Resilience and decent work can mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on Jordan’s labour market

Comment | 26 March 2020
By Maha Kattaa, ILO Resilience and Crisis Response Specialist

As the world continues to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic that is claiming the lives of thousands across the globe, we begin to see the impact the crisis is having on all aspects of our lives.

From schools and businesses being shut down, to more and more people being encouraged to work from home – the world of work is facing drastic changes and uncertainties as never experienced before.

As the ILO’s Director General Guy Ryder said last week, “this is no longer only a global health crisis, it is also a major labour market and economic crisis.”

According to ILO estimates, the economic and labour crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic could increase global unemployment by almost 25 million. However, if we see an internationally coordinated policy response, as happened in the global financial crisis of 2008/9, then the impact on global unemployment could be significantly lower.

The ILO preliminary assessment issued recently calls for urgent, large-scale and coordinated measures across three pillars: protecting workers in the workplace; stimulating the economy and employment; and supporting jobs and incomes.

These measures include extending social protection, supporting employment retention (i.e. short-time work, paid leave, other subsidies), and financial and tax relief, including for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

These are indeed crucial measures which we all – international agencies, governments, employers and workers from around the world – must address to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our labour markets and populations.

Mitigating the impact on Jordan’s labour market

Much of the Arab World already has to contend with pre-existing labour market challenges; whether in relation to the refugee influx, high youth unemployment, low female participation rates or high informality. The current conditions add additional challenges and burdens to workers, employers and governments.

Jordan is taking a number of concrete measures to fight the spread of the virus. These include the closing of shops and businesses across the country, a government-imposed curfew on citizens and residents, and the closing of international airports as well as border crossings with neighbouring countries.

These measures are pivotal in battling the spread of the virus. But we must also examine the new challenges the crisis has created in the labour market, especially for the most vulnerable workers – be they Jordanians, refugees or migrants.

Daily or seasonal workers such as those employed in agriculture or construction; workers and their families who are not covered by social security or other safety nets; refugees living inside camps or Jordanians living in impoverished conditions - these are only a few examples of workers whose existing vulnerabilities have been or will be compounded by the current crisis.

The ILO and partners have been addressing the labour market needs of such vulnerable groups in Jordan and the wider region for years – through different programmes including responding to the refugee crisis and by other means. Yet, the current situation has created new challenges and an urgent need for a new and immediate response.

A part of this response should be rethinking our approaches to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on Jordan’s labour market through resilience and decent work.

First and foremost, we need to conduct a rapid assessment on the impact of the current situation on unemployment and underemployment as well as its implications on labour income and working poverty, through on-line and phone surveys, and examining existing government and employment centre databases.

Such an assessment can help us better understand the scope of the crisis and some of the pressing issues and concerns which workers from different walks of life are facing today, such as their current employment status, source of income, expenditure channels and poverty levels. These results can help us design new interventions which meet the needs of these workers.

Secondly, we need to re-assess some of the key policies which govern the labour market in Jordan today and examine some of the current policy measures the government is undertaking to address the crisis, in relation to social security and other measures to assist various sectors. We need to understand what gaps and shortfalls exist and propose a set of policy recommendations to ensure that no one is left behind. Such measures could include expanding social protection for all, instituting government subsidies and universal health insurance, encouraging and facilitating remote and flexible work, and supporting the private sector.

Finally, we need to examine ways to redesign and adapt existing employment and livelihoods interventions in order to address people’s current needs. It is difficult at this stage to know how long this crisis will last. We therefore need to envisage different scenarios and develop action plans that address short, medium and long-term crisis situations.

For the ILO in Jordan, this would mean continuing to work with partners to develop skills, support employment creation and livelihoods opportunities, as well as promote decent working conditions for all by finding innovative and alternative solutions to reach our beneficiaries. This can include:
  • Encouraging and supporting the establishment of more home-based businesses, based on existing skills, while ensuring that children in these households continue to receive education remotely, and not engage in any form of child labour.
  • Continuing to work with the agriculture sector, which is one of the strategic sectors that will flourish due to growing demand. We must also ensure decent working conditions in the sector by allowing labour committees to play a bigger role in monitoring working conditions. At the same time, we should ensure that workers have access to on-line courses on developing new skills required by their sector, on occupational safety and health measures including those related to COVID-19, and on improving working conditions.
  • Designing new models for employment service centres which have currently suspended their face-to-face consultations with job-seekers. This can be done through mobilizing and making use of the existing e-counselling employment platform, which relies on web, mobile and phone services to reach workers.
  • Reshaping and re-designing models of the ILO’s Employment Intensive Investment Programme (EIIP), to address the risks and challenges imposed by COVID 19, such as ensuring social distancing at work and increasing the number of projects that improve the infrastructure in communities.
  • Taking advantage of digital technology and social media to encourage people to access on-line courses and videos to learn new skills and upgrade existing skills, as well as on-the-job training tutorials. Awareness-raising sessions on occupational safety and health in the context of COVID 19 can also be provided digitally.

ILO Recommendation 205 on Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience, adopted in 2017, focuses on “world-of-work related measures to prevent and respond to the devastating effects of crises on economies and societies.” This Recommendation provides guidance on measures to generate employment and decent work for the purposes of prevention, recovery, peace and resilience with respect to crisis situations arising from conflicts and disasters. Now more than ever, we need to encourage the practical implementation of Recommendation 205 in Jordan and elsewhere so that we can promote employment and build resilience while we continue to combat the current global crisis.