The toll of COVID-19 on workers

According to a recent report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), more than one in six young people have stopped working since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, while those who remain employed have seen their working hours cut by 23 per cent.
In the coming weeks, the unemployment rate is expected to soar in countries everywhere. Especially with the end of the virus being nowhere in sight, one can only imagine the economic impact the virus would have on poor and developing economies.
According to the ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the World of Work; 4th Edition, youth are being disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The report states that, in 2019, there were around 267 million young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) worldwide. Those 15-to-24-year-olds who were employed were also more likely to be in forms of work that leave them vulnerable, such as low-paid occupations, informal sector work, or as migrant workers.
Last month, the ILO had projected that some 1.6 billion people employed in the informal economy – or nearly half the global workforce – could see their livelihoods destroyed due to the continued decline in working hours brought on by lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19. Globally, there are some 3.3 billion workers. Two billion have jobs in the informal economy, representing the most vulnerable workers in the labour market.
For its part, the ILO has urged countries to implement “urgent, targeted and flexible measures” to support both workers and businesses, particularly smaller enterprises and those in the informal economy. The agency also stressed that international coordination on stimulus packages and debt relief measures would be critical to making recovery effective and sustainable.
The organisation has also underlined the need for “urgent, large-scale and targeted policy responses to support youth, including broad-based employment/training guarantee programmes in developed countries, and employment-intensive programmes and guarantees in low- and middle-income economies”.
In Guyana’s case, a detailed study is needed to determine the real impact of the pandemic on the employment sector; more particularly, to find out how many persons have become jobless, how many have had their hours of work reduced, and how all of this has impacted individual families.
There is also need to gather useful information on the impact of the virus on businesses, especially small and medium-scale ones, many of which were forced to cease operations. This would assist policymakers with the necessary guidance to design and implement certain measures to assist those affected. Almost every sector, including tourism, manufacturing, services, retail and financial, have been, and will continue to be, severely affected due to the pandemic.
Prior to COVID-19, we had already seen the laying off of thousands of workers in the sugar belt by the APNU/AFC Administration. Those workers were already facing extremely tough times, as there was no system put in place to cater for the accompanying economic and social problems due to the closure of the estates etc.
While many countries around the world have justifiably instituted partial or full lockdown and other measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, the majority of them have taken steps to provide relief measures to citizens, so as to avoid much bigger social and economic problems. Their governments are well aware that families and businesses would need some form of support to cushion the impact of such drastic measures.
However, calls made here by the various stakeholders, for the caretaker Government to implement certain relief measures to cushion the impact of the virus on households and businesses, have fallen on deaf ears. The authorities are clearly oblivious to the concerns of citizens. Perhaps this is due to the fact that they are being consumed by the desire to hold on to political power.
Once the National Recount is completed and a credible winner is sworn in, immediate steps must be taken to address the huge economic and social fallout due to COVID-19. Many persons are currently jobless, and facing tough times. The crisis demands exemplary leadership, for which the nation could hardly wait.