Impact of the coronavirus pandemic on employment and social matters

The theme of the seminar held in Buġibba/Malta on December 1 and 2, 2021, was the “Impact of the coronavirus pandemic on employment and social matters“. A total of 40 representatives of workers’ organisations from 10 countries, and 16 speakers took part. The event was organised by UHM Voice of the Workers, with the support of EZA and the European Union.  

Important aspects under the spotlight

The event aimed to take stock of the situation 22 months from the start of the Covid-19 outbreak. The issues on the spotlight were the following:

  • The spread of the pandemic and the implications which the latest variant is having on public health in general and for the prospects of recovery
  • The role of medical staff, nursing and care workers and the impact which the pandemic had on their own employment
  • An analysis of the sectors worst hit by Covid-19 from an economic and sociological perspective
  • An analysis of the sectors which emerged stronger from Covid-19 from an economic and sociological perspective
  • The role of social dialogue during the pandemic particularly to mitigate the effects on workers and draft the road to recovery

The timing of the seminar was crucial as participants were able to draw from the experience gathered in almost two years and form informed opinions based on scientific knowledge (which was very scant in the first few months of the pandemic), labour market and sociological research, and learn from certain mistakes which were committed in due course. This exchange of knowledge gave participants a wider perspective on how to tackle the ongoing crisis, at a time when the situation is still very volatile. 

Results and calls for action

  • From a strictly medical perspective it was explained that the situation remains very fluid but at the same the rolling out of the vaccine has decreased the hospitality rate. Nonetheless, we must remain vigilant in the wake of the emergence of new variants from time to time which will result in the occasional spikes of cases. 
  • Healthcare workers under stress need more psychological support to cater for the impact which the pandemic is having on their mental health. Moreover, management needs to be as flexible as possible to facilitate their duties, foster a sense of comradery, instil a greater sense of belonging, be better prepared and have the required resources at hand. 
  • Unions and workers’ organisations must take a pro-active role to safeguard workers’ rights and the conditions of work especially in times of crisis like the ongoing pandemic. Special attention must also be given to female workers as research shows that they were the ones most likely to suffer from a drop in the take-home pay to look after the children or vulnerable persons. 
  • Telework and remote facilities which were rolled out during the pandemic should become on permanent basis to increases flexibility and improve work-time balance. However, it seems that the preferred approach is the hybrid model. 
  • Participants agreed on the role of ‘big government’ to face such extraordinary circumstances. Moreover, experience shared from other member states such as Poland and Italy showed that the State intervened to save jobs, including forking out some of the salary, albeit not to the same degree. 
  • Support and recovery from an EU perspective shall not substitute the national budgetary expenditure.  The recovery and resilience plans need to be consistent with the relevant country specific challenges and priorities identified in the context of the latest European Semester.
  • Flagship areas for investment should be in clean technologies and renewables, energy efficiency in buildings, sustainable transport and charging stations, rapid broad band services, digitalisation of public and private services, reskilling and upskilling to support digital skills 
  • Social dialogue is key to help mitigate the effects which major crises such as the pandemic have on workers’ conditions. Negotiations should not only be limited to short-term targets but on recovery-related outcomes on employment protection, supporting business, telework and remote working policies, social protection measures, to foster better social dialogue and tri-partite collaboration, greening the economy and strengthening economic and political governance.
  • There need to be more efforts to carry out research as this is still limited. However, from the data presented it transpires that some temporary measures should be made more permanent for future crises. On the other hand, the Impact on business and employment upon phasing out of support measures is not yet clear
  • The EU’s response in the form the Recovery and Resilience Facility (€672.5 billion) which must be implemented until the end of 2026 is forecast to have a stronger overall impact than any national plan of action. 


Covid-19 has brought about the biggest shock in contemporary history which is putting people across all walks of life to the test. Nearly two years down, there is a growing sense of fatigue and deja-vu as each time the situation starts to improve a new variant throws us back to the starting point. Nonetheless, life is slowly starting to a new normal. The very fact that this seminar was held in physical format rather than online is significant. As trade unionists this event was crucial to share experiences on the way forward in tackling challenges ahead and measuring the success of certain measures in respective countries. Furthermore, it was an opportunity to learn how social partners, in this case unions and workers’ organisation can contribute not only to fire fight the immediate effects of such a crisis but in shaping long-term policies be it the transformation to a more resilient economy, the protection of vulnerable workers and initiatives to make a fairer society based on justice and solidarity.