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Livelihoods of more than 55 million domestic workers at risk due to COVID-19

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Nearly three-quarters of domestic workers around the world – more than 55 million people – are at significant risk of losing their jobs and income due to lockdown and lack of effective social security coverage, according to new estimates by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The vast majority – 37 million – of these domestic workers are women.

An assessment made at the beginning of June shows that the most affected region was Southeast Asia and the Pacific, with 76 per cent of domestic workers at risk, followed by the Americas (74 per cent) Africa (72 per cent) and Europe (45 per cent).

While domestic workers in both formal and informal employment have been affected, those in informal employment accounted for 76 per cent of those at risk of losing their jobs or working hours.

In countries with strict levels of lockdown, domestic workers, whether formally or informally employed, have been unable to go to work. But while some of those formally employed still had access to unemployment insurance, for domestic workers in informal employment staying home has meant losing their livelihoods with no safety net to fall back on, making it difficult for them to put food on the table.

The pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing issues. Only 10 per cent of domestic workers have access to social security, meaning no paid sick leave, guaranteed access to health care, employment injury benefits or unemployment insurance. Many domestic workers earn as little as 25 per cent of average wages, leaving them without savings in case of a financial emergency.

“The COVID-19 crisis  has exposed the particular vulnerability of informal domestic workers, emphasizing the urgent need to ensure they are effectively included in labour and social protection” said Claire Hobden, ILO Technical Officer, Vulnerable Workers. “This disproportionately affects women who make up the vast majority of domestic workers worldwide.”

In some regions domestic workers are predominantly migrants who rely on their pay to support their families in their countries of origin. Non-payment of wages and the closure of remittance services has left the families of migrant domestic workers at risk of poverty and hunger.

Live-in domestic workers have mostly continued to work, in confinement with their employers. However, reports suggest they have worked longer hours due to school closures and are carrying out more demanding cleaning tasks.

In other cases employers have stopped paying their live-in domestic workers, due to their own financial circumstances or a belief that domestic workers do not need their salaries since they cannot go out.

In some countries, where migrant domestic workers are required to live with their employers, some have been found on the streets after their employers dismissed them for fear of catching the virus. This puts them at risk of trafficking.

The ILO is working with domestic workers’ organizations and employers’ organizations to ensure the health and livelihoods of domestic workers. It is undertaking rapid assessments of the level and nature of the risks facing them, so that governments can devise policies that guarantee at least basic social security coverage, including access to essential health care and basic income security.

Twenty-nine countries  have ratified ILO Convention 189 on decent work for domestic workers , which was adopted nine years ago by the International Labour Conference. Many more have taken concrete measures to extend labour and social protection coverage to domestic workers. The ILO has supported roughly sixty countries to close gaps in coverage.

While these measures have increased the number of domestic workers in formal employment, the overall rate of informality remains high. The ILO has called for efforts to formalize domestic work to be urgently accelerated in order to protect domestic workers from future shocks.

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Finance

Montenegro on Course for Stronger Economic Recovery in 2021

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The Western Balkans region is rebounding from the COVID-19-induced recession of 2020, thanks to a faster-than-expected recovery in 2021, says the latest edition of the Western Balkans Regular Economic Report, Greening the Recovery.

The outlook for the region has improved significantly, with GDP growth now projected to reach 5.9 percent in 2021, after a 3.1 percent contraction in 2020. Growth in the region is projected at 4.1 percent in 2022 and 3.8 percent in 2023.

Driven by a rapid recovery in tourism, Montenegro’s economy is projected to rebound strongly by an estimated 10.8 percent in 2021, the highest rate among the six Western Balkan countries. Strong peak summer season has supported a rebound in tourism revenues, which are likely to reach close to 75 percent of their 2019 levels, from 55 percent previously estimated.

The rebound of economic activity has boosted government revenues, which coupled with careful fiscal management have led to a reduction in fiscal deficit from 11 percent of GDP in 2020 to an estimated 4 percent in 2021. Maintaining fiscal prudence in the medium term will be critical, as uncertainties loom.

