Protecting Garment Sector Workers: Occupational Safety and Health and Income Support in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The ILO, with €14.5 million in funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), embarked on a multi-country project at the end of 2020 to help garment workers in seven countries who have been affected by COVID-19.

The project helped finance and organize income-support measures in five countries (Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Lao PDR) in the form of cash transfers for job retention or laid-off garment sector workers, or wage subsidies for furloughed workers, and provided support in occupational safety and health (OSH) services in an additional two countries (Madagascar, Viet Nam).

The primary objective of the income-support component was to protect workers and their families, cushion enterprises against income losses and support companies in retaining workers to facilitate a speedy recovery. The secondary objective was to work with and through national social protection systems in order to serve as a basis for developing more comprehensive, adequate and sustainable social protection in the future. 

Experiences with the project firmly demonstrated the importance of working with national social security institutions to implement emergency responses — or when such institutions do not yet exist, of developing tripartite platforms that can guide the implementation of emergency responses. 

This workspace has information on the income support component. You can find out more on the OSH component here


  • Over 148,000 workers were reached by income support, wage subsidies, or job retention schemes across the 5 countries where the cash component was implemented
  • Strengthened delivery services in Indonesia and the Lao People's Democratic Republic, through the piloting of digital innovations for registration, payment and complaints and grievances systems that will inform future system-strengthening efforts.
  • Foundational social dialogue mechanisms were established in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Ethiopia, providing an entry point for future, longer-term collaboration between the respective Governments and social partners on social security system-strengthening. 
  • Influencing the development of unemployment protection: the project took steps to influence policy debates, or planned investments, for unemployment benefits schemes, including feasibility studies and implementation plans.  
  • Demonstrated importance of shock-responsive social protection: the project provided a "proof of concept" on the ability of national social security systems to implement an emergency social protection response. 

Lessons Learnt

  • The impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic have highlighted the need to develop robust and universal social protection systems, including unemployment protection schemes, which remain underdeveloped globally. 
  • Social dialogue is essential for designing and implementing social protection schemes, including in crisis contexts, and ensures that schemes are socially inclusive and non-discriminatory, transparent and adopt efficient and accessible complaint procedures. 
  • In low-income countries and fragile contexts, developing robust and universal social protection systems requires greater mobilization of domestic resources, complemented by a reliable stream of international financial support. It also requires sustained political commitment to achieve long-term changes.
  • In the design of social protection schemes, the ability to scale up or adapt programmes to address needs at times of major crises is crucial. Ensuring that programmes are in place can facilitate a timely and efficient response to large-scale shocks
  • Where social protection systems are in the early stages of development, emergency social protection responses can be an opportunity to improve systems-building in line with the guiding principles of international social security standards

Relevant Resources


Applying social security standards to protect garment workers affected by COVID-19: Experiences in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Ethiopia

Protecting garment workers affected by COVID-19: Applying social security standards (Including Bangladesh Case Study)

Lao PDR: Post-distribution monitoring report of income support for Lao Social Security Organization members

Infographic - Applying social security principles to support workers’ incomes during the COVID-19 pandemic

Infographic – Post Distribution Monitoring Key Findings in Lao PDR

Protecting garment workers with income support in response to COVID-19

Webinar Resources  

Income Support Global Overview 
Valérie Schmitt and Rim Nour, SOCPRO

Bangladesh Case Study
Tuomo Poutiainen, ILO Bangladesh

Ethiopia Case Study
Kidist Chala, ILO Ethiopia

Worker Commentary
Alison Tate, ITUC

Employer Commentary
Farooq Ahmed, Bangladesh Employers Federation

Reflections and lessons learnt
Roopa Nair, Better Work and André Picard, ILO


Country Activities


In Bangladesh, given the absence of a social security system, the project established a tripartite coordination mechanism involving the Ministry of Labour and Employment and employers’ and workers’ organizations, and also created an ad hoc delivery mechanism for income support for job retention. This support aims to complement the government-led stimulus package to the garment sector, targeting smaller factories that benefited less from the Government’s package. 

