Young workers have been particularly affected by the pandemic that hit all continents in 2020. Governments and actors of society have to unite to support them, as requested by the International Young Christian Workers (IYCW) based in Brussels and active on all continents.
With the title “The impact of Covid-19 on young workers,” the International Young Christian Workers (IYCW) has published, in about twenty pages, an analysis based on the See-Judge-Act method of the movement. It was presented at the beginning of a webinar that brought together over a hundred participants from more than 30 different countries on Saturday, December 12, despite the time differences. They included current and former YCW leaders, but also partners and supporters from all over the world, from Australia and Venezuela to Belgium, from Gabon to Argentina, from Sri Lanka and Canada to Tanzania, including members of other movements and organizations, such as the International Labour Organization (ILO).
An In-Depth Study
Quoting testimonies of YCW members from Egypt, Peru, Haiti, Germany, Japan, Brazil and the Philippines, this analysis first shows that due to the spread of Covid-19, young workers were among the first victims and they lost their sources of income, but also that the digitization of the (working) world has accelerated with both positive and negative consequences. The survey goes on to indicate that gender inequalities and injustices are even more pronounced and that migrants are particularly impacted, especially in refugee camps where it is, to say the least, difficult to respect social distancing! The lack of social protection is even more blatant, health is endangered as it is not being guaranteed at work, and reactions within the society vary greatly, with on the one hand many actions of solidarity and, on the other hand, many questions as to the real societal priorities.
The IYCW study also highlights the increase in the global unemployment rate, which mostly impacts young people, and it explains that governments tend to use the pandemic to serve their policies and interests, for example by silencing the media or by using the police and the army, with police brutality being ignored in India, the Philippines and Indonesia in particular.
Recalling the statement of its founder Joseph Cardijn that “each worker is worth more than all the gold in the world” and that common dignity has been given by God to each person, the IYCW carries on its work affirming that “human beings must be at the center of the economy,” in education, at the workplace, in the field of care and assistance, in social protection and in the preservation of our planet.
For the IYCW, governments must act, because strong social protection and solidarity, as well as policies and laws in favour of dignified work and life for all, are necessary. But the movement adds that “society, civil society and we, young workers, must act,” according to the lines of action developed in the study.
Strengthened and Supported
Throughout the December 12th webinar, the analysis of the IYCW was reinforced, supported and completed. This was done through testimonies from YCW members from Australia, Asia and Latin America. They confirmed that the pandemic has made the living and working conditions of young people even more difficult, especially for young women, due to the reduction in the number of jobs and little or no government support. Hence the frequent search for odd jobs in order to be able to live or survive.
Similarly, a former IYCW president, Josée Desrosiers, now working in trade unions, described the consequences of Covid-19 for women in Quebec, including the lack of respect and the difficulties of organizing collectively to pursue their demands. She expressed her hope that, in the wake of the health crisis, women will be able to gain more autonomy, including financial autonomy, and she recalled that, as Simone de Beauvoir said, it is important for women to remain vigilant at all times.
Jeroen Roskams, who works at WSM, the NGO common to the Dutch and French-speaking Christian Worker Movements of Belgium, was very complimentary of the IYCW study, describing it as very comprehensive and detailed with regard to young workers and vulnerable groups. He also showed how much this study was in line with the findings and objectives of his NGO and the various partners it supports in the different continents to promote social protection and to fight against the very negative impacts of Covid-19 on development, following the measures of social distancing, quarantine, curfews and restrictions on movement and work. Expecting an economic recession in the coming months and years, the Belgian speaker felt that great attention should be paid to the existing gender inequality and inequalities affecting vulnerable groups including young people at work, migrant workers, domestic workers, and health workers. And this, after a lack of international solidarity and coordination, although virtual meetings may have been positive, but they were not accessible to all. Hence his invitation to invent social protection systems, especially in the lower income countries, based on what the International Labour Organization (ILO) proposes.
As a member of the Bureau of Workers' Activities (ACTRAV), a body linked to the ILO, the Italian Anna Biondi, from her strategic position and her knowledge of the world of work, also complimented the IYCW. She said that in her opinion, the IYCW study is the very first synthesis paper with proposals that she has seen from a workers' organization. She added that a movement such as the IYCW is particularly useful for organizing young workers, and that the ILO can help it, but it is primarily up to young people to help themselves. The speaker also recalled the long struggles of the world of work and referred to the interest shown in the encyclical “Laudato Si!” of Pope Francis, to which she could have added the one for the letter “Fratelli tutti, which was written during the pandemic and calls for universal fraternity and social friendship.
The moderator of the meeting said that the webinar confirmed that anti-Covid-19 measures had led to a significant increase in world unemployment and to the implementation by some governments of laws that destroyed the conquests that the worker movement had achieved, but they also led to restrictions on the different expressions of struggle of workers' organizations.
Throughout the webinar, participants sent thank you notes both for the implementation and presentation of the IYCW study and for all the contributions shared during the online meeting. And in a brief conclusion as the webinar was running over time, the German president of the IYCW, Sarah Prenger expressed heartfelt thanks and said how important it is “to all work together” to meet the challenges arising from the pandemic.
“There are those who benefit from this pandemic, such as the ultra-rich and the digital giants,” she said, before adding, "We must therefore work together to ensure that they are the ones who pay the price.”
From the notes taken by a long-time ally, based on the IYCW study and the webinar