Roundtable on Compliance with International Labour Standards by EU and EAEU Member-States in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

On May 15, the application of international labour standards (ILS) by EU and EAEU Member-States within the context of the COVID pandemic was discussed during a round table of le-gal academics, practitioners and a representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

News | 15 May 2020
The Member States of the European Union (EU) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) together have an estimated population of 637 million people. All these states have been af-fected by the COVID pandemic and, in response, have taken a variety of measures to coun-ter its spread and mitigate the social and economic impact of these measures. To discuss the impact of these impact mitigation measures on the application of international labour stand-ards, the Department of International and European Law of the Kazan Federal University and the Department of Labour Law and Social Security Law of Kutafin Moscow State Law Uni-versity, jointly organized a virtual round table on May 15. The round table brought together approximately 35 academics and legal practitioners from countries across the EU and the EAEU, including Belarus, France, Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Turkey and Russia, as well as a representative from the ILO Moscow Office.

First, and foremost, there seemed to be a shared understanding that international labour standards provide a legal floor for the development of systems that proved to be vital in miti-gating the social and economic impact of the pandemic, most notably in areas such as occu-pational safety and health and social security. In this regard, it was considered of the utmost importance that states take into account relevant ILS in the development and implementation of their response measures.

A number of discussants noted that there seemed to have been little to no coordination within the EU and within the EAEU with regard to the development and implementation of response measures, which was attributed to the fact that they do not have a mandate or implied pow-ers concerning health or other relevant issues.

At national level, it was clear that a wide variety of approaches has been taken by states to manage the pandemic, ranging from the declaration of states of emergency to the declara-tion of so-called “non-working days”. All countries discussed seemed to have adopted measures to provide some temporary income support for workers, as well as temporary cost-relief measures for employers. In this respect, it was also considered to what extend af-fected workers seemed inclined to accept that the violation/erosion of their rights was a nec-essary price to pay for the collective good or whether an upsurge in court cases of workers demanding respect for their rights could be expected.

There was agreement that certain categories of workers, such as healthcare workers, work-ers in non-standard forms of employment, including platform workers, and workers in the informal sector, were disproportionally affected by COVID measures. It seemed that the ap-plication of ILS for these groups of workers needed strengthening at the national level.

More from a legal conceptual point of view, the application of the concept of force majeure was discussed. There seemed to be some consensus that, in the absence of a clear regulato-ry or contractual indication, the application of force majeure was debatable within the frame-work of the COVID pandemic.

An interesting question raised was whether the COVID pandemic had revealed the need for the development of new international labour standards, for instance concerning non-standard forms of employment, distance/telework, and global supply chains.