COVID-19 and Workers'Organizations

Tackling the Covid-19 Pandemic, Climate Disasters and the Locust Plague in East Africa

Date and Participation


East African countries are facing a convergence of three complex crises, namely the Covid-19 pandemic, climate-related disasters and a locust plague. The interaction of the negative consequences of these triple crises has caused and continues to cause mindless waste of human lives, the disruption of supply chains resulting in a significant reduction or complete closure of businesses, massive job and income loss, amidst the complete lack of unemployment benefits and job retention schemes as well as comprehensive social safety net. The climatic disasters, in particular, have resulted in the destruction of vital economic infrastructure and human settlements, forcing affected communities to flee their ancestral homes and seek refuge either in Internally Displaced People’s Camps or in Refugee Camps in neighbouring countries, putting additional pressure on their already ailing socio-economic infrastructure. On the other hand, migratory locusts flying over vast areas of the East African sub-region have devoured vast swathes of agricultural farms – an act of profound destruction that has caused unprecedented decline in yields and undermined food security. These extremely unfavorable economic and social situations have plunged many people deeper into the poverty hole, exacerbated income inequality and increased the hunger pain of vulnerable groups. As a result, lives and livelihoods are threatened for the majority of the population and the raging crises have exposed the extent of the deficiencies inherent in the health, social protection, labour protection and environmental management systems of the East African countries.

The flattening of these three dramatic curves of the Covid-19 pandemic, climate-induced calamities and locust plague in order to ensure a just transition to a future of work that contributes to decent work, an ecologically sustainable economy, food security and a resilient society must remain the common effort of all the countries of East Africa to achieve a new and better normal.

As East African countries now relax lock restrictions and make frantic efforts to tackle the damage caused by climate disasters and the locust plague, many questions remain on the minds of union leaders on the type of Agenda that should propel the sub-region towards a new human-centered economic, social and ecological order, supported by sound pro-poor and pro-labour policies, derived from a process of inclusive dialogue.

Aware of the need to protect workers' jobs, wages and benefits, some governments in East Africa have promulgated special labour protocols that prohibit the dismissal of workers during the Covid-19 pandemic and have completely frozen collective bargaining, while others have made it illegal to cut workers' wages unless the employer is unable to pay and have negotiated an agreement with the unions concerned. In addition, governments have injected various response measures to rehabilitate damaged infrastructure, scale-up investment in renewable energy, contain the locust plague, and revive their economies by bailing out businesses in the hardest hit critical economic sectors, including small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that operate mainly in the informal economy, which accounts for more than 80 percent of jobs in East Africa on average.

Greening economies in particular will strengthen the capacity of East African countries to manage natural resources sustainably, increase energy efficiency and reduce waste, while tackling unemployment, poverty and inequality and building resilience guided by the principles of a just transition, sustainable economic programs, commitment to creating decent jobs, guaranteeing labour protection and extending social protection for all.


The main objectives of this webinar which is a virtual platform for union leaders, activists and rank-and-file members in East Africa are:

(i) Outline the ILO’s strategic framework for mitigating the impact of Covid-19 on the world of work and action on climate change for a just transition to greener economies and a sustainable future;

(ii) Exchange information on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, climate-related disasters and the locust plague on the world of work;

(iii) Discuss the measures being put in place by governments to mitigate the effects of these three complex crises in the immediate, short term and long-term perspectives; and

(iv) Propose policy building blocks to inform an economic, social and ecological union Agenda aimed at addressing these crises from a just transition and human centred development perspectives.


  • Introduction: Mohammed MWAMADZINGO, Desk Officer for Africa (ILO-ACTRAV)
  • Welcome remarks: Maria Helena ANDRE, Director of ILO-ACTRAV
  • ILO Policy Framework on Stimulating Economic Recovery from Covid-19 Crisis: Michael WATT, Technical Officer, ILO ACTRAV
  • The ILO’s Action on Climate Change: Knowledge, Policy Response and Capacity to Manage a Just Transition towards Greener Economies and a Sustainable Future: Lene OLSEN, Senior Program and Operations Specialist, ILO ACTRAV
Panel Discussions 
  • Francis ATWOLO, Secretary General, Central Organization of Trade Unions, Kenya and President of Organization of African Trade Union Unity,
  • Rhoda BOATENG, Coordinator of the Department of Climate Change, ALREI, ITUC-Africa, Lome, Togo,
  • Kassahun FOLLO, President of Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions and General Secretary, Horn of Africa Trade Union Confederation
  • Caroline K. MUGALLA, Executive Secretary, East African Trade Union Confederation, Arusha, Tanzania