#BillMorneau; #G7; #G20; #IMF; #GlobalEconomy; #WorldBank; #COVID19Crisis
Ottawa, Apr 19 (Canadian-Media): Bill Morneau, Federal minister of Finance participated, this past week, in productive virtual meetings of the G7 and G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, in which he and his colleagues endorsed the G20 Action Plan of Supporting the Global Economy through the COVID-19 Crisis, media reports said.
Bill Morneau. Image credit: Twitter handle
COVID-19 is a global crisis that requires global collaboration, said Morneau. This week’s discussions with G7, G20, the IMF and the World Bank Group colleagues resulted in co-ordinated help for vulnerable countries to address the pandemic, notably by suspending all official bilateral debt service repayments.
COVID-19 Debt Service Suspension Initiative was stronly supported by Canada.
"Canada also announced a new $1 billion loan commitment to help the IMF meet the urgent financing needs of low-income countries...will continue to take necessary action at home, and with international partners, to mitigate economic impacts...We are all in this together,” said Morneau
All bilateral and private creditors were urged by Morneau to participate in this initiative, stressing that debt sustainability and transparency are essential prerequisites to inclusive and sustainable growth.
#ILO; #WorldBank; #IMF; #DC; #Covid19; #WorldofWork; #IMFC
Geneva, Apr 17 (Canadian-Media): In submissions to the Spring Meetings of the IMF and World Bank the ILO Director-General has laid out a four-pillar plan of policy responses to the COVID-19 crisis, that are human-centred and built on global solidarity, ILO reports said.
UN Women. Image credit © Ryan Brown
The Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Guy Ryder, has called for an immediate human-centred response through global solidarity to the COVID-19 pandemic .
In written statements (International Monetary and Financial Committee and Development Committee ) to the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), Ryder described the human dimension of the pandemic as devastating, and its combined health, social and economic effects as the worst crisis since the Second World War.
He urged the IMF and WB to focus their response on “providing immediate relief to workers and enterprises in order to protect businesses and livelihoods, particularly in hard-hit sectors and in developing countries”. He said priority attention should be given to the impact on smaller enterprises, unprotected workers, and those in the informal economy.
“The crisis has uncovered the huge decent work deficits that still prevail in 2020 and shown how vulnerable millions of working people are when a crisis hits."
Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General
According to the latest edition of the ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work , 81 per cent of the global workforce (2.7 billion workers) live in countries with mandatory or recommended closures. It also shows that working hours will decline by 6.7 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, which is equivalent to the loss of 195 million full-time jobs.
Ryder urged the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) and the Development Committee (DC) to put their weight behind four inter-related policy responses.
Firstly, stimulating the economy and demand for labour by using available fiscal and monetary tools and debt relief. Public investment in health systems would be doubly effective as a crucial contribution to beating the pandemic and creating decent jobs.
Secondly, providing immediate assistance to sustain enterprises, preserve jobs and support incomes. In this context, Ryder highlighted the particular need to invest in social protection measures, which can help mitigate the worst shocks of the crisis while acting as an economic stabiliser.
Thirdly, ensuring adequate protection for all those who continue to work during the crisis. That requires guarantees for safety and health in the workplace, properly designed work arrangements such as teleworking, and access to sick pay.
Fourthly, making full use of social dialogue between governments, and workers and employers’ organisations, which has a proven record of generating effective, practical, and equitable solutions to the type of challenges now confronting the world of work.
“We must aim to build back better so that our new systems are safer, fairer and more sustainable than those that allowed this crisis to happen, and more effective in cushioning the consequences of future crises on people around the globe."
“The crisis has uncovered the huge decent work deficits that still prevail in 2020 and shown how vulnerable millions of working people are when a crisis hits,” said Ryder, citing gaps in social protection coverage, the precarious situations of many small businesses, and weaknesses in global supply chains. He called on the IMF and the WB to resist pressure for austerity and fiscal consolidation that might come at the first signs of economic improvement and obstruct full and sustainable recovery.
