The impact of the pandemic on people’s working lives was more severe than predicted by the International Labor Organization and translates into lost hours of work and employment. According to the 5th edition of ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work, there was a 14% drop in global working hours during the second quarter of 2020 (April, May and June), equivalent to the loss of 400 million full-time jobs. This figure constitutes a sharp increase in relation to the forecasts of 27 May, which predicted a 10.7% drop (305 million jobs).
The new figures reflect the worsening situation in many regions in recent weeks, especially in developing economies. By region, losses in working time in the second quarter were as follows: Americas (18.3%), Europe and Central Asia (13.9%), Asia and the Pacific (13.5%), Arab States (13, 2%) and Africa (12.1%).
The loss of working hours worldwide makes recovery highly uncertain in the second half of the year and will not be enough to return to pre-pandemic levels. The ILO even warns that “there is a risk of continuing job loss on a large scale”.
The long-term outcome will depend on the future path of the pandemic and government options and policies, but ILO experts have outlined three possible scenarios by the end of the year. The first assumes a recovery in economic activity in line with existing forecasts, lifting restrictions on the workplace and a recovery in consumption and investment. This scenario projects a 4.9% reduction in working hours, equivalent to 140 million full-time jobs, compared to the fourth quarter of 2019.
The pessimistic scenario, on the other hand, assumes a second wave of the pandemic and the return of restrictions that would significantly delay the recovery. The consequence would be the loss of 340 million full-time jobs. But all is not bad in the ILO’s projections. The optimistic scenario assumes that workers’ activities will resume quickly, increasing job creation and job loss to 34 million.
Exacerbated gender inequalities at work
The panel also found that women workers were most affected by the pandemic. The “modest progress made in gender equality made in recent decades” may thus have been lost. Gender inequalities at work have been exacerbated by the overrepresentation of women in some of the economic sectors most affected by the crisis, such as housing, catering, trade and production. Globally, almost 510 million – 40% of all employed women – work in the four most affected sectors, compared with 36.6% of men.
Women also dominate in the domestic work and social assistance and health sectors, where they are most at risk of losing their income and of infection and transmission, and are also less likely to have social protection. The uneven distribution of unpaid work also worsened during the crisis, exacerbated by the closure of schools and support services. In other words, women worked even more at home.
To minimize the impact of the fight against coronavirus on working life, the ILO recommends that “the right balance between health and economic interventions and between social and political interventions”. Protecting and promoting the conditions of vulnerable, disadvantaged and most affected groups and guaranteeing international solidarity and support, especially for emerging and developing countries, are some of the recommendations. “The decisions we have now adopted will have an echo in the years to come and beyond 2030. Although countries are at different stages of the pandemic and much has already been done, we need to redouble our efforts if we are to get out of this crisis in a better way than when it started, “said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.