“The economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a source of uncertainty, but also presents an opportunity for Montenegro to ensure a resilient, inclusive, and green post-pandemic recovery,” says Christopher Sheldon, World Bank Country Manager for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. “The World Bank is committed to helping Montenegro implement reforms that can help ensure macroeconomic stability, create economic opportunities, and spur strong private-sector led growth”.

The report finds that unemployment in Montenegro remains high as the recovery has not ignited the labor market yet, which limits the pace of resumed poverty reduction. Poverty is projected to decline slowly in 2021, but it remains higher than its 2019 level.

The poverty rate for the region is projected to resume its pre-pandemic downward trend and fall by around 1 percentage point to 20.3 percent, close to its 2019 level.

The regionwide recovery is due to strength in both domestic and external demand. A sharp rebound in domestic consumption and in travel across Europe helped boost remittances as well as tourism inflows during the 2021 peak summer season. A strong recovery in advanced economies also provided a boost to demand for the region’s exports.

However, the recovery remains fragile. Early warning signals from the labor market call for close policy attention. Job losses from the recession and its aftermath have disproportionately affected women and youth, which may set back efforts to raise the region’s perennially low rates of labor force participation. Youth unemployment rose to 37.7 percent in 2021, up 5.4 percentage points from June 2020, further worsening youth employment prospects.

“As the Western Balkans countries look to a post-pandemic future, their policy approach will need to focus on addressing key impediments to job creation and economic transformation, including green transition,” said Linda Van Gelder, World Bank Country Director for the Western Balkans. “All six countries would benefit from reforms in the business environment, governance, and digitalization, which would contribute to growth and close the gap with EU countries.”

The report also looks at the macro-fiscal challenges and drivers of greening the region’s growth. The Western Balkans now find themselves at a key decision point regarding the impending green transition.

Global strides toward climate action are causing fundamental changes in society. Consumer and investor preferences are shifting, green technologies and new business models are disrupting more markets, and green policies are reshaping economic landscapes. As such, greening a country’s economy is becoming a decisive factor in international competitiveness and the ability to attract international finance and investments.

The Western Balkans are no exception. Still characterized by a development model tilted toward familiar brown industries, moving toward a green growth pathway is far from easy, especially in the short term. Yet, the green transition offers significant opportunities for the Western Balkans – including closer integration into Euro-centric global value chains and access to significant EU resources to help fund a green transition.

Effectively managing this green transition, including the many policy tradeoffs, will need to be a core focus of policy attention for the Western Balkans in the years ahead.

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Environment

UNESCO ‘eDNA’ initiative to ‘unlock’ knowledge for biodiversity protection

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To understand the richness of biodiversity across World Heritage marine sites, the UN scientific organization launched on Monday a project to protect and preserve biodiversity, based on the study of environmental DNA – cellular material released from living things into their surroundings. 

Launching the new programme, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that scientists and local residents would take samples of genetic material from fish waste, mucous membranes or cells, eDNA, to monitor species. 

Marine World Heritage sites play a critical role in protecting marine ecosystems of exceptional universal value and provide opportunities for the public to appreciate and preserve marine environments”, reminded UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, Ernesto Ottone Ramírez. 

Species under threat 

UNESCO said that the two-year initiative would help measure the vulnerability of marine biodiversity to climate change and its impact on the distribution and migration patterns of marine life across World Heritage sites. 

The eDNA project, which involves collecting and analyzing samples from the environment – such as soil, water and air – rather than an individual organism, will also better monitor and protect endangered species included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.  

Climate change is affecting the behaviour and distribution of underwater life and we must understand what is happening so we can adapt our conservation efforts to evolving conditions”, explained the UNESCO official. 

Beneath the waves 

UNESCO’s marine World Heritage sites are recognized for their unique biodiversity, outstanding ecosystems, or for representing major stages in Earth’s history.  

In the context of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), the project was launched to contribute to the understanding of global trends and knowledge to preserve marine ecosystems. 

Since 1981, when Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was inscribed at UNESCO’s first marine site, a global network of 50 others are now included as “beacons of hope for healing the ocean”, according to the UN agency. 