  • Program launch date: April 2022
  • Total number of workers expected to be reached is 75,000-80,000.
  • Benefit amount per worker: BDT 3000 (approx. Euro 30) 
  • Benefit duration: One month (soft conditionality of employment retention for one month after disbursement)
  • Implementing partners:  Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA)

Bangladesh Case Study presented by Tuomo Poutiainen, Director of ILO Bangladesh (slides)

Learn more about the social protection situation, government priorities, and past and current ILO support in our dedicated Country Page


Beneficiary stories


In Cambodia, a cash-for-training programme was implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and leveraged data and social security delivery systems of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). The programme invested in institutional mechanisms for tripartite social dialogue in order to support its design and implementation. While aiming to initiate discussion on the need for unemployment benefit, the ILO also aimed to further demonstrate “proof of concept” on the use of social security systems for shock response. Learn more (link to RMT)

  • Program launch date: October 2021
  • Number of factories to be reached: 893 factories
  • Number of workers to be reached: 18,783 workers
  • Benefit amount per worker: 90USD (77.8 EUR)

Learn more about the social protection situation, government priorities, and past and current ILO support in our dedicated Country Page


In Ethiopia, the project provided income support for job retention to social security members who were still employed, leveraging data from the Private Organizations Employees’ Social Security Agency (POESSA). The project developed a web-based administrative system, through which the Government could handle registration, payments, complaints and feedback. The intention is that these delivery systems would then transition to POESSA.

  • Program launch date: February 4, 2021
  • Number of workers and factories reached: A total of 46 factories with 14,336 workers benefited from the job retention program since August 2021 with a transfer over 5 months.
  • Benefit amount per worker (The program covers the basic salary of eligible workers. Benefit depends upon the salary amount of the workers.
  • Visit the Savings Jobs Web Portal where employers applied to receive wage subsidies for their workers
  • Press release on the launch of the Web Portal

Ethiopia Case Study presented by Kidist Chala, Head of ILO Apparel and Textile Programme, ILO Ethiopia (slides)

Learn more about the social protection situation, government priorities, and past and current ILO support in our dedicated Country Page


The ILO–BMZ project in Indonesia consisted of two phases. Phase 1 contributed to the furlough payments of workers, supporting factories to maintain employment. Phase 2 provided a salary compensation fund for workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic. Since no delivery system for unemployment benefit existed, the programme designed a web-based portal, through which workers could apply online and through which bank transfers, queries and complaints could be managed. Learn more (link to RMT)

  • Indonesia project portal (Social Protection and OSH resources)
  • Program launch date: 29 January 2021
  • Number of factories reached: 205 factories
  • Number of workers : 28,588 workers
  • Benefit amount per worker: Round 1: Wage subsidy: IDR 15,000/EUR 0.91 per day of furlough; Round 2: salary compensation fund: IDR 1,200,000/EUR 73.00
  • Benefit duration: one month (salary compensation)
  • Implementating partner: Yayasan Kemitraan Kerja (Partnership at Work Foundation) (IA signed on 8 February 2021)

Feature story: ILO’s compensation fund programme offers laid-off workers reliefs

Learn more about the social protection situation, government priorities, and past and current ILO support in our dedicated Country Page


20,698 garment workers from 47 factories received emergency income support. The Government, through the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), already provided a range of social security benefits to garment sector workers, including unemployment benefits. However, many workers that were registered with the NSSF did not receive unemployment benefits when they were laid off, either because they had been registered for less than one year or because their employers had not contributed consistently to NSSF. The ILO–BMZ project focused on filling the gaps in the Government’s social protection response to the pandemic, targeting those NSSF members that could not receive the unemployment benefit. The cash transfer was implemented in partnership with the LSSO and leveraged their existing delivery systems, such as a pilot for a mobile money payment mechanism for workers without a bank account, and the design and implementation of a complaints and feedback mechanism managed by the social partners. Learn more (link to RMT)

Learn more about the social protection situation, government priorities, and past and current ILO support in our dedicated Country Page


"(If not for the program), it would have been hard as I would not be able to feed my kids and pay my rent"
- Meseret, Ethiopia

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"I’m happy and grateful. Alhamdullilah (Thank God), to receive the help."
- Sri Sayekti, Indonesia

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