COVID-19 response

COVID-19 and the world of work: What are the responses of the ILO Office for Central and Eastern Europe?

Central and Eastern Europe managed the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic (spring 2020) relatively well, but the region was heavily hit by the second and third wave in the fall/winter of 2020/21. The lockdowns and the global economic recession led to a steep economic decline in 2020. ILO estimates show that the crisis caused a strong reduction in economic activity and working time. Eastern Europe lost on average 8 per cent of all hours worked. This is equivalent to 10 Mio full-time jobs. Two thirds of these jobs were preserved as firms resorted to reduced working hours while the remaining one third of jobs were lost. The ILO figures for Western Balkan economies look very similar and report a loss of 8 per cent of hours worked (equivalent to around 560,000 employment losses). Forecasts say that GDP will reach its pre pandemic level by the end of 2021 or in 2022. However, uncertainty is high as these predictions assume that the region achieves a high vaccination rate and will not face more waves of the pandemic. Experience from other economic crisis shows that the labour market will only react to the economic recovery with a time lag.


What has the office done so far?

First, the office focused on producing solid evidence on the impact of the pandemic on labour markets and social security nets. The ILO completed rapid country assessments in Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. The reports describe impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on the labour markets, and recommend policy responses of the Government and social partners.

A recent report reviews the national social security measures in response to the COVID-19 crisis, analyses their effectiveness, and discusses future challenges in improving the social security systems. The report covers seven countries in the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe

In order to generate additional data on the impact of the crisis on enterprises, the office is assisting Employer’s organisations to run surveys among member companies. Reports from the second quarter in 2020 are available on Albania, Republica Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Ukraine. The office conducted follow-up surveys in the fourth quarter of 2020 for North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia (not yet published). 

As good analysis needs to lead to tangible interventions on the ground protecting jobs and people, we have been implementing several Covid-19 responses since spring 2020. The interventions range from training labour inspectors on facilitating a safe return to work to job and income protection measures, teleworking legislation, and moving to e-Learning for TVET students and entrepreneurs. For details, see the overview on current projects.

What is the service offer of the office for reducing the social and economic impact of the pandemic?

The menu of interventions developed to support countries in the region focuses on short-term measures that can be implemented through partners the office is already working with.

Specific interventions are:
  • Country-specific job protection packages that include adaptations of measures such as short-time work; short-term unemployment allowance; income compensation for self-employed, seasonal workers, returned labour migrants
  • Advice on drafting labour legislation in order to cover unprotected, non-standard workers such as seasonal workers, temporary agency workers, self-employed, or digital platform workers
  • Support tri- and bi-partite negotiations on measures aiming at coping with the crisis
  • Provision of short term social protection measures such as widened eligibility for unemployment benefits, cash transfers for securing basic needs, fiscal impact analysis of the social protection measures
  • Prevention of domestic violence during extended periods of homeworking (awareness-raising campaigns, trainings)
  • Support to working parents with caring responsibilities (guidance on flexible working time arrangements)
  • Provision of e-Learning in TVET
  • Enabling safer workplaces in a time of COVID-19: Using labour inspectors and social partners to advice on preventing the virus transmission at the workplaces.
A full list of possible interventions in response to COVID-19 is available upon request.