Lowly-paid workers bear virus brunt - GulfToday

Lowly-paid workers bear virus brunt


Picture used for illustrative purpose only.

If there is one category of people who have suffered a sledgehammer like blow to their lives because of the coronavirus pandemic, it is workers. Hundreds of millions of jobs have been lost and workers are suffering a “massive” drop in earnings.

Global labour income shrunk by 10.7 percent during the first nine months of the year compared to the same period in 2019.

That amounts to a drop of some $3.5 trillion, or 5.5 percent of the overall global gross domestic product (GDP).

In a fresh study, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) found that by the mid-year point, global working hours had declined by 17.3 per cent compared to last December – equivalent to nearly 500 million full-time jobs.

That is nearly 100 million more job-equivalents than the number forecast by the ILO back in June, when it expected 14 percent of working hours to be lost by the end of the second three-month period of the year.

Since surfacing in China late last year, the novel coronavirus has killed nearly a million people worldwide out of the more than 31 million infected.

In addition to the health challenges, lockdowns, travel restrictions and other measures taken to rein in the virus have had a devastating impact on jobs and income across the globe.

Particularly badly hit are tens of millions of migrant workers forced to return to their homeland due to the coronavirus pandemic only to face unemployment and poverty.

There are an estimated 164 million migrant workers worldwide, nearly half of them women.

Nearly a million migrant workers have returned to South Asia alone.

They include 500,000 Nepalese who returned from India, more than 250,000 Bangladeshis from the Middle East, 130,000 Indonesians, 100,000 Burmese and 50,000 Filipinos, mostly seafarers, ILO figures show.

A considerable number of workers in the Arabian Gulf have also been affected by job losses. In India, the worst hit have been the daily wage-earners. A hush has come over the clattering construction site, silenced by India’s nationwide order to shelter in place to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

A coronavirus lockdown has left hundreds of millions of informal workers without cash or food, and fearful that lacking paperwork or a bank account will hinder their access to government assistance.

Many families will instead resort to taking out loans at high interest rates in order to survive, while others will fall deeper into debt and end up trapped in bonded labour – India’s most prevalent form of modern slavery – according to activists.

Migrants are the backbone of the urban economy. Construction workers are a necessity for India’s rapidly expanding cities. Others clean toilets, drive taxis and deliver takeout. They predominantly earn daily wages, with no prospect of job security, and live in dirty, densely populated slums, saving money to send back home.

That money is essential to the young and elderly left behind in villages. Around $30 billion flows from urban to rural areas in India each year, according to government and academic estimates. Now that infusion of money, transferred through rural banks or in worn stacks of rupees borne home on rare visits, has come to a halt.

Some countries, such as Britain, have announced new plans to support jobs.

However, the country’s furlough scheme, which paid up to 80 per cent of employees’ wages for staff who are not working, is due to expire on Oct. 31.

Governments should include returning workers, many of whom had lost jobs overnight, in their social protection measures and reintegrate them into national labour markets.

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