The crisis has shown that habits and behaviours can change, said Ryder, pointing to the potential 4 per cent fall in global carbon emissions in 2020 because of the lockdown.
“We must aim to build back better so that our new systems are safer, fairer and more sustainable than those that allowed this crisis to happen, and more effective in cushioning the consequences of future crises on people around the globe,” he concluded.
Tags: decent work, precarious employment, livelihoods, unemployment, arrangement of working time, hours of work, social dialogue, social protection, human development, economic recovery, incomes policy, small enterprises, informal economy, debt, investment, multilateral system, vulnerable groups, health, occupational safety and health, safety management, ILO Director General
#ILO; #Enterprises; #globalRecession; #Depression; #marketEconomy
Switzerland, Apr 17 (Canadian-Media): Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and their employees are an essential part of the social and economic fabric of daily life worldwide. This vital role is now under threat from the unprecedented effects of COVID-19. We face the real prospect that a global recession becomes a depression, International Labour Organization (ILO) reports said.
In this situation, controlling the pandemic, maintaining workers’ incomes and minimizing the long-term costs of collapsing businesses are essential. Much action is underway, but more ambitious programmes and international assistance to developing countries are urgently needed.
Interventions should start with clarity on the top priority; that is, treating the infected persons and controlling COVID-19 infection curves. The response should recognize the temporary nature of the shock. Measures should be at both the micro and macro levels, with consistent and complementary goals, backed by solid monitoring, so that they can be maintained, adjusted, or phased out as appropriate. Use of resources should be maximized, beyond the usual parameters.
Different aspects of the crisis require different actions. The main phases are; (1) generalized inactivity due to the halt of economic and social activities, to prevent the virus spreading. (2) Reactivation of business activity once the virus spread is under control. (3) Recovery to pre-crisis conditions. The duration of each phase is and will remain uncertain and the timing to support workers, firms and households should therefore remain flexible.
Steve Dorst : ABADE Program. Image credit: ILO
Both formal and informal economic units would require significant support. This is an opportunity for all economic units to emerge from the shock and become part of a better integrated and accommodative market economy. The fundamental need is to support entire economic systems; the ways to reach informal units vary from country to country and data availability.
Combining strong government capacity, tripartite dialogue, and joint implementation with local and sectoral players will be essential, to allow for action that utilizes clear information, coherence and efficiency. To ensure rapid responses, announced programmes should be communicated with as much detail as possible, using existing social and economic mechanisms.
There is consensus that there will be huge, unavoidable, economic costs and a significant increase in public debt will be needed to absorb an important part of the loss of income. The challenge is to contain as far as possible the widespread defaults that could lead to a prolonged global depression. Mario Draghi (the Italian economist who served as President of the European Central Bank until 2019) reminds us that higher public debt levels will become a permanent feature of our economies, accompanied by some degree of private debt cancellation if jobs and productive capacity are to be maintained. The crisis requires clear funding instruments, in the form of either large stabilization or emergency funds, integrating the different initiatives into a coherent strategy with clear goals.
Firms’ most urgent requirement is to access cash and reduce operating costs. These critical needs can be supported with measures such as emergency interest-free loans or cash grants and suspending or deferring the payment of fixed operating costs. Bureaucratic requirements on business activity should be minimized.
Monetary policy is already making major contributions and a solid, coordinated, strategy involving monetary and financial sector policies and private banks’ participation is essential. Although the banking sector is entering the crisis with sufficient capital requirements, financial sector fragility can arise from large levels of public and private debt. Under current conditions, we have to face the necessity of different options for debt resolution and restructuring, and for some debt, the possibility of write-offs and re-conversion to long-term, low-interest, loans. For the smallest economic units, new programmes to channel micro credits through micro financial operators should have ambitious aims, but supervision and support are key as micro finance institutions can face large defaults in their portfolios.
Helping firms retain staff is crucial. Grants to support wages, training, productivity improvements, and the development of new products and services can help avoid layoffs. At the local level, assessment programmes can help firms understand local conditions, and link to production and business networks more effectively. Digital platforms can be particularly effective in collating information and data to give a better picture of local markets.
