Close to half of the global workforce is at risk of losing their jobs as the number of positive cases of the novel coronavirus pandemic increases. This is according to the United Nation (UN) labour agency. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) says some 1.6 billion people employed in the informal economy – or nearly half the global workforce – could see their livelihoods destroyed due to the continued decline in working hours to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The UN agency adds that more than 430 million enterprises in hard-hit sectors such as retail and manufacturing risk “serious disruption”.
This was contained in the findings of the ILO Monitor on COVID-19, third edition, released last week. The report says, globally, there are some 3.3 billion workers with two billion in the informal economy, representing the most vulnerable workers in the labour market.
It added that 1.6 billion in the informal economy “have suffered massive damage to their capacity to earn a living” as a result of the economic meltdown created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Due to lockdowns, or because they work in hard-hit sectors, these workers globally have seen a 60 per cent drop in income during the first month of the crisis,” according to ILO estimates.
“This translates into a more than 80 per cent decline in Africa and the Americas, 70 per cent in Europe and Central Asia, and 21.6 per cent in Asia and the Pacific,” the report added.
Already, over 30 million Americans, the size of Ghana’s population, have been rendered jobless. This was after about 3.8 million U S workers filed for unemployment last week.
That brought the total number of unemployment claims nationwide to 30 million since the Labour Department first announced a record 3.3 million claims in mid-March. The 3.8 million claims last week was the lowest amount since mid-March, with the new record being the 6.9 million jobless workers who filed in the last week of March.
‘Mindboggling’ in Ghana
In Ghana, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) says the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country’s workforce is ‘mindboggling’.
The Secretary-General of the TUC, Dr Yaw Baah, at a recent meeting with President Nana Akufo-Addo at Jubilee House, said “we are in the process of assessing the impact of the health crisis on employment in Ghana.”
What we are seeing is mindboggling. Businesses are collapsing in almost all the sectors of the economy, many people have already lost their jobs, many more will have lost their jobs without the easing of some of these restrictions,” he added.
The UN agency estimates that, compared to pre-crisis levels, there will be a 10.5 per cent deterioration in working hours during this second quarter (Q2) of the year, equivalent to 305 million full-time jobs. Previous projections had put the figure at 6.7 per cent, or 195 million full-time workers.
The situation has worsened for all major regions, again compared to pre-crisis levels. “Q2 estimates suggest a 12.4 per cent loss of working hours in the Americas, and 11.8 per cent for Europe and Central Asia. All other regions are above 9.5 per cent,” the UN agency said.
Call for support
ILO Director General, Guy Ryder, has said the need to protect the world’s most vulnerable workers becomes even more urgent as the pandemic and the jobs crisis evolve.
“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”, he said.
“These are the real faces of the world of work. If we don’t help them now, they will simply perish,” he said last week.
The ILO is, therefore, calling for “urgent, targeted and flexible measures” to support both workers and businesses, particularly smaller enterprises and those in the informal economy.
Support in Ghana
In Ghana, the government, as part of its handling of the pandemic, has devoted GH¢1.2 billion Coronavirus Alleviation Programme (CAP) to support households and businesses. Out of this amount, GH¢280 million is being used to provide food for the vulnerable and free water for all Ghanaians for three months, i.e. April, May and June; GH¢323 million is being used to motivate health workers; and GH¢600 million of assistance is being provided to micro, small and medium-scale businesses, among other support.