Rejuvenating global jobs market a top priority amid COVID-19

Friday, 2020-07-10 16:07:25
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People who lost their jobs are reflected in the door of an Arkansas Workforce Centre as they wait in line to file for unemployment following an outbreak of COVID-19, in Fort Smith, Arkansas, US, April 6, 2020. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO – The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed workers around the world closer to an unprecedented crisis. The risk of a “second wave of COVID-19” makes the prospect of rejuvenating the jobs market even more unpredictable. World leaders have called for the development of a disease response policy based on a comprehensive approach that prioritises job creation.

At a recent online summit organised by the ILO, UN Secretary-General A. Guterres told leaders that “It’s not a choice between health or jobs and the economy. They are interlinked: we will either win or fail on all fronts”. International Monetary Fund Managing Director K. Georgieva also underscored that policies should lay the foundation for a low-carbon, resilient recovery that would create millions of jobs while helping address the climate crisis.

The above comments and urgent calls were made in the context of the world labour market facing tremendous challenges. In its latest report, the ILO pointed out that the fall in global working hours was “significantly worse than previously estimated” in the first half of the year. The Americas was the hardest-hit region, losing 18.3% of working hours, followed by Europe and Central Asia (13.9%), and Asia - Pacific (13.5%).

Worldwide, an estimated 14% of working hours were lost in the second quarter, equivalent to 400 million full-time jobs, due to the pandemic, the ILO said. It estimated that working-hour losses were likely to still be in the order of 4.9% in the fourth quarter, equivalent to 140 million full-time jobs. Given a pessimistic scenario in a so-called second wave of the pandemic, this figure could rise to 11.9% or 340 million jobs, it said.

In Asia, most economies recorded an increase in “disappearing” jobs. For example, last May, the unemployment rate in the Philippines reached 17.7%, an increase of three times over the average from January to April 2020; the comparable percentage in China was 5.9%. In Japan, the number of unemployed workers in April set a new record of six million, compared with 2.5 million in the previous month. In India, by the end of June, the unemployment rate also rose to 8.5%.

However, that is just “the tip of the iceberg”. The published figures still fail to reflect the gloomy picture of the labour market in many countries. According to some experts, in Asia, the number of labourers working in informal sectors and the number of migrant workers is very large, while the official figures have not fully addressed this situation. Thus, the actual unemployment rate is much higher.

The employment situation in some economies is not quite as alarming, but according to many experts, the challenge for the labour market is significant. The COVID-19 shock has the most serious consequences for the services sector. As well as this, if a second wave of COVID-19 infection breaks out, the risk of job losses will be even higher for workers, especially in Asia, due to a sharp decline in exports and the increasing difficulties arising in Western economies.

Many countries have implemented a number of measures to support workers, with an unprecedented extent and scope. But, according to the ILO, the challenge is still great. The ILO report outlined “scenarios”, connected to the evolution of the COVID-19 epidemic, to encourage countries to select appropriate policies, with the priority being job creation. At the ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting in May, countries in the region agreed to work together to restore the labour market through timely assistance, both in terms of the health and livelihoods of workers, especially low-income households and informal workers and industries at high risk of the pandemic’s impacts.

ILO Director-General G. Ryder stressed that the outlook for the global labour market in the second half of 2020 is “highly uncertain” and the forecasted recovery will not be enough for employment to return to pre-pandemic levels, at least this year. He also emphasised that it is the time for the world to work together to implement a recovery that is job-rich, inclusive, equitable and sustainable.