There are more than 2400 known deaths attributed to Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea with limited deaths also in Nigeria and Senegal. The economic impact of Ebola in the region will be devastating and organized labour is challenged to find an adequate response.
An outbreak of Ebola in the developed world would be easily overcome but West Africa has been unable to contain the disease which has been ongoing for several months now due to poor health services as well as other public service failings. It is having a devastating effect on health services in several ways. It has claimed the lives of health workers that do not have adequate protective gear to work with infected patients, putting more strain on limited human resources to respond to health needs in these countries. It has resulted in the closure of health facilities unable to deal with Ebola patients which has left thousands without care for this and other illnesses.
The longer the outbreak remains uncontained, the greater the risk of the potential negative impact on the economy. Airlines are suspending travel and borders with neighbouring countries have been closed. Multinational companies are scaling back and pulling foreign staff out of affected countries. Other countries in the region have also been affected by fear of the outbreak spreading which has affected trade and other economic activities even where there are no reported cases of Ebola.
In a letter to affiliates in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, IndustriALL Global Union’s general secretary, Jyrki Raina expressed grave concern of the impact that the outbreak is having on workers and writes; “Our affiliates have an important role to play monitoring the economic impact, in terms of slow down or stoppage in production by companies, especially in the mining sector and its implications for labour in the form of layoffs. Particular attention also is needed to the impact on migrant workers.”
Some IndustriALL affiliates in affected countries feel they should be assisting in efforts to contain Ebola, in particular educating workers about the disease and how it is spread. IndustriALL has encouraged affiliates to work with and support Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, who have provided the most comprehensive response to the disease thus far.
The Steelworkers Humanity Fund has contributed US$25,000 for Ebola support in West Africa, providing funds to both MSF and a local NGO with ties to the labour movement that will undertake a public health education campaign. The Steelworkers Humanity Fund focuses primarily on development projects and emergency aid in developing countries, but also supports Canadian communities in crisis. United Steelworkers (USW) members contribute to the fund through clauses negotiated into collective agreements and in some cases employers make matching contributions.
IndustriALL also encourages affiliates that would like to help to follow the example of the Steelworkers Humanity Fund and support the work of MSF and other credible NGOs on the frontline of the outbreak.