How is the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to impact workers globally?

Week of 7 June 2021

How is the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to impact workers globally?

Our key takeaway: The pandemic’s acute impacts on people, from loss of income to poverty to increased inequality, will continue to reverberate without effective policy interventions that promote worker well-being, decent wages and a just transition.

The ILO published the latest version of its flagship World Employment and Social Outlook featuring 2021 trends in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the major findings:

    • The pandemic caused a large drop in labour income and a sharp uptick in poverty. In 2020 “an estimated 8.8 per cent of total working hours were lost – the equivalent of the hours worked in one year by 255 million full-time workers.” Approximately half of these losses can be attributed to reduced working hours of people who remained employed or those who were furloughed, while the other half is due to loss of employment altogether. The ILO expects these trends to continue through 2021. Loss of labour income has increased poverty in every region of the world. Compared to 2019, “an estimated additional 108 million workers are now extremely or moderately poor, meaning that they and their family members are having to live on less than US$3.20 per day in purchasing power parity terms.” What’s more “[f]ive years of progress towards the eradication of working poverty have been undone, as working poverty rates have now reverted to those of 2015.”
    • “The highly uneven impact of the crisis exacerbates pre-existing decent work deficits and social inequalities.” Informal and unskilled workers, women, young people and migrant workers have been most impacted. For example, “[i]nformal employees were three times more likely than their formal counterparts … to lose their jobs as a result of the crisis.” The migrant workforce also experienced heightened job loss and poverty, plus an increased risk of nonpayment of wages. The pandemic “also threatens to jeopardize progress on gender equality, as women have suffered disproportionate job losses while seeing their unpaid working time increase.” Women’s employment declined by 5% in 2020, compared to a decline of 3.9% for men and 90% of women who lost their jobs in 2020 left the labour force altogether. Women also took on a “disproportionate” amount of childcare and homeschooling during the pandemic, “leading to a rise in unpaid working time for women that reinforces traditional gender roles.”
    • There are four components to a “human-centred policy agenda” that can help reverse some of this damage. (1) Investing in sectors with decent jobs and those “that support a just transition, gender equality and vibrant labour markets”; (2) Implementing policies and public services that “support household incomes and labour market transitions”; (3) Increasing social protection, “promoting formalization, and ensuring that all workers, irrespective of their contractual arrangements, have the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, enjoy safe and healthy working conditions and receive adequate minimum wages”; and (4) Engaging in social dialogue with impacted people to develop and deploy these recovery strategies.

For more, see ILO, World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2021 (June 2021)