“Amnesty International has called for the protection of human rights—which include workers’ rights—to be placed at the heart of all governments’ responses to the crisis.”
Rabat – International human rights NGO Amnesty International has warned workers’ rights are at risk in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as the region remains on lockdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The human rights NGO published a statement today to mark International Workers’ Rights Day. Amnesty International warned, “The spread of coronavirus has brought us to a significant crossroads in the long battle for the protection of labour rights.”
“The virus has exposed vulnerabilities in how our society is structured,” the statement emphasized.
It is vital MENA governments ensure workers’ “rights to health, dignity, and just conditions of work,” Amnesty International argued.
The statement included four recommendations to MENA governments to ensure the protection of workers, particularly informal workers, during the crisis.
Access to healthcare
Access to healthcare is a human right, the NGO said. “The pandemic has highlighted the importance of the right to health which includes quality health care for everyone—regardless of nationality, employment, or socioeconomic status.”
Governments, particularly in Gulf countries, must work to ensure access to healthcare for informal and migrant workers.
“Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar are home to the majority of the estimated 23 million migrant workers in MENA living under conditions that can be described as modern-day slavery,” the statement underlined.
The Moroccan government has expressed its commitment to ensuring the most vulnerable members of society have access to healthcare during this time of national crisis.
On April 22, the Ministry of Economy and Finance announced that workers currently unable to continue their activities because of the pandemic and who are not enrolled in the Medical Assistance Plan (RAMED) would start receiving stipends from April 23.
Registration for non-RAMED holders began on April 9 under the auspices of the country’s Economic Monitoring Committee (CVE).
A ministry statement clarified that the amounts of aid available per household as well as the withdrawal procedures are identical to the procedure and grants for households registered in the RAMED service.
“Around the world, thousands of health workers responding to the coronavirus outbreak have been infected, and hundreds have died because of lack of access to personal protective equipment,” Amnesty International wrote.
In Egypt, “thousands of private-sector garment workers in the cities of Port Said and Ismailia are at risk of losing their jobs, having their incomes slashed, or being made to work without protective gear,” the NGO said.
Amnesty International urged governments to put the safety of vital workers at the heart of their responses.
Morocco has stepped up its healthcare infrastructure in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and is working closely with the World Health Organization and the Africa Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to ensure its healthcare workers stay protected.
On March 3, the WHO published a press release warning governments about the international shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers amid the pandemic.
“Without secure supply chains, the risk to healthcare workers around the world is real. Industry and governments must act quickly to boost supply, ease export restrictions and put measures in place to stop speculation and hoarding. We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting health workers first,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The WHO shipped vital PPE to 47 countries to help meet the growing demands. Morocco was among the recipients.
“COVID-19 has underlined systemic gender discrimination and its inevitable economic impact. Women workers have long suffered financially because of the pay gap and labour restrictions in the MENA region, and have taken up much of the burden of care work in hospitals, homes, and communities,” Amnesty International explained.
The NGO also urged governments to clamp down on gender violence amid the lockdown. According to Amnesty International, reports of domestic violence against women to hotlines have increased 180% in the MENA region since the outbreak of the pandemic.
On April 12, Morocco joined a worldwide initiative, in collaboration with the United Nations and the European Union, to curb domestic violence during the lockdown.
“We know that containment measures and quarantine are essential to overcome COVID-19. But they can also trap women with violent partners,” said Secretary-General of the UN Antonio Guterres.
The initiative aims to promote “peace at home, in households, around the world.”
In the declaration, Morocco and the other signatories vowed to position the “prevention and remedy” of domestic violence as a key national and global response to the COVID-19 pandemic and pledged to establish a “policy of zero tolerance for domestic violence.”
“The economic impact of COVID-19 has placed a severe strain on people’s ability to afford food, rent, and other essential services. Workers must not be left to bear the brunt of this crisis alone. Governments have a responsibility to ensure their economic stimulus plans protect the most vulnerable from poverty,” Amnesty International argued.
The call from Amnesty International to protect the livelihoods of informal workers during the lockdown comes after Human Rights Watch released a statement in mid-April warning the lockdown could have a detrimental effect on Morocco’s informal workers.
“I think the fact that they’re staying inside for their own well-being has delayed public displays of anguish and desperation,” acting MENA director at Human Rights Watch Eric Goldstein argued.
He warned that if the lockdown continues too long, “desperation may prompt people to take risks for their own and their community’s health, reigniting the spread of COVID-19.” Goldstein continued, “Tourism, which provides significant jobs and revenue” in Morocco “is unlikely to rebound quickly.”
“Peddlers and shopkeepers, other than those providing necessities, have largely closed down for now, as has the huge informal sector,” he added.
The NGO suggested the government may face challenges in terms of resources and public trust.
The Moroccan government has taken a number of measures to support informal workers during the lockdown, including stipends and healthcare support.
In an April 27 interview with Maroc Hebdo, the head of government, Saad Eddine El Othmani, said the COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity to facilitate the integration of informal workers into the formal sector and to help them comply with regulatory provisions and benefit from fiscal and social equity.
The integration of informal workers into the formal sector would allow this section of the population to become visible and contribute to the economy in a post-pandemic Morocco.
The head of government added that the impacts of the lockdown could be a catalyst for change in Morocco and lead to the emergence of a new development model.