Our experiences with COVID-19 can have a positive legacy if we use it to help firms review their productivity and use of technology, and update management practices and procedures. If the right business environment is nurtured, the COVID-19 shock could create new opportunities.
The challenge is immense but so should be our commitment to respond.
#ILO; LabourStatistics; #Covid19Pandemic; #TravelBans; #SocialDistancing; #CATI; #CAWI
Switzerland, Apr 17 (Canadian-Media): The pandemic is radically impacting our lives. Without timely and accurate information about the statistics used to assess those impacts we will not act through adequate and informed policies, International Labour Organization (ILO) reports said.
Though numbers should focus on the health of the population, we also need to understand what is happening in the domain of labour statistics. That is, how is COVID-19 affecting our working lives? What is less obvious, however, is that the pandemic is also affecting our ability to compile such statistics.
The ILO reached out to national statistical offices to assess how producers of precious official statistics are reacting to the enormous challenge they now face. The clear conclusion is that the impact is incredible worldwide but, not surprisingly, varies depending on existing context, infrastructure and capacities. Some common patterns and responses can be identified, which are useful to share as a guide for countries facing up to the challenge.
That challenge is amazingly difficult, if not insurmountable in many cases, if the only objective is to maintain current compilations, let alone to be responsive by generating new data, a must to shed light on the impact of COVID-19 on the world of work. This means that in this unprecedented situation, National statistical Offices, Ministries of Labour and other producers of statistics face a double challenge: providing continuity and maintaining minimum data quality while also being responsive to new demands.
Impacts of COVID-19 on producers of labour statistics
Carrying out household surveys in times of travel bans and social distancing
Labour force surveys (LFS) are household-based sample surveys and serve as the main source of statistics for monitoring labour markets. They provide key indicators on employment, unemployment and working conditions to name a few.
While telephone and web interviewing are on the increase, most countries across the globe continue to rely on face-to-face interviewing as their primary mode of data collection for their LFS. Restrictions in movement forced countries to suspend these operations. Countries are reacting to this in various ways, often by shifting to telephone interviewing. However, this is not easy, and more importantly, when done at short notice with little planning, it can significantly affect response rates and data quality. Meanwhile, some countries temporarily suspended interviewing entirely, particularly those with less frequent surveys in place.
Countries that were already using Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) or Computer Assisted Web Interviewing (CAWI) are somewhat less impacted by disruptions, perhaps teaching us some valuable lessons about how to create resilience in data collection in the future. Nonetheless, all countries are dealing with the effects of changes in working arrangements and are increasingly feeling the direct impact of the illness among both survey personnel and respondents.
Other than the mode of data collection, countries are endeavouring to find ways to maintain response rates and data quality. Some examples include reducing survey content to maintain response rates, re-interviewing previously visited households using available contact information or using publicity campaigns to promote response.
Urgent new demands for data
Inevitably, there is a huge demand for additional data to understand the many impacts on the labour market.
A general response is to place a greater emphasis on indicators that can supplement employment and unemployment numbers. While those numbers will remain key, they will not be sufficient on their own to explain the many impacts of COVID-19 on people’s working lives. Estimates of lay-offs, working time, reasons for changes in labour market status and other elements that are often already collected are potentially useful, although they are not highlighted in normal times.
Countries are also reviewing the content of their surveys to add questions that provide additional details on the ways in which people are impacted. This may be through loss of jobs, lower working time or earnings, or even higher working time among those directly facing the impact of COVID-19, such as health workers, public security officers and workers in transport.
In some cases, administrative data will provide a powerful supplementary source of information to the LFS. The ability to extract data from these sources can be valuable, but also potentially under threat in cases where the working arrangements of government ministries are heavily disrupted.
