25m jobs could be lost globally due to coronavirus: ILO | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 20, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:29 AM, March 20, 2020

25m jobs could be lost globally due to coronavirus: ILO

The economic crisis brought on by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic could cause the loss of about 25 million jobs worldwide, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The initial assessment of a survey carried out by the ILO showed that the COVID-19 will have an adverse impact on businesses across the globe, pushing millions into unemployment, underemployment and working poor.

The report -- the preliminary assessment note, COVID-19 and the world of work: Impacts and responses -- was released yesterday.

Regardless of size, all firms are facing serious complications from the coronavirus fallout such as immense declines in revenue, insolvencies and job cuts, said Tuomo Poutiainen, country director of the ILO Bangladesh.

"Sustaining their day-to-day operations will be particularly difficult for small and medium enterprises," he said, in a statement to The Daily Star.

Due to the recent travel bans, closing of borders and quarantine measures, many workers are unable to carry out their duties. This has a knock-on effect on income, especially for informal and casual employees.

"Now is the time for solidarity between employers and workers. Only through working together can we find the solutions required for all industries and the economy to be rebuilt as a whole," Poutiainen said.

To better understand how to move forward, it is paramount for firms to engage in dialogues, open communications and reach a common understanding.

While health concerns are the top priority, forward thinking on how to keep the country's economy running smoothly is also needed.

Large-scale and coordinated policy changes should be made to ensure employment and provide income support. "This would stimulate the economy and labour demand," Poutiainen said.

"If we see an internationally coordinated policy response, as was the case during the global financial crisis of 2008-09, the impact on unemployment caused by the virus worldwide could be significantly lower," said the ILO report.

The report called for urgent, large-scale and coordinated measures across three pillars: protecting workers in the workplace, stimulating the economy and employment and supporting jobs and incomes.

These initiatives require measures such as extending social protection, supporting employment retention and paid leaves.

There are also financial measures that need to be taken. This includes tax relief for all firms, including micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

The survey also proposes fiscal and monetary policy measures and lending and financial support for specific economic sectors.

The rate of unemployment brought on by the COVID-19 will eclipse that of the 2008-09 global financial crisis, which cost 22 million jobs worldwide.

Underemployment is also expected to increase on a large scale as the economic consequences of the outbreak translate into reductions in working hours and wages.

Self-employment in developing countries, which often serve as a cushion against the adverse impacts on the economy, may not do so this time around due to the recent restrictions on movement. This will affect service providers and the transport of goods.

Falls in employment also mean large income losses for workers. The study estimates these as being between $860 billion and $3.4 trillion by the end of 2020. This will translate into falls in consumption of goods and services, in turn affecting the prospects for businesses and economies.

Working poor is also expected to witness a significant rise as the strain on incomes stemming from the decline of economic activity will devastate workers who are either close to or below the poverty line, it added.

The ILO estimates that an additional 8.8 million to 35 million individuals will be working poor across the globe due to the coronavirus pandemic. The original projection for the working poor class of citizens for 2020 was 14 million worldwide.

"This is no longer just a global health crisis; it is also a major labour market and economic crisis that is having a huge impact on the people," said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder in a statement.

In 2008, the world put up a united front to address the consequences of the global financial crisis. By doing so, the worst was averted and so, the world now once again needs that kind of leadership and resolve, he added.

The ILO report also warned that certain groups could be disproportionately affected by the labour crisis, which could further augment inequality.

These groups include people involved in less protected and lower-paid occupations, women and migrants.

Female and migrant workers are particularly vulnerable due to the lack of social protection and labour rights of the country. Besides, women tend to be over-represented in low-paid jobs.

"In times of crisis like the one we are in, we have two key tools that can help mitigate and repair the damage on public confidence," Ryder said.

"First, social dialogues while engaging with workers, employers and their representatives are vital for rebuilding public trust and support for the measures that we need to overcome this crisis."

"Second, international labour standards provide a tried-and-trusted foundation for policy responses that focus on a recovery that is sustainable and equitable. Everything needs to be done in a coordinated manner to minimise the damage done to the people in this difficult time." 

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