The continued sharp decline in working hours globally due to the COVID-19 outbreak means that 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy — that is nearly half of the global workforce — stand in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed, warns the International Labour Organization (ILO) on Wednesday.
According to the ‘ILO Monitor third edition: COVID-19 and the world of work’, the drop in working hours in the current (second) quarter of 2020 is expected to be significantly worse than previously estimated.
ILO Country Director in Bangladesh Tuomo Poutiainen said some sectors of the population such as women, youths, older workers, migrants and self-employed people are disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Young people, already facing higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, are more vulnerable to falling labour demand and losing their livelihoods,” Poutiainen said.
Older workers (55+) are also at risk from unemployment, underemployment and decreased working hours, said the ILO Country Director.
“Women are more likely to lack social protection and have more care responsibilities. Self-employed, casual and gig workers are also vulnerable as they don’t have access to paid or sick leave mechanisms, and are less/not protected by conventional social protection mechanisms,” Poutiainen said.
Without alternative income sources, these workers and their families will have no means to survive.
Compared to pre-crisis levels (Q4 2019), a 10.5 per cent deterioration is now expected, equivalent to 305 million full-time jobs (assuming a 48-hour working week).
The previous estimate was for a 6.7 per cent drop, equivalent to 195 million full-time workers. This is due to the prolongation and extension of lockdown measures.
Regionally, the situation has worsened for all major regional groups.
Estimates suggest a 12.4 percent loss of working hours in Q2 for the Americas (compared to pre-crisis levels) and 11.8 per cent for Europe and Central Asia.
The estimates for the rest of the regional groups follow closely and are all above 9.5 percent.
Impact on informal economy
As a result of the economic crisis created by the pandemic, almost 1.6 billion informal economy workers (representing the most vulnerable in the labour market), out of a worldwide total of two billion and a global workforce of 3.3 billion, have suffered massive damage to their capacity to earn a living.
This is due to lockdown measures and/or because they work in the hardest-hit sectors.
The first month of the crisis is estimated to have resulted in a drop of 60 percent in the income of informal workers globally.
This translates into a drop of 81 per cent in Africa and the Americas, 21.6 percent in Asia and the Pacific, and 70 percent in Europe and Central Asia.
Enterprises at risk
The proportion of workers living in countries under recommended or required workplace closures has decreased from 81 to 68 percent over the last two weeks.
The decline from the previous estimate of 81 percent in the second edition of the monitor (published April 7) is primarily a result of changes in China; elsewhere workplace closure measures have increased.
Worldwide, more than 436 million enterprises face high risks of serious disruption.
These enterprises are operating in the hardest-hit economic sectors, including some 232 million in wholesale and retail, 111 million in manufacturing, 51 million in accommodation and food services, and 42 million in real estate and other business activities.
Call urgent policy measures
The ILO called for urgent, targeted and flexible measures to support workers and businesses, particularly smaller enterprises, those in the informal economy and others who are vulnerable.
Measures for economic reactivation should follow a job-rich approach, backed by stronger employment policies and institutions, better-resourced and comprehensive social protection systems.
International coordination on stimulus packages and debt relief measures will also be critical to making recovery effective and sustainable.
International labour standards, which already enjoy tripartite consensus, can provide a framework.
“With the correct measures in place to protect workers, enterprises and employment, our economies and societies would recover better,” said Poutiainen.
“This is an opportunity to learn lessons and adjust our priorities: adequate social protection to protect the vulnerable; improved working conditions to safeguard workers in their workplaces; and strong social dialogue between government, employers and workers to find sustainable solutions to labour market issues.”
ILO-Director General Guy Ryder said as the pandemic and the jobs crisis evolve, the need to protect the most vulnerable becomes even more urgent.
“For millions of workers, no income means no food, no security and no future. Millions of businesses around the world are barely breathing. They have no savings or access to credit. These are the real faces of the world of work. If we don’t help them now, they will simply perish.”