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26 million jobs lost in Latin America and the Caribbean during a year of the pandemic

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The Latin American and Caribbean region lost 26 million jobs as a result of the pandemic, and started 2021 with a complex employment landscape aggravated by new waves of contagion and slow vaccination processes that make the prospects for recovery in labour markets more uncertain, says a new technical note from the International Labour Organization (ILO).

“The quest for better normality will require ambitious action to recover from setbacks in the world of work”, warned Vinícius Pinheiro, ILO Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, when commenting on the note, which presents the latest data on the impact of COVID-19 over the past year.

“It is now time to rebuild the jobs lost by the pandemic and create new decent work opportunities,” Pinheiro said, noting that despite adversity, action must be taken and consensus reached so that “2021 is the year of vaccination and economic recovery with more and better jobs”.

However, the ILO Regional Director highlighted that “in the pursuit of recovery, addressing pre-existing conditions in the region will be unavoidable and those conditions are key to understanding why the impact of the pandemic on employment was so strong. Many of the challenges we had before the pandemic remain in place, although they are now more urgent”.

“High informality, small fiscal spaces, persistent inequality, low productivity and poor coverage of social protection, coupled with problems that still persist such as child labour and forced labour, are part of the ongoing challenges in the region”, he added.

The ILO regional technical note, “The employment crisis in the pandemic: Towards a human-centred job recovery”, emphasizes that the labour impacts were devastating in the second quarter of 2020 when the employment and participation indicators plummeted, and then partially recovered.

However, by the end of 2020 the region’s average employment rate had fallen from 57.4 per cent to 51.7 per cent, a sharp drop equated to the loss of around 26 million jobs, of which 80 per cent, or more than 20 million people, left the workforce.

This significant exit from the workforce was unprecedented and has been characteristic of 2020. By comparison, the unemployment rate has only partially reflected the magnitude of the difficulties faced by labour markets in the region, increasing by just over 2 percentage points between 2019 and 2020, from 8.3 per cent to 10.6 per cent.

This situation would have begun to change, explained Roxana Maurizio, ILO Regional Labour Economics Specialist and author of the technical note, who commented that in 2021 there could be “a significant increase in the employment rate when millions of people who had ceased to participate in the labour force return to the workforce”.

In addition to lost jobs, the region experienced a sharp contraction in working hours, as well as a reduction in labour incomes, which account for 80 per cent of what people in Latin America and the Caribbean earn. The region has recorded the largest losses in hours worked worldwide.

The ILO’s technical note indicates that during the crisis both formal and informal employment experienced very pronounced contractions, but with greater intensity for the latter and for this reason the informality rate was reduced (temporarily), in the context of the widespread collapse in employment demand, especially in the early months of the pandemic.

But that situation has already started to change.

“There is a high risk of informalization that adds to the already high levels of labour informality that countries had before the pandemic”, said Maurizio.

According to available data from seven countries, employment recovery in the second half of 2020 has been almost entirely contracted by informal employment growth. These occupations account for more than 60 per cent of the total increase in employment.

“The formal work deficit, in turn, is likely to become more apparent to certain types of workers such as young people, women and adults with lower qualifications – groups that traditionally experience greater difficulties in accessing formal employment”, she added.

“The macroeconomic collapse has disproportionately impacted some segments of the population, amplifying labour and social gaps – especially gender gaps – that characterize the region”, she continued.

“The outlook for economic recovery by 2021 is modest and still very uncertain, so expectations about a possible reversal of the critical labour market situation should be very cautious”.

The ILO has proposed developing recovery strategies based on a Policy Framework with four main pillars: stimulating the economy and employment; support businesses, jobs and incomes; protect workers in the workplace; and resort to social dialogue to find solutions.

The technical note highlights that in a scenario as complex as the current one “social dialogue and the building of new consensuses, pacts or agreements are more relevant than ever” to advance the recovery of employment.

