Currently, the whole world is fighting the COVID-19 epidemic. All countries are racing to find anti-crisis solutions to ensure the least possible losses for every labour market. At the same time, it should be borne in mind that no country in the world will be able to maintain such intensive financial assistance in the long run. High social benefits are only an ad hoc aid for the temporary maintenance of financial continuity of entrepreneurs.
1. Labour market earthquake.
The situation on the global labour market has not been so bad for many years. There are no accurate data from all the countries affected by COVID-19, but already available data show that only in March more than three million Americans and more than nine hundred thousand Spaniards, lost their jobs. The Polish Minister of Family, Labour and Social Policy indicated that the Ministry expects unemployment in Poland to increase by about half a million new unemployed people. Many countries will be hit by the biggest labour market crisis in history. For the time being, we can only rely on the above media reports, as none of the EU countries are currently reporting on the rise in unemployment. Hence, Polish calculations are only a preliminary assumption, as no one can currently predict the real scale of COVID-19’s impact on national labour markets. It all depends on how long individual countries will maintain their own restrictions in the functioning of the economy.
2. The labour market must become operational. Regardless of the epidemic.
It seems that Europe will have to learn to live with COVID-19. Experts indicate that it will be difficult for us to fight the epidemic in the coming months. Even if we temporarily defeat the coronavirus, the experts emphasize that we must reckon with its recurrence. Therefore, the key task for European governments is to find a way to operate the labour markets in the constant shadow of the coronavirus.
Certainly in the near future (up to a maximum of three months) individual countries will have to give up direct social transfers. The current economic conditions do not allow for a long-term emptying on public budgets, as these funds will soon run out. In such a situation, politicians face another dilemma.
3. How can the labour market function in the presence of COVID-19?
Assuming the epidemic returns, we need to prepare employers and employees for work during the period of COVID-19’s permanent presence. Above all, governments will have to allow all sectors of the economy to function normally – from industry to services. All types of workplaces must start functioning normally again. At the same time, it should be noted that a significant part of the Polish gross domestic product is made up of small and medium-sized entrepreneurs and the self-employed. In this respect, the state should also remember to support these entities. In a situation where the government is not able to provide permanent support in the form of direct financial benefits, other large-scale aid programs should be introduced.
The first area worthy of special attention is free hygiene products such as gloves, masks or disinfectants. Every workplace (regardless of size) should be supplied with these materials at all times by public authorities.
Secondly, countries should modify their existing health and safety regulations. Obligations introduced in Poland in the form of a 1.5-metre distance between employees or a limitation of the number of customers in shops to 3 for a position to pay should stay with us for longer. Modification of health and safety standards should be carried out thoroughly. National legislators must remember that the average person spends most of his or her day in the workplace, where he or she is mostly at risk of infection. Therefore, consideration should be given to permanent disinfection of workers’ hands, measuring their temperature or increasing the possibility of remote work.
The third level is a wide information campaign. Each country should commit adequate financial resources to running information campaigns showing the potential consequences of the lack of responsible behaviour of citizens with regard to COVID-19. An educated society will deal with the epidemic much better in full awareness of the threat.
4. International cooperation is the basis for effective action.
With a common labour market within the European Union, only coordinated action at European Union level can really help European countries. Even the most radical restrictions will make no sense if a neighbour ignores the problem and leads to a renewed escalation of the epidemic. Hence the coordination of these actions is the foundation of an effective fight against the coronavirus. The European Union should be expected to take appropriate action in this respect, as it is the only institution that can effectively conduct such extensive consultations.
Due to the short form of expression, only the outline of potential actions in the form of postulates is presented. Detailed solutions to the above ideas require separate discussions.