Sun | Oct 25, 2020

COVID-19 leads to massive labour income losses worldwide

Published:Wednesday | September 23, 2020 | 12:11 AM

The devastating losses in working hours caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have brought a “massive” drop in labour income for workers around the world – International Labour Organization’s (ILO) latest assessment of the effects of the pandemic on the world of work.

Global labour income is estimated to have declined by 10.7 per cent, or US$3.5 trillion, in the first three quarters of 2020, compared with the corresponding period in 2019. This figure excludes income support provided through government measures.

The biggest drop was in lower-middle income countries, where the labour income losses reached 15.1 per cent, with the Americas the hardest hit region at 12.1 per cent.

The ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. 6th Edition’ states that the global working-hour losses in the first nine months of 2020 have been “considerably larger” than estimated in the previous edition of the Monitor (issued on June 30).

For example, the revised estimate of global working time lost in the second quarter (Q2) of this year (when compared to Q4 2019) is for 17.3 per cent, equivalent to 495 million full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs (based on a 48-hour working week), whereas the earlier estimate was for 14 per cent, or 400 million FTE jobs. In Q3 of 2020, global working-hour losses of 12.1 per cent (345 million FTE jobs) are expected.

The outlook for Q4 has worsened significantly since the last ILO Monitor was issued. Under the ILO’s baseline scenario, global working-hour losses are now projected to amount to 8.6 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2020 (compared to Q4 2019), which corresponds to 245 million FTE jobs. This is an increase from the ILO’s previous estimate of 4.9 per cent or 140 million FTE jobs.

One reason for the estimated increases in working-hour losses is that workers in developing and emerging economies, especially those in informal employment, have been much more affected than by past crises, the Monitor noted.

It also noted that the drop in working-hour losses is more attributable to inactivity than to unemployment, with important policy implications.

While many stringent workplace closures have been relaxed, there are significant variations between regions; 94 per cent of workers are still in countries with some sort of workplace restrictions, and 32 per cent are in countries with closures for all but essential workplaces.

THE ‘FISCAL STIMULUS GAP’

The sixth edition of the Monitor also looks at the effectiveness of fiscal stimulus in alleviating labour market impacts.

In countries where sufficient data is available for Q2 2020, a clear correlation exists, showing that the larger the fiscal stimulus (as a percentage of GDP), the lower the working-hour losses. In that period, globally an additional fiscal stimulus of 1 per cent of annual GDP would have reduced working-hour losses by a further 0.8 per cent.

However, while fiscal stimulus packages have played a significant role in supporting economic activity and reducing the fall in working hours, they have been concentrated in high-income countries, as emerging and developing economies have limited capacity to finance such measures.

In order for developing countries to reach the same ratio of stimulus to working hours lost as in high-income countries, they would need to inject a further US$982 billion (US$45 billion in low-income countries and US$937 billion in lower-middle income countries). The stimulus gap for low-income countries amounts to less than one per cent of the total value of the fiscal stimulus packages announced by high-income countries.

This huge “fiscal stimulus gap” is even more worrying in the light of the social protection deficits in many developing countries. Moreover, some of these countries have also had to redirect public spending from other objectives in order to mitigate the labour market impact of the crisis.

“Just as we need to redouble our efforts to beat the virus, so we need to act urgently and at scale to overcome its economic, social and employment impacts. That includes sustaining support for jobs, businesses and incomes,” said ILO Director General Guy Ryder.

“As the United Nations General Assembly gathers in New York, there is pressing need for the international community to set out a global strategy for recovery through dialogue, cooperation and solidarity. No group, country or region can beat this crisis alone.”

International Labour Organization. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com