We are in close contact with national data producers and recognise the many challenges they face to continue publishing timely and accurate labour statistics. We are committed to maintaining this close contact and providing support. We will continue to compile and share country practices in response to these challenges and to provide guidance using this information. For the latest information and other guidance, visit our portal on COVID-19 and labour statistics.
#GlobalEconomy; #WorstThisYear; #1930GreatDepression; #IMF
Ottawa, Apr 14 (Canadian-Media): Crushed by the coronavirus outbreak, global economy will see its worst year in 2020 since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) says in its latest forecast, media reports said.
Image credit: Facebook
IMF said Tuesday that the shrinking of this year's global economy to three percent is far worse than its 0.1 percent dip seen in the 2oo9 Great Recession and added that its expected rebound in 2021 with 5.8 percent growth is uncertain.
In its January forecast, before public health and economic growth worldwide were threatened by COVID-19, IMF had forecast this year's global growth of 3.3 percent.
But the stringent measures to contain the virus such as lockdowns, business shutdowns, social distancing and travel restrictions had resulted in the near-standstill economic activity across much of the world.
Gita Gopinath, the IMF's chief economist said the cumulative loss of global economy could amount to $9 trillion.
Worldwide trade will shrink 11 percent this year, the IMF predicts, and then grow 8.4 percent in 2021.
Last week, the IMF's managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, said low-income nations across Africa, Latin America and much of Asia were at high risk.
Realizing the unaffordability of some countries for aggressive rescue plans, the IMF is prepared, said Georgieva, to loan $1 trillion to support nations that need help in dealing with the pandemic.
The IMF is also calling on countries to work co-operatively to fight the pandemic.
#CountiresToCollaborate; #ControlCoronavirus; #ArizonaStateUniv; #Globalization
New York, Apr 13 (Canadian-Media): Countries looking to contain the spread of harmful species and diseases like COVID-19 should work together in multiple hotspots, according to a new model developed by an Arizona State University researcher, phys.org/news reports said.
Credit: Pixabay.com; Hans Braxmeier
Because it would be difficult to completely eliminate the novel coronavirus, mathematical modeling suggests countries should focus on keeping the rate of infection low by collaborating in multiple areas. In some circumstances, however, a clear division of labor may be called for.
The findings by Adam Lampert, an assistant professor with the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at ASU, will be published next week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The model is intended to guide policymakers responding to the outbreak of harmful species, including pests, parasites and even infectious diseases like COVID-19. It indicates that sometimes a "divide and conquer" approach is better, while in other situations it is more effective to work together in several locations.
A key question is whether to focus on eliminating the harmful species entirely or controlling its spread to prevent the next outbreak.
"If you want to eradicate the harmful species, or reduce its abundance rapidly, then you may want to split the duties of the agents," Lampert said. "If you want to control it, and keep it at a low level for prolonged periods, then working together becomes important."
Lampert identified three factors to determine if the species should be controlled or eradicated: the annual cost of maintaining the population, the natural growth rate of the harmful species, and its response to the treatment.
For example, when treating an invasive insect outbreak, managers spray pesticide over a large area as a general, blanket treatment method. A more targeted approach can be applied if the species can easily be seen. For example, complete eradication of a harmful plant species is plausible, because managers can physically remove each plant.
Given the ongoing spread of novel coronavirus, Lampert shared that we're seeing a mix of blanketed and targeted control efforts.
"With diseases, you can put a lockdown on the entire country, or a region, and say 'ok nobody goes out', and this way you reduce the infection level over time," he said. "Or you can do some more targeted actions by identifying the people who are sick—and keep them at home."
Lampert's research indicates that effective long-term control methods to reduce the spread of harmful species, including the novel coronavirus, require international cooperation. He says it is unlikely that we will be able to completely eradicate the virus, but controlling the spread is necessary for our social welfare and can be accomplished most effectively if countries work together.
Lampert is already working on additional research applying these findings to COVID-19, specifically. In the future, we can expect to see more intensive findings about the spread and control of harmful species, as the issue is not likely to disappear anytime soon.
"The impact of invasive species is a major problem in ecological systems," Lampert said. "And it's only becoming more and more prevalent because of globalization."
