Lusaka – The world must act urgently to address the impact that COVID-19 has had on jobs, incomes and livelihoods, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) says.
In a report dubbed “Cataclysmic”, ILO Director-General Dr Guy Ryder called for a holistic relook at the right to work within the broader context of social justice.
An estimated 8.8 percent of total working hours were lost last year, representing the equivalent of the annual productive time of 255 million full-time workers. In all, US$4 trillion in labour income was wiped out in 2020. More than 31 million workers were plunged into extreme working poverty, with many affected workers facing the hard choice of either going hungry while protecting their health, or risking their lives to make a living.
“Even before COVID-19 was declared to be a pandemic, it was clear that profound transformations were sweeping through the world of work and we needed to act urgently,” Dr Ryder said.
He challenged governments and employers to devise means of revitalising and re-inventing labour markets to support a transition to carbon-neutral and digital economies that would likely be able to better withstand shocks.
“Overall, the ILO estimates that the effect of the COVID-19 crisis on the world of work is four times more severe than that posed by the financial crisis of 2008 to 2009,” Dr Ryder emphasised.
He noted that the pandemic laid bare how inequalities went beyond incomes as they also had an impact on healthcare, social security and access to online education. Hardest hit are unskilled workers, informal and migrant labour and rural communities without access to physical and digital infrastructure.
Dr Ryder also said that COVID-19 had affected female workers more than their male counterparts, with women more likely to lose their jobs than men during the pandemic.
“This is in all likelihood linked to the disproportionate share of unpaid care responsibilities that women took on during the crisis. What this means is that we risk losing the progress made towards gender equality. Hard-won progress that has taken decades to achieve,” he said.