Impact Assessment of COVID-19 on African Migrant Workers in, and from, the SADC and IGAD region

Opening remarks by Ms. Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon, ILO Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Africa

Statement | Virtual event | 07 December 2020
Dear colleagues of the UN system, distinguished participants,

Greetings to all of you. I would like to welcome you to this ILO webinar on the “Impact Assessment of COVID-19 on African Migrant Workers in, and from, the SADC and IGAD regions”. The results that we are presenting today constitute part of a bigger ILO initiative at the global level.

The agenda on the impact of COVID-19 on labour markets has become paramount to the ILO, particularly within the context of the 2019 ILO Abidjan Declaration on the Future of Work in Africa. According to the ILO “Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work”, the pandemic has had a fairly significant impact on the global economy and the world of work. The crisis has already transformed into an economic and labour market shock, impacting not only supply (production of goods and services) but also demand (consumption and investment).

Global and regional supply chains have been disrupted. The services sector, tourism, travel and retail have shown notable vulnerability. Disruptions to production, initially in Asia, have rapidly spread to supply chains across the world. All businesses, regardless of size, are facing serious challenges, especially those in the aviation, tourism and hospitality industries, with significant declines in revenue, insolvencies and job losses in specific sectors.

Due to travel bans, border closures and quarantine measures, 94% of workers were affected by workplace closures during the second trimester of 2020. Many workers cannot move to their places of work or carry out their jobs, which has represented a fall in economic activity and has had knock-on effects on incomes, particularly for informal and casually employed workers. In addition, consumers in many economies are unable or reluctant to purchase goods and services.

As a consequence, the quantity and quality of employment have deteriorated rapidly. The subsequent economic shocks have impacted the world of work across three key dimensions: 1) The quantity of jobs (both unemployment and underemployment); 2) The quality of work (e.g. wages and access to social protection); and 3) Effects on specific groups who are more vulnerable to adverse labour market outcomes.

Overall, labour income (which includes workers’ wages and part of the income of the self-employed) has fallen by 10.7% during the first three quarters of 2020. In total, the overall loss in labour income amounts to US $3,500 billion. Income losses have been detrimental to the sustainability of businesses and the resilience of economies.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Workers in emerging and developing economies, especially those working in the informal economy (85.8% total in Africa, including 89.2% in Sub-Saharan Africa) are affected much more significantly. The decline in employment in the second quarter of 2020 was accompanied by a larger increase in inactivity than in unemployment in all countries. The relative decline in employment is greater for women than for men in all countries. Young people and older people have been particularly affected. For self-employed workers or working within the family, the real loss of income is greater. It is only those workers who have formal jobs who can more easily benefit from social security benefits or other measures taken.

In Africa, the total working-hour losses in the second quarter of the year are estimated at 15.6% million full time equivalent (FTE) jobs, up from the previous estimate of 12.1%. Losses in hours worked relate to different situations: shorter working hours, having a job but not working, being unemployed and being inactive.

In terms of sub-regions, the new estimates for working-hour losses in the second quarter indicate that Northern Africa experienced the sharpest decline (21.2%), followed by Southern Africa (20.3%), Central Africa (14.7%), Eastern Africa (14.0%) and Western Africa (13.9%).

According to the ILO, measures to stimulate the economy must provide the fullest possible assistance to vulnerable groups and the populations most affected, including informal workers, the self-employed, women, young people and international migrants. Migrant workers constitute a large majority of those present in the informal economy.

As one of its responses, the ILO has developed a rapid assessment tool and questionnaire to evaluate the global impact of COVID-19 on labour migration governance, recruitment practices, and migrant workers. The aim is to assist both countries of origin and destination in developing mechanisms to deal with the ongoing crisis and implement policy responses that support the protection of migrant workers’ rights.

In Africa, the ILO is conducting Impact Assessment Surveys of COVID-19 pandemic on migrant workers’ protection, labour migration governance and recruitment related practices in different African sub-regions (e.g. IGAD, SADC) and at the country-level (e.g. Nigeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and more recently Mauritania). At the same time, the ILO is producing related material to improve migrant workers’ protection (e.g. Madagascar).

Dear colleagues,

This webinar has the objective of disseminating the results of the report “Impact assessment of COVID 19 on Migrant Workers in and from the IGAD Region” and presenting the preliminary results of the report “Rapid Impact Assessment of COVID-19 on Migrant Workers in SADC”.

As I end this statement, the ILO reiterates its commitment to support our tripartite constituents in formulating and implementing policy interventions, made on a scale that corresponds to the magnitude of labour market disruptions. Policymakers need to tailor policy responses, including continued income support and efforts to assist with workers’ return to employment, to avoid large-scale and long-term marginalization from labour markets – thereby ensuring that no one is left behind. We look forward to a very interesting discussion of the results of the findings of the surveys.

Thank you for your attention.