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Potanin’s core business unfazed by personal sanctions

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The news agencies’ report that Vladimir Potanin the president of MMC Norilsk Nickel PJSC was first mentioned in the UK government’s restrictive measures caused an immediate increase in the price of metals used by electric car production clusters around the world and, as a consequence, worries about the labor market.

Great Britain on Wednesday announced sanctions against Potanin, news agencies reported.

Potanin, known as Russia’s “Nickel King”, was included in the latest wave of sanctions by Britain which included entrepreneurs, banks and other entities.

Potanin is one of Russia’s richest people, although his net worth depends largely on the value of his stake in Nornickel, the world’s largest producer of palladium and refined nickel.

Bloomberg reports that, palladium rose as much as 7.7% on the news, while nickel prices jumped 9.2% before paring gains.

The turnover of Norilsk Nickel in finnish Harjavalta last year amounted to about 1.2 billion euros, and the raw materials it processes come mainly from Russia, according to the Finnish business outlet Kauppalehti.

The Harjavalta Refinery is the main reason why the value of Russian nickel imports to Finland has outstripped oil imports, according to the Finnish customs data.

At Harjavalta, Norilsk Nickel produces about 5% of the world’s pure nickel supply.

In Finland, Norilsk Nickel is closely linked to the industrial center of Harjavalta, which employs a total of 1,000 people. Nornickel Harjavalta employs about 300 people.

If the EU and the US follow the UK’s lead, Nornickel could face a production freeze and nickel prices could soar. This, in turn, jeopardizes EU’s planned investments in battery factories, according to Kauppalehti.

As explained by the law firm Neuschwil and Bayer, unlike US sanctions, British sanctions apply to companies only if the sanctioned person owns 50 percent of its shares or over.

The other two big shareholders of the Russian nickel giant, Oleg Deripaska and Roman Abramovich, are under UK and US sanctions, and together with Potanin, their combined stake exceeds 50 percent.

As Neuschwil and Bayer explained, as long as only Potanin is involved in the operational management of Norilsk Nickel, there is no risk of sanctions for the company, even if other countries introduce sanctions against Potanin.

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Uganda Can Rein in Debt by Managing its Public Investments Better

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In the wake of a waning COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic and upon full re-opening of the economy, optimism—regarding expected acceleration of growth and a clearer outlook for oil production with the signing of the Final Investment Decision in February 2022—has been dampened by new global shocks, including the impacts of the war in Ukraine.

The 19th edition of the Uganda Economic Update (UEU): Fiscal Sustainability through Deeper Reform of Public Investment Management, a biannual analysis of Uganda’s near-term macroeconomic outlook, estimates growth at 3.7 percent in 2022, which is lower than pre-COVID-19 projections of over 6 percent. Uganda’s gross national income per capita stood at about $840 in FY21 and has increased only marginally in the year since.

Real gross domestic product grew by 4.3 percent in the first half of 2022 supported by a strong and speedy recovery of the service sector upon the opening of the leisure and entertainment industry, accommodation, and food services, as well as sustained buoyancy of the information and communications sector. The report projects a 5.1 percent growth rate in FY23, 0.5 percentage point below the December 2021 forecast, increasing to about 6 percent in FY24.

Rising commodity prices and the overall increase in cost of living pose new risks to livelihoods, that had just begun recovering from the effects of COVID-19. These and other shocks are threatening to stall socio-economic transformation, thus increasing the likelihood of the people falling deeper into poverty,” said Mukami Kariuki, World Bank Country Manager for Uganda. “It is therefore crucial for the Government of Uganda to adopt targeted interventions to support the vulnerable while managing debt and rising inflation.”

The UEU proposes four policy actions that will enable Uganda to sustain a resilient and inclusive recovery: i) accelerate vaccination efforts against COVID-19; ii) adopt targeted interventions to support the vulnerable – such as building shock responsive social protection systems; iii) maintain prudent fiscal and debt management to support the fiscal consolidation agenda; and iv) cautious monetary tightening in the face of rising inflationary pressures.

