Labour outlook troubling

Labour outlook troubling

Amid slow and uncertain recovery, some lasting impacts from the pandemic are being seen, says the International Labour Organization.

The global labour market has suffered a setback from waves of the pandemic, with the recovery depending on each country's ability to contain and respond to coronavirus outbreaks, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The path to a full revival of the market to pre-pandemic levels remains "elusive" over the coming years, the United Nations agency says.

"Two years into this crisis, the outlook remains fragile and the path to recovery is slow and uncertain," ILO Director-General Guy Ryder told a recent media briefing.

"We are already seeing potentially lasting damage to labour markets, along with concerning increases in poverty and inequality," he added.

Global unemployment in 2022 is expected to reach 207 million, an increase of 11.3% from 186 million in 2019, according to the World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2022 report published recently by the ILO.

It also forecast a significant loss in working hours in 2022 equivalent to 52 million full-time jobs, double the previous forecast in May 2021 of 26 million jobs. The loss in working hours has led to reduced incomes and will eventually push more families into poverty.

The report emphasised that the overall impact on employment isn't fully represented in the figures as many workers have left the labour force. In 2022, the global workforce participation rate is likely to remain 1.2% below that of 2019.

The ILO projected that the labour market recovery will remain weak through 2023 and the recovery will be uneven between regions.

Europe and North America show the most promising signs of meeting the expected recovery goal, while Latin America and the Caribbean as well as Southeast Asia have the worst outlook.

At the national level, high-income countries will see the recovery first, largely due to their higher vaccination rates. On the other hand, low- and middle-income countries will see a slower recovery as a result of wider inequality, weaker social protection systems and tighter fiscal space, the report added.

The recovery within each country is unequal as well. Women are disproportionately affected by the pandemic compared with men and that trend is likely to continue.

Young people whose schools, colleges and training institutions were closed during the pandemic have experienced learning loss which could have consequences for future employment and education. Those with limited and no access to the internet have faced the hardest hit, the ILO said.


The impact of Covid-19 has varied throughout the subregions in Asia Pacific. In 2020, East Asia was the first to experience the virus and managed to control it, but subsequent waves have since affected various countries to different degrees. South and Southeast Asia, for example, were hit hard by the Delta variant in the second and third quarters of last year.

Despite global supply chain disruption and dwindling demand, Asia Pacific still holds the dominant position as the manufacturer for the world, with a growing share of global trade in 2020 and 2021.

Yet, it has also seen the largest decline in manufacturing employment as the consequence of Covid-19, said the ILO.

Many countries in the region are highly tourism-reliant as well. As a result of mobility restrictions around the world, the region saw a world-leading 95% drop in international tourism in the first five months of 2021 when compared with the same period in 2019.

Other sectors that have felt a severe blow from the pandemic are wholesale and retail, and accommodation and food services. These sectors combined employed over 350 million workers in 2019, the report added.

Women and informal workers accounted for a large share of the workforce in the two hard-hit sectors. Women alone accounted for up to 60% of the food and accommodation (tourism) workforce in East Asia and Southeast Asia in 2019.

In the wholesale and retail sector, women made up 40% of employment compared with 36% of the region's overall workforce. Migrant workers are among the most vulnerable as they are also most employed in the heavily hit sectors.

The pandemic pushed another 2 million workers in the region below the extreme poverty line in 2020. Another 1.6 million fell below the moderate poverty line, said the report.

Meanwhile, it's still not clear how much long-term impact technological changes such as digitisation and automation will have on labour demand in the two sectors.

Since most occupations in services and retail require interpersonal interaction, workers face a lower risk of replacement than those in other sectors, "at least in the immediate future", the ILO said.

However, work that cannot be done remotely and requires human contact is still vulnerable to public health threats. And consumers have changed their spending patterns and preferences to online retail. The post-Covid era could pose an impact in these two sectors as well, the report noted.

"We are already seeing potentially lasting damage to labour markets, along with concerning increases in poverty and inequality," says Guy Ryder, director-general of the ILO. Chanat Katanyu


In order to build a better future, the ILO called for collaborative actions from governments, employers and workers to promote an "inclusive, sustainable and resilient" human-centred recovery. This will not only accelerate the recovery but will also address existing systemic inequalities and other challenges such as climate change.

To lay a foundation for greater resilience, the ILO recommended "multilateral action and global solidarity -- including for vaccine access, debt restructuring and facilitating a green transition".

"There can be no real recovery from this pandemic without a broad-based labour market recovery," Mr Ryder pointed out.

The human-centred recovery depends on the successful adoption of four pillars: inclusive economic growth and development, protection of all workers, universal social protection, and social dialogue.

"Fiscal policies must not only aim to protect jobs, incomes, and employment, but also address structural challenges and root causes of 'decent work' deficits across the world," the ILO report suggested.

All workers -- including essential, informal, self-employed, temporary, migrant, platform and low-skill workers -- must be protected and ensured fundamental rights at work, as well as workplace health and safety.

Closing social protection gaps and providing universal social protection is another key priority, the report said.

Social dialogue is needed in finding solutions in the recovery period. Solutions, the report highlighted, must be beneficial for both workers and companies and must have positive macroeconomic repercussions and spillover effects.

Public administrations and employers' and workers' organisations need to strengthen their capacities in order for such dialogue to be effective, it added.

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