#OPEC; #GlobalProductionOfCrudeOilCut; #EconomicStability; #Covid19Pandemic
Calgary (Alberta), Apr 12 (Canadian-Media): An unprecedented move was made by the agreement Apr 12 by the The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cartel and other oil producers curtail crude production by at least a tenth of global supply to stabilize the market, media reports said.
Image credit: Twitter
OPEC, an intergovernmental organization of 13 nations was founded on 14 September 1960 in Baghdad by the first five members, and headquartered since 1965 in Vienna, Austria.
It was confirmed by OPEC release that the cut would be effective May 1 and continue until June 30.
The deal was supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman, which would see global crude output cut by 9.7 million barrels a day.
Drop in prices of fuel and oil due to global measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus resulted in drop in consumption by an estimated 30 million bpd.
Although Canada and Norway had indicated their willingness to cut, but as of Friday, Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan said Canada has not yet promised any specific production cuts.
Alberta, Canada's biggest oil-producing region, "has already formerly curtailed 80,000 barrels per day," O'Regan said.
"Canada is committed to achieving...economic stability...working with provinces, businesses, labour, Indigenous communities and our international partners, including the G20," said O'Regan.
#Canada; #India; #minimizeDisruptionsToCriticalGlobalSupply; #EssentialMedicalProducts; #EssentialPharmaceuticalSupplies; #Covid19Pandemic
Ottawa, Apr 11 (Canadian-Media): An update on the steps taken by Canada and India to minimize disruptions to critical global supply chains related to essential medical products and pharmaceutical supplies amid the COVID-19 pandemic was provided by Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade and Piyush Goyal, India’s Minister of Railways and Minister of Commerce and Industry during their call on Apr 9, media reports said.
Mary Ng. Image credit: Twitter
Critical flow of continued cross-border of medical supplies to minimize the spread of the virus was ensured during their discussion.
Canada’s plans to increase its production of critical medical supplies to meet domestic needs and contribute to the international COVID-19 response was elaborated by Mary Ng.
Minister Ng also thanked Piyush Goyal for India’s assistance in helping to bring Canadians home during the pandemic.
Piyush Goyal. Image credit: Twitter
#ILO; #Coronavirus; #UNLaborAgency; #Covid19; #jobLosses; #Unemployment
Geneva, Apr 08 (Canadian-Media): The rapidly intensifying economic effects of COVID-19 on the world of work are proving to be far worse than the 2008-9 financial crisis, with cutbacks equivalent to nearly 200 million full-time workers expected in the next three months alone, the UN labour agency said.
Nurses and healthcare workers outside at a hospital in New York City demand better protection against the COVID-19 virus. Image credit: Giles Clarke
Worst affected sectors
Workers in four sectors that have experienced the most “drastic” effects of the disease and falling production are: food and accommodation (144 million workers), retail and wholesale (482 million); business services and administration (157 million); and manufacturing (463 million).
Together, they add up to 37.5 per cent of global employment and this is where the “sharp end” of the impact of the pandemic is being felt now, the ILO chief added.
Frontline workers ‘must be kept safe’
Taking a moment to reflect on the world’s 136 million health and social professionals who are working in the frontline of the fight against the virus, Mr Ryder underscored that for them, the biggest potential impact was contracting COVID-19 in the workplace.
“We need to make sure that those who are at work are adequately protected…that they have the right types of protection”, he insisted.
Although all regions of the world are suffering from the fallout of COVID-19, Arab States and Europe have seen the worst impact on employment in percentage terms.
The biggest losses numerically are in Asia-Pacific States, the most populous region of the world.
Overall, for the second quarter of 2020 - from April to June - ILO believes that working hours are likely to decline by 6.7 per cent.
Based on a 48-hour working week, this means that 195 million full-time workers are likely to suffer severely, it says.