Guided by expert support, the eDNA project will engage local citizens to gather material, so samples such as particles gathered through water filtering, can be genetically sequenced in specialized laboratories, without having to disturb animals themselves.   

Implemented by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and World Heritage Centre, IOC chief Vladimir Ryabinin described the project as “a step toward the Ocean Decade’s vision of unlocking the knowledge we need to create the ocean we want by 2030”. 

Breaking new ground 

The use of eDNA in ocean monitoring and data collection is still in its infancy and standard protocols for sampling and data management will be streamlined in UNESCO’s groundbreaking eDNA project.  

For the first time, it will apply a consistent methodology across multiple marine protected areas simultaneously, helping establish global standards, data monitoring and management practices while making that information available to the public. 

All data will be processed and published by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS), the world’s largest open-access data system on the distribution and diversity of marine species, maintained and collectively supported by a worldwide network of scientists, data managers and users.  

Sustainability goal 

The project works to advance the world’s understanding of life in the ocean, and establish conservation and management policies indicators.   

“eDNA sampling can provide an innovative, affordable, and long-awaited capacity to better understand the ocean ecosystems, their composition and behaviour, and to start managing ocean resources more sustainably”, said Mr. Ryabinin. 

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Africa Today

‘Overzealous’ security services undermining South Sudan peace

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South Sudan has suffered years of underdevelopment, corruption and conflict. UNMISS/Amanda Voisard

State security forces in South Sudan have been responsible for imposing new and potentially arbitrary restrictions against the country’s most prominent civil society leaders, issuing “credible” death threats that have undermined peace efforts, UN-appointed independent rights experts said on Wednesday. 

In an alert, the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan alleged that “overzealous” security forces had prevented dissent so dramatically, that civic space was now eroding “at an accelerating pace”, forcing rights defenders to flee and discouraging others from taking their place. 

“The State’s targeting of high-profile human rights defenders will have a chilling effect on civil society and will discourage public participation and corrode confidence in the important processes of transitional justice, constitution making and national elections, which are essential for the success of the transition envisaged by the 2018 Revitalised Peace Agreement,” said Commissioner Andrew Clapham.  

Communication breakdown 

The actions of the National Security Services (NSS) have included detentions, raids, a likely internet shutdown and an enhanced security presence on the streets of Juba, the panel said in a statement. 

Those targeted by threats, harassment and intimidation have included prominent human rights defenders, journalists and civil society actors. Many have played a key role in the country’s peace and justice processes. 

“Jame David Kolok and Michael Wani are among those now sheltering outside the country in fear for their lives,” the UN Commission said, in reference to Mr. Kolok’s membership of the Technical Committee to Conduct Consultative Process on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing – a position reaffirmed in May by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.  

Frozen out 

Mr. Wani had been a youth representative on the National Constitution Amendment Committee, according to the UN panel, which noted that both men’s bank accounts, “and those of the non-government organisations they lead, are among those recently blocked on government orders, with other civil society actors also affected”. 

The 2018 Revitalised Agreement for the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan contains power-sharing arrangements between President Salva Kiir and opposition leader, Riek Machar.  

The accord requires the drafting of a permanent Constitution and the establishment of a Commission on Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing. 

Although implementation of these and other measures – such as public consultation requirements – have been slow, government leaders have renewed pledges and taken steps toward these in recent months, the UN Commission said. 

“These latest restrictions and acts of harassment follow the formation on 30 July of a new civil society coalition whose members planned a public assembly to take place on 30 August,” it explained.  

Clampdown in Juba 

The UN Commission – which was appointed by the Human Rights Council in March 2016 to investigate crimes linked to civil war that erupted in 2011 – noted that this public assembly could not take place amid “detentions, raiding of premises, an apparent internet shutdown, and an enhanced presence of security forces on the streets of Juba”.  

Numerous civil society leaders are still in detention and their wellbeing is unclear, the commissioners said. 

“The State’s authorities must respect and protect the rights of human rights defenders; this is an obligation under international law,” said Commissioner Barney Afako. “It would also demonstrate that South Sudan’s commitment to strengthening its systems for the consolidation of human rights is genuine.” 

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