatives to negotiate safety, health conditions, recovery, and support plans for businesses to ensure their efficiency and social equity.

The CNDH draws the attention of government and businesses to:

- The specific impacts of this crisis on the situation of women, who are more likely to be unpaid, precarious, temporary and part-time contracts, and informal jobs.
- The potential dismissals of people with disabilities, as persons at higher risk to health crisis social impact.
- Migrant workers who are likely to find themselves in precarious working conditions and disproportionately affected by unemployment or reduced employment due to the pandemic.

The CNDH finally recommends that national stakeholders continue to reflect on a new development model centered on an economic paradigm that supports socially inclusive and climate-sensitive sustainable growth, which aims to reduce social and territorial inequalities and promote human dignity. A development model that would leave no one behind and that would help our society to be more resilient in facing crises.