All areas of world and all workers affected
“No matter where in the world or in which sector, the crisis is having a dramatic impact on the world’s workforce”, ILO said in its latest report. “Policy responses need to focus on providing immediate relief to workers and enterprises in order to protect livelihoods and economically viable businesses, particularly in hard-hit sectors and developing countries.”
An additional concern is the fact that in low and middle-income countries, the worst-hit industries and services have a high proportion of low-wage workers in informal employment, with limited access to health services and State welfare safety nets.
“Without appropriate policy measures, workers face a high risk of falling into poverty and will experience greater challenges in regaining their livelihoods during the recovery period”, ILO said in its latest report on the situation.
It underscored that around two billion people work informally, most of them in emerging and developing countries, and that “tens of millions” of informal workers have already been affected by COVID-19.
In urban areas, moreover, these workers also tend to work in economic sectors that “not only carry a high risk of virus infection but are also directly impacted by lockdown measures”: waste recyclers, street vendors and food servers, construction workers, transport workers and domestic workers.
Highlighting the impacts already being felt in India, ILO pointed out that with its share of almost 90 per cent of people working in the informal economy, about 400 million workers in the vulnerable sector now face falling greater impoverishment.
Current lockdown measures there have impacted these workers significantly, forcing many of them to return to rural areas, ILO explained, adding that Brazil and Nigeria had a similar level of informal employment as India, and faced the same risks.
Agriculture yet to feel worst effects
Although the economic impact has not yet been felt in agriculture, the largest sector in most of developing countries, risks of food insecurity are now “emerging”, ILO said.
This is owing to containment measures, including border closures. “Over time, workers in this sector may be increasingly impacted, particularly if the virus spreads further into rural areas,” it explained.
Given the fast-evolving nature of the situation - described by ILO as the most severe crisis since the Second World War, in common with UN Secretary-General António Guterres – the agency underscored its uncertainty about the longer-term impacts.
Much depends on the action taken by Governments to soften the blow by ensuring the conditions for a prompt, job-rich recovery once the pandemic is under control, Mr. Ryder said.
Fiscal stimulus and targeted help.
Welcoming the fiscal stimulus measures already agreed on by the G20 group of industrialised nations, the ILO chief called for “much more targeted interventions” for businesses that were “viable in any normal circumstances”.
It was crucial that these enterprises were in turn able to sustain their employees, he insisted, as experience of past crises “shows just how important that type of intervention is in the longer term, particularly in terms not only of surviving, but of emerging from the crisis”.
ILO’s four-pillar post-COVID recovery priorities are: stimulating the economy and employment, supporting enterprises, jobs and incomes, protecting workers in the workplace and relying on social dialogue for solutions.
The warning comes almost three weeks after the International Labour Organization (ILO) predicted that 25 million jobs were threatened by the new coronavirus.
According to the agency, the latest dire assessment reflects the full or partial lockdown measures affecting almost 2.7 billion workers – four in five of the world’s workforce.
Global unemployment already at 190 million
Speaking in Geneva via videoconference on Tuesday, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder noted that at the start of the year – before COVID-19 spread worldwide - global unemployment already stood at around 190 million.
With the additional shock of the virus, it was “obvious” that the world of work is suffering an “absolutely extraordinary fall” because of the effects of the pandemic and the measures taken to deal with it, he added.
#UNGeneralAssembly; #COVID19Pandemic; #SlentProcedure; #AllInclusive
New York, Apr 7 (Canadian-Media): Although it seems the whole world is on lockdown as countries follow health guidelines to curb the spread of COVID-19, the global “town hall” at UN Headquarters in New York remains open for business, albeit with a technical twist, UN reports said.
UN General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande (left) and his Chef de Cabinet, Ambassador Mari Skåre, during the historic virtual joint briefing to Member States by the heads of four UN bodies held on 27 March 2020. Image credit: OPGA74
That’s the message from Ambassador Mari Skåre, Chef de Cabinet to the President of the UN General Assembly, speaking about how the pandemic has changed working procedures at the world’s most representative body.
