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Urgent action needed to stop jobs crisis becoming a social crisis

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The Covid-19 pandemic is turning into a jobs crisis far worse than the 2008 crisis. Women, young people and workers on low incomes are being hit hardest, according to a new OECD report and unemployment statistics released today.

The OECD unemployment rate edged down to 8.4% in May 2020, after an unprecedented increase of 3.0 percentage points in April, to 8.5%, the highest unemployment rate in a decade. In February 2020, it was at 5.2%. The number of unemployed people in the OECD area stood at 54.5 million in May. The lack of variation between April and May is the result of contrasting trends. On the one hand, in the United States, as the economy started to re-open, many furloughed workers went back to work, even as other temporary layoffs became permanent. On the other hand, unemployment is increasing or risks becoming entrenched in many other countries.

The OECD Employment Outlook 2020 says that, even in the more optimistic scenario for the evolution of the pandemic, the OECD-wide unemployment rate may reach 9.4% in the fourth quarter of 2020, exceeding all the peaks since the Great Depression. Average employment in 2020 is projected to be between 4.1% and 5% lower than in 2019. The share of people in work is expected still to be below pre-crisis levels even at the end of 2021.

Initial public support has been unprecedented in scale and scope, notably through the expansion of job-retention schemes that allow employers to cut the hours their employees normally work while receiving financial support for these unworked hours. Total hours worked have plummeted, falling ten times faster in the first three months of the current crisis than they did in the first three months of the 2008 global financial crisis, in OECD countries for which data are available.

Speaking ahead of a special OECD Roundtable Ministerial Meeting on Inclusion and Employment policies for the Recovery – chaired by Spain’s Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migrations, Mr. José Luis Escrivá – OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said: “Building on the swift and decisive initial response to the Covid-19 crisis, countries now need to do everything they can to avoid this jobs crisis turning into a full-blown social crisis. Macroeconomic policies must remain supportive through the crisis to minimise the risk of a prolonged slump and a lost generation of young people whose labour market prospects are durably harmed. Meanwhile, reconstructing a better and more resilient labour market is an essential investment in the future of the next generations.”

People on low incomes are paying the highest price. During the lockdown, top-earning workers were on average 50% more likely to work from home than low earners. At the same time, low-income workers were twice as likely to have to stop working completely, compared to their higher-income peers.

Women have been hit harder than men, with many working in the most affected sectors and disproportionately holding precarious jobs. The self-employed and people on temporary or part-time contracts have been particularly exposed to job and income losses. Young people leaving school or university will struggle to find work and face the risk of long-term damage to their earnings potential.
The Outlook provides a series of recommendations for where countries should focus their efforts to help people and firms through the crisis and reduce the long-term impact.

In the short term, continued support for some sectors still affected by containment measures remains vital to protect jobs and well-being. But it is important to target support to those most in need, while fostering the incentives to go back to work safely for those who can and supporting firms hiring new workers. This is vital to avoid the scars of prolonged joblessness and inactivity. Businesses, especially small ones, will need support to implement health and safety practices in the workplace.


As prospects of quickly finding new work will remain poor for many, some countries should extend unemployment benefit durations to prevent jobseekers from sliding too quickly into much less generous minimum income benefits. Emergency support for the self-employed should also be re-assessed to improve targeting, restore incentives and ensure fairness.

In the medium term, countries should address the structural gaps in social protection provisions that the crisis laid bare. This will involve strengthening adequate income support for all workers, including the self-employed, part-time and other non-standard workers. Firms must also repay the trust governments have invested in them during the emergency phase of the COVID-19 crisis by keeping their workers to the extent possible and investing in their skills. To ensure no one is left behind in the recovery, extending support for vocational education and training is crucial, as well as leveraging social dialogue and collective bargaining to enhance the resilience of the labour market.

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MSMEs Key to Southeast Asia’s Post-COVID-19 Recovery

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Strengthening the dynamics of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) with innovation and internationalization will be key to revitalizing Southeast Asian economies devastated by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a new report from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

MSMEs are a critical driving force in Southeast Asian economies, accounting for an average of 97% of all enterprises and 69% of the national labor force from 2010 to 2019. They contributed an average of 41% of each country’s gross domestic product over the same period.

“MSMEs in Southeast Asian economies mainly focus on domestic markets and their level of entrepreneurship remain suboptimal. Supporting the development of MSMEs, particularly in technology adoption and participation in global supply chains, will contribute to inclusive growth and aid in recovery efforts from COVID-19,” said ADB Chief Economist Yasuyuki Sawada. “We’re confident that this new report, Asia Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise Monitor (ASM) 2020, which provides a rich set of data and analyses on MSME development in Southeast Asia pre-COVID-19 pandemic, would become a benchmark in helping design feasible government assistance for MSMEs amid a new normal in the region.”

The first volume of ASM 2020, released today at a virtual launch attended by ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development Bambang Susantono, presents a detailed assessment of financial and nonfinancial issues facing MSMEs in Southeast Asia at both the country and regional levels. It also analyses policies and regulations surrounding MSME development and access to finance in each country in Southeast Asia.

Key findings from the report’s second volume, to be released on 28 October, examines the impact of COVID-19 on MSMEs in Indonesia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the Philippines, and Thailand based on rapid surveys conducted from March to May this year. The challenges faced by MSMEs in the region have been exacerbated by COVID-19, with demand for MSME products and services declining since the onset of the pandemic. This has resulted in layoffs, reduced business operations, and a depressed outlook for the sector. The report explores policy approaches that could support MSMEs during and after the pandemic.

