Policy response from Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: CIVICUS’ Protocol

April 10, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, I will try and give some examples in the course of these weeks. Here the one by CIVICUS which has published a Protocol, that is open for endorsment by other NGOs. The Protocol (online<https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/4367-protecting-our-co-workers-during-covid-19-a-social-security-protocol-for-civil-society>) has been endorsed by over 60 civil society leaders from across the globe, including Greenpeace International.

The 6 point Protocol proposes practical measures and actions that civil society groups can take to help workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is aimed at protecting employees from any adverse health, social or economic issues that will arise during this challenging period.

The 6 proposed measures:

  1. Systems to enable social distancing and other precautions
  2. Support for COVID-19 testing and treatment
  3. Protection of pay and jobs during the COVID-19 lockdown and escalation period
  4. Flexibility and support for home and care-related responsibilities
  5. Extending our community of care to our collaborators and constituencies
  6. Acting in solidarity with workers and other vulnerable communities

In a letter to civil society allies CIVICUS Secretary General Lysa John <https://civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/3484-lysa-john-announced-as-new-civicus-sg> says,

“The ‘COVID-19 Social Security Protocol for Civil Society <https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/4367-protecting-our-co-workers-during-covid-19-a-social-security-protocol-for-civil-society> ’ is first and foremost a call for us to recognise that the people we work with and alongside need to be assured of our support for their well-being if we are to remain resilient and relevant in the context of a dire and desperately uncertain future. Without the solid foundations of trust and authenticity, our organisations are not equipped to withstand the formidable challenges that all agencies – large and small – will need to respond to in the coming months.”


1. Systems to ensure physical distancing and other precautions

What it involves:
  • Procedures to enable physical distancing are explicitly adopted and communicated alongside an overarching call to social solidarity
  • Transition to virtual ways of working wherever   possible, provision of protective gear and guidelines for frontline workers whose efforts are needed to ensure the continuation of critical and essential services (e.g. non-transferable support services to vulnerable populations)
  • Ensuring that pay and benefits for personnel who are unable to perform their duties virtually are not reduced at this time
Why is this important?
  • In keeping with WHO guidelines and corresponding national government regulations, all agencies are required to take active measures to protect their personnel from contracting or transmitting the virus
  • If relevant government authorities have not provided effective guidelines on social distancing, we can be proactive in implementing the WHO guidelines for our teams, and support advocacy efforts to ensure relevant   regulations are put in place.


2. Support for COVID-19 testing and related treatment

What it involves: Access to COVID-19 testing differs across countries. A few essential steps that we can take to support our teams in this context are:

  • Mapping and providing active information on testing procedures
  • Covering costs of testing procedures where these are not covered by health insurance.
  • Supporting the return of personnel located outside their home countries who request or require to be repatriated for health and/or family reasons
  • Fully paid sick leave for personnel needing to rest and recuperate; flexible arrangements in relation to time needed to care for family members and dependents. This could include ‘record-free’ leave provisions so personnel do not need to utilise their annual sick leave quota to cover illness related to the COVID19 outbreak
  • Full or partial support for costs of related treatment through existing group medical insurance plans; in case these are not available, explore organisation-supported reimbursements
  • Psycho-social support to deal with the mental health impacts of the pandemic, including with adverse effects of the outbreak within family and communities
Why is this important?
  • Ensuring access to basic health care for employees is an important responsibility for all organisations. For many organisations however, support to core costs that enable social security benefits for   employees is hard to negotiate and organise.
  • More ideas on how donors and intermediaries can support civil society groups to address core costs in this period are available in this Open Letter to Donors


3. Protection of jobs and pay across the COVID-19 lockdown and escalation period

What it involves: In anticipation of the adverse economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have an important role to play in protecting our co-workers from reduction of pay and loss of employment. Some measures that can be considered include:

  • Extending employment contracts, till December 2020 for instance, as an immediate measure of protection. This should ideally include personnel who work part-time, such as consultants, fellows and interns.
  • In the event that an employment contract must end in this period, ensuring a source of income is available to support transition is a helpful measure. National regulations on allowances linked redundancy and unemployment, for instance, can be used to benchmark this and activate government-backed programs in this regard
  • Coordinating with donors and intermediaries to redirect costs for new positions that were to be proposed in this period towards costs for staff retention
  • Coordinating with Boards to approve the use of organisation’s reserves, if available, and requesting their support for costs related to employment protection measures
Why is this important?
  • The implementation of this recommendation is directly related to donor flexibility and proactive measures adopted by governance bodies of civil society organisations.
  • Ensuring an open conversation with donors to reallocate expenses related to activities that cannot be undertaken in this period, such as budgets linked to travel and in-person meetings, is one possibility in this regard.


4. Flexibility and support for home and care related responsibilities

What it involves: In order to support staff to cope with the added pressure of familial duties, while also taking care of their own needs, we can consider the following:

  • Flexible or reduced work hours for personnel (without affecting levels of pay)
  • Reduction of work related deliverables for staff who have responsibility for children and other dependents, including the elderly and disabled
  • Additional measures (economic and psycho-social) to support single parents, staff who live alone and those who risk violence and abuse within their homes
Why is this important?
  •  Working from home places significant demands on staff who are primary caregivers within their families. Women are often burdened with additional responsibilities in this time


5. Extending our community of care to our collaborators and constituencies

What it involves:
  • Disseminating information on necessary protection protocols advised by the WHO and, where possible, translating these into relevant languages and making them accessible in multiple formats
  • Providing information on support and services provided by our organizations in this time
  • Ensuring that contingency plans for critical services are in place and shared with them
  • Identifying and calling out public measures that are being used to restrict and intimidate civil society
Why is this important?
  • As we conduct our duty of care to our employees, we have the opportunity to extend care and share knowledge with the communities we serve and networks we work with.
  • Civil society across the world often works to respond to and fill critical gaps in service delivery, access to justice and government accountability. Taking steps to ensure that our collaborators and constituencies are informed helps to ensure transparent flows of information and mediate continuity for critical services where possible.


6. Acting in solidarity with workers and other vulnerable communities

What it involves: We have the opportunity to act in solidarity by:

  • Adding our voice and organisational support to campaigning for improved employment protections by organised labour, and for the most vulnerable casual workers and gig-economy workers
  • Supporting campaigns where there is an opportunity to advance progressive social welfare policies, including wage & income protection, universal social protection, access to healthcare and childcare support for frontline workers who are holding up essential public services.
  • Getting behind the bold, systemic reforms that challenge and change the fundamental inequities that have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic
Why is this important?
  • Adding our collective weight and support right now, may help secure both immediate relief, as well as pivotal longer-term wins for progressive campaigns


A list of resources to help determine and action relevant measures is available here.

For more information: | @CIVICUSalliance | https://www.facebook.com/CIVICUS/

For other posts like this see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/covid-19/



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