The report also recommends accelerating longer term structural reforms to (i) strengthen revenue mobilization through the implementation of the Domestic Revenue Mobilization Strategy; (ii) improve public investment management; (iii) rationalize public expenditure to support faster, sustainable, and inclusive growth by investing strongly in human capital development; and (iv) improve the trade and business environment and enable green investments.

The UEU notes that fiscal consolidation is needed to rein in debt and to create the necessary space to respond to shocks that could hurt or stall recovery. This can be done through better Public Investment Management (PIM) building on important reforms that have been undertaken by the government.  The benefits of these efforts are starting to show.

Uganda has a great opportunity to harness Public Investment Management by making sure that beyond preparing good projects, effort is also directed at ensuring that they are efficiently funded, implemented, monitored, operated, maintained, and evaluated.  These steps ensure that the country can reap the maximum value of public investments,” said Rachel Sebudde, World Bank Senior Economist and the lead author of the Uganda Economic Update. Strategic capacity building for government officials is crucial as it will improve the Ministries, Departments and Agencies’ effectiveness across the PIM cycle.”

Notwithstanding the progress achieved in the PIM process, key challenges remain. These include low execution rates on donor and own-budget projects; long implementation delays; cost- and time-overruns on projects; and high commitment fees in the case of non-concessional externally funded projects. Overall, the improvements around the administrative processes of the pre-investment phase of PIM are being discounted by challenges in critical areas, including project prioritization and selection, budgeting, and implementation.

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Cambodia’s Economy Growing but Must Weather Oil Price Shock

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Cambodia’s economy will grow by 4.5 percent in 2022, according to the latest World Bank projections. Weathering the Oil Price Shock, the Bank’s June 2022 economic update for Cambodia, shows that while domestic economic activity and goods exports continue to recover from the slowdown caused by COVID-19, growth remains uneven, with the war in Ukraine driving inflation.

The report shows that during the first quarter of 2022, goods exports rose to $4.8 billion, up by 26 percent on last year. Traditional growth drivers, especially garments, travel goods, and footwear continue to expand but newer manufacturing industries, such as for electrical and vehicle parts, are also emerging, while exports to the US are surging.

Although domestic economic momentum is strong, recovery is held back by deteriorating global demand. Rising global energy and food prices are fueling higher inflation, and in Cambodia, poor and vulnerable households with limited savings are likely to bear the brunt of the oil price shock. The fiscal deficit is expected to widen to 6.3 percent of GDP, as the government will need to continue spending programs to support the poor.

“The government’s Living with COVID-19 strategy has allowed Cambodia to reopen, enabling economic recovery,” said Maryam Salim, World Bank Country Manager for Cambodia. “However, the road ahead remains unclear. Rising energy and food prices due to the war in Ukraine are imposing additional burdens on the poor, and this will slow the pace of poverty reduction. The government’s cash transfer program, which has been vital to poor households during the pandemic, will continue to be needed.”

Over the medium term, the economy is expected to grow at around 6 percent annually, with the new investment law, together with free trade agreements, helping to boost investment and trade. The report recommends policies that can help sustain economic recovery. These include continued efforts to contain COVID-19 infection, strengthening consumer and investor confidence, promotion of exports, particularly in agricultural commodities, by facilitating trade and reducing the costs of doing business, and stabilization of retail prices.

The report also includes a special focus section on post-pandemic supply chain disruptions. It suggests strategies for reducing logistic costs and emphasizes that efforts to increase Cambodia’s trade competitiveness and enhance its connectivity will require a systematic approach that goes beyond improvement of physical assets. Efforts are needed to strengthen the entire supply chain by monitoring the efficiency of trade gateways and routes, expanding the “Best Trader scheme” to the wider logistics sector, developing a longer-term business plan for railways, and establishing the “Roadwatch,” hotline, through which traders and citizens can report irregularities. Implementing these reforms will require an institutional approach and a lead government agency that can oversee logistics development at the national and gateway levels.  

The Cambodia Economic Update is a biannual report that provides up-to-date information on short- and medium-term macroeconomic developments in Cambodia.

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