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A volunteer delivers food to low-income families in Panama City as an aid during the pandemic of the coronavirus. (Photo Luis ACOSTA/ AFP)

3.3 billion affected by workplace closures — ILO report

A volunteer delivers food to low-income families in Panama City as an aid during the pandemic of the coronavirus. (Photo Luis ACOSTA/ AFP)

Unskilled, informal workers most at risk of unemployment

Some 3.3 billion people, approximately 81 per cent of the global workforce, are now experiencing the impact of full or partial workplace closures due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), according to a new International Labor Organization study.

The report, ‘ILO Monitor 2nd edition: COVID-19 and the world of work’, also predicts that the virus will wipe out 6.7 per cent of working hours globally in the second quarter of 2020 – equivalent to 195 million full-time workers.

“Workers and businesses are facing catastrophe, in both developed and developing economies.”

— International Labor Organization Director-General Guy Ryder

“Large reductions are foreseen in the Arab states (8.1 per cent, equivalent to 5 million full-time workers), Europe (7.8 per cent, or 12 million full-time workers) and Asia and the Pacific (7.2 per cent, 125 million full-time workers),” a release from the ILO explains.

“Huge losses are expected across different income groups but especially in upper-middle-income countries (7.0 per cent, 100 million full-time workers). This far exceeds the effects of the 2008-9 financial crisis,” the release continues.

Among the sectors most at risk are food services, manufacturing, retail, and business and administrative activities. The study further points out that 1.25 billion workers, mainly in low-paid, low-skilled jobs, could face “drastic and devastating” increases in lay-offs and reductions in wages and working hours.

The sectors most at risk of mass unemployment and lay-offs include food services, manufacturing, retail, and business and administrative activities.
(Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP)

From a regional perspective, the proportion of workers in these “at risk” sectors vary from 43 per cent in the Americas to 26 per cent in Africa.

In Africa, unemployment could increase because of the high levels of informality. When combined with a lack of social protection, high population density and weak capacity, these pose severe health and economic challenges for governments, the report warns.

However, the ILO argues that the increase in unemployment figures in 2020 could be averted if countries implement the right policy measures. Otherwise, the end-of-year estimate will be significantly higher than the initial ILO projection of 25 million.

It is for this reason the report calls COVID-19 “the worst global crisis since World War II”.

“Workers and businesses are facing catastrophe, in both developed and developing economies,” ILO Director-General Guy Ryder emphasised. “We have to move fast, decisively, and together. The right, urgent, measures, could make the difference between survival and collapse.”

To this end, the ILO study says that large-scale, integrated policy measures should focus on four main areas: supporting enterprises, employment and incomes; stimulating the economy and jobs; protecting workers in the workplace; and using social dialogue between government, workers and employers to find solutions.

Some two billion people work in the informal sector globally — mostly in emerging and developing economies — and are particularly at risk. (Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP)

“This is the greatest test for international cooperation in more than 75 years,” Ryder said further. “If one country fails, then we all fail. We must find solutions that help all segments of our global society, particularly those that are most vulnerable or least able to help themselves.”

Some two billion people work in the informal sector globally — mostly in emerging and developing economies — and are particularly at risk.

“The choices we make today will directly affect the way this crisis unfolds and so the lives of billions of people,” the ILO director general added. “With the right measures we can limit its impact and the scars it leaves. 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.”