COVID-19: Livelihood of 1.6 bln informal workers worldwide at risk, warns ILO

Approximately 164 mln informal workers in Africa stuck under complete lockdown measures 

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Thursday 30 April 2020

Approximately 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy  — nearly half of the global workforce — was in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed because of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said in a report on April 29, 2020.

Close to 1.1 billion workers lived and worked in countries that were in a total lockdown situation, with an additional 304 million in countries that had partial lockdown measures, as of April 22, according to the ILO.

These workers together represent 67 per cent of informal employment across the world.

916 million workers in Asia, Africa under full lockdown

Asia and Africa both account for nearly 916 million workers from the informal economy, with an additional 178 million in countries that are in partial lockdown. There are 772 million informal workers under complete lockdown in the Asia Pacific region alone, according to ILO estimates, with 77 million in countries with partial lockdown measures.

The number of workers from Africa stuck under complete lockdown measures numbered close to 164 million, while close to 101 million informal workers were under partial lockdown measures.

Countries that had full lockdown measures primarily enforced three measures on social distancing, according to the ILO report:

  • Mandatory workplace closure
  • Mandatory internal travel controls
  • Mandatory shutdown of public transport

Partial lockdown measures, according to the report, meant that at least one of the above three measures were mandatory.

COVID-19 to cost 305 million full-time jobs in second quarter

The ILO report raised concerns over the sharp decline in working hours across the world because of disruptions in the labour market from lockdown measures.

The second (current) quarter of 2020 shows a far-reaching impact with respect to the number of working hours, according to the ILO estimates. Almost 11 per cent of working hours across the world were projected to be wiped out in this quarter, said the ILO report.

This loss of working hours is equal to nearly 305 million full-time jobs, the report pointed out. The losses increased by 56 per cent since the last ILO estimates that predicted the loss of 195 million full-time jobs on April 7.

This increase in the loss of jobs occurred because of extensions of lockdown measures, said the ILO report. In the first quarter, 130 million fill-time jobs were estimated to be at risk. Thus, 175 million more jobs are projected to be at risk in the second quarter. The drop in working hours in this quarter of 2020 is projected to be worse than the last ILO estimates. 

Africa to be hit hard

Close to 10 per cent of the working hours — equal to 37 million full-time jobs — may be lost this quarter in Africa.

Around 6.6 times more jobs may be lost in the second quarter from the COVID-19 outbreak, the ILO predicted. Around six million jobs were lost in the continent because of the pandemic during the first quarter.

Income losses for the informal economy will likely be severe as well, warned the ILO. Earnings for informal workers are expected to decline in the first month of the crisis by 60 per cent globally, the report said.

This expected decline could be the largest — at 81 per cent — in Africa and Latin America. This becomes a huge concern for Africa, since informal employment accounts for 85.8 per cent of all employment there.  

“For millions of workers, no income means no food, no security and no future. As the pandemic and the jobs crisis evolve, the need to protect the most vulnerable becomes even more urgent,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.

The cost in terms of income loss with no alternatives will lead to reverse migration from urban to rural areas, that could increase the spread of COVID-19 in rural areas.

This reverse migration may further add to the disease burden in the continent, where over 40 countries reported local transmission of the virus. COVID-19 infected more than 35,000 and killed over 1,500 people in 52 countries across the continent as of April 30, 2020, said the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The ILO report, however, recommended some measures to help minimize social and economic impacts in the informal economy. It highlighted the urgency of policy actions for smaller businesses and workers in the informal economy.

The report reiterated urgency for international coordination on stimulus packages for effective and sustainable recoveries across the continent, as suggested by global leaders, including those from Africa.

It made a call for prioritising and scaling up successful programmes like cash transfer and programmes used for shelter and food relief. In many cases, conditional and unconditional cash transfers may also be needed for an extended period of time, according to the ILO.

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