“When we understood that this was becoming a public health issue here (in New York City) …we reacted quite swiftly and started to postpone in-person or physical meetings”, the Norwegian diplomat told UN News this week.
“The General Assembly is the most representative forum in the world, where all Member States come and deliberate – it’s like the town hall of the world – so we wanted to ensure that those deliberations could continue. And the chosen means would be either in writing, but also through virtual meetings”.
COVID-19: Changes and cancellations
Most people know about the General Assembly through its annual high-level week in September, which brings together Heads of State and Government from all 193 UN Member States.
The General Assembly is where all countries have a voice, and it is one of the six main organs of the UN, alongside the Secretariat, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Trusteeship Council, and the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Coronavirus Portal & News Updates
Readers can find information and guidance on the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) from the UN, World Health Organization and UN agencies here.For daily news updates from UN News, click here.
Ambassadors normally gather in the iconic General Assembly Hall, just off Manhattan’s First Avenue, for meetings on issues related to development, peace, security or other matters covered by the UN Charter. They also vote on resolutions and decisions, with the results posted on huge screens in the chamber.
Now that social distancing is part of everyone’s current reality, several meetings have had to be postponed or cancelled, such as the annual commemoration on 7 April of the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
Silence (procedure) is golden
The General Assembly, however, is still taking action on resolutions and decisions amid the pandemic.
Ms. Skåre said as the situation progressed, countries took “a leap of faith” and for the first time authorized what she described as a “temporary and very extraordinary procedure”.
The General Assembly President, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, now circulates draft resolutions to Member States under what is known as a “silence procedure”. Ambassadors have a 72-hour deadline, giving them time to consult with their capitals, if necessary, before stating their national opinions.
A resolution is adopted provided there are no objections, and the President will circulate a letter confirming the adoption. However, it is scuppered if even one country objects and the President will inform Ambassadors that the “silence” has been broken.
Ms. Skåre explained that under normal conditions, the General Assembly would vote on a resolution if a Member State calls for it. Currently, this is technically impossible.
“We do not have any voting procedures in place under such an extraordinary regime”, she said, adding that “we are exploring, and we will discuss with Member States and consult because there could be different views on whether that will be necessary or not”.
Ambassador Mari Skåre, Chef de Cabinet to the President of the United Nations General Assembly, in the General Assembly Hall.Critical work continuesSince silence procedure came into effect, the General Assembly has adopted several resolutions, including on the financing of the UN-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), and on COVID-19.
That resolution followed a meeting on the pandemic, where the General Assembly President and the heads of three other UN principal organs held a joint virtual briefing for all Member States.
Speaking on behalf of the global Secretariat, UN Secretary-General António Guterres assured Ambassadors that “our critical work is continuing largely uninterrupted”.
Ms. Skåre and staff in the Office of the General Assembly President have also not seen any slowdown. With all colleagues working from home, cabinet meetings are held online, for example, although she comes to Headquarters roughly once a week because it is easier to work there.
Leaving no one behind
Having twice served as Norway’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ms. Skåre drew parallels between crises there and COVID-19. In both instances ensuring business continuity is critical, as is staff security, coordination and public outreach.
“This pandemic is such a huge shock to our societies and our economies. We need to look further than tackling what is going on right now in our communities and start planning how we can mitigate the enormous negative impacts that this will have, and is currently taking, on our societies”, she advised.
For Ms. Skåre, recovery means a global recommitment to “leaving no one behind”, as Member States pledged when they adopted the sustainable development agenda during the General Assembly’s high-level week in 2015.
She also expressed concern that the pandemic could lead to a rollback in women’s rights: ironically as this year marks the 25th anniversary of the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing.
“We have progressed a lot as a global community, but women are not there. They are not participating fully - in economic development, in the job market, in businesses, in decision-making - as men, and there is huge risk that this pandemic and the impact of it will push women out of the labour market and economic development”, she warned.
“We must not let that happen; we must not allow the barriers for women’s participation to be higher. This is something that is very important for me, and it’s a key message for everybody who is planning response plans right now”.