ASM 2020’s remaining two volumes will be released by the end of 2020. They comprise a thematic chapter analyzing the impact of fintech-based loans to tricycle drivers in the Philippines; and a technical assessment that will present ADB’s new Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise Development Index.

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Recession Deepens as COVID-19 Pandemic Threatens Jobs and Poverty Reduction in Western Balkans

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The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged the Western Balkans region into a deep recession, with drops in both domestic and foreign demand, coupled with disruptions in supply chains, forcing all six countries in the region into negative growth territory for 2020. According to the World Bank’s latest Regular Economic Report (RER), economic growth is forecast to contract by 4.8 percent in 2020, 1.7 percentage points lower than forecast in April. A second, stronger wave of the pandemic since mid-June is delaying economic recovery in the region. Travel restrictions and social distancing measures have also depressed growth in those countries more reliant on tourism.

The pandemic is further challenging labor markets in the region and threatening to undermine the progress that countries have made on improving the population’s welfare. By June, unemployment in the region had risen by a half of a percentage point, erasing 139,000 jobs. An additional 300,000 people are estimated to have fallen into poverty in Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia – a significant number, but less than half of the total that would have fallen into poverty had response measures not been put in place, notes the report.

“Like in much of the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to hit people hard in the Western Balkans, threatening threatening the health and economic well-being of people in all six countries,” says Linda Van Gelder, World Bank Country Director for the Western Balkans.

“As bad as this situation is, it would have been much worse had governments not taken swift measures from the outset of the crisis. The first priority remains getting the health crisis under control and limiting the economic damage. Policymakers in the region will then need to focus on strengthening their economic fundamentals for a resilient recovery.”  

According to the report, all six countries in the region were quick to introduce policies to protect lives and livelihoods. The introduction of large job-retention schemes, including employee subsidies, helped arrest some of the worst impacts of the pandemic on employment, while social assistance programs, such as cash transfers, helped protect the most vulnerable populations in the region in the face of lockdowns and other restrictions.

Despite these measures, however, the gains in labor force participation made in the region over the last few years have now been erased and progress on poverty reduction is being imperiled by the crisis. Compounding these challenges are soaring fiscal deficits in the region, as governments continue to spend more to counter the economic contractions in the face of plummeting revenues. With the end of the economic crisis uncertain, pressure on labor markets and incomes is likely to continue for some months.

“Apart from improved health systems and robust social protection mechanisms, policymakers in the region will need to take measures to enhance human capital, build stronger institutions and strengthen the rule of law. The unfortunate situation of needing to spend more in a time of declining revenues puts additional pressure on governments in the region to prioritize fiscal sustainability, including through improving public spending and strengthening tax compliance,” says Linda Van Gelder.

The report acknowledges that the speed of recovery, in the short term, will depend on how the pandemic evolves, the availability of a vaccine that allows for the normalization of economic activity, and a sustained recovery for the region’s main trading partner – the European Union (EU).

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Collapsing consumer demand amid lockdowns cripple Asia-Pacific garment industry

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Women at work in a garment factory in Hai Phong, Viet Nam. © ILO

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered government lockdowns, collapsed consumer demand, and disrupted imports of raw materials, battering the Asia Pacific garment industry especially hard, according to a new report released on Wednesday by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The UN labour agency highlighted that in the first half of 2020, Asian imports had dropped by up to 70 per cent.

Moreover, as of September, almost half of all garment supply chain jobs, were dependent on consumers living in countries where lockdown conditions were being most tightly imposed, leading to plummeting retail sales.

ILO Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Chihoko Asada Miyakawa, pointed out that the research highlights “the massive impact COVID-19 has had on the garment industry at every level”. 

Ripple effect

In 2019, the Asia-Pacific region had employed an estimated 65 million in the sector, accounting for 75 per cent of all garment workers worldwide, the report reveals.

Although governments in the region have responded proactively to the crisis, thousands of factories have been shuttered – either temporarily or indefinitely – prompting a sharp increase in worker layoffs and dismissals.

And the factories that have reopened, are often operating at reduced workforce capacity.

“The typical garment worker in the region lost out on at least two to four weeks of work and saw only three in five of her co-workers called back to the factory when it reopened”, said Christian Viegelahn, Labour Economist at the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

“Declines in earnings and delays in wage payments were also common among garment workers still employed in the second quarter of 2020”.

Women worst impacted

As women comprise the vast majority of the region’s garment workers, they are being disproportionately affected by the crisis, the report tracked.

Additionally, their situation is exacerbated by existing inequalities, including increased workloads and gender over-representation, as well as a rise in unpaid care work and subsequent loss of earnings

Moving forward

To mitigate the situation, the brief calls for inclusive social dialogue at national and workplace levels, in countries across the region.

It also recommends continued support for enterprises, along with extending social protection for workers, especially women. 

The ILO’s recent global Call to Action to support manufacturers and help them survive the pandemic’s economic disruption – and protect garment workers’ income, health and employment – was cited as “a promising example of industry-wide solidarity in addressing the crisis”.

“It is vital that governments, workers, employers and other industry stakeholders work together to navigate these unprecedented conditions and help forge a more human-centred future for the industry”, upheld Ms. Miyakawa.

Nuts and bolts

The study assessed the pandemic’s impact on supply chains, factories and workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam.

It is based on research and analysis of publicly available data together with interviews from across the sector in Asia.

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