COVID-19 and the World of work

ILO/EBRD rapid assessment finds coronavirus crisis cost Serbia equivalent to 510.000 full-time jobs

In Serbia, the coronavirus pandemic has led to a decline in working hours during the second quarter of 2020, equivalent to the loss of 510,000 full-time jobs. However, by offering the most generous and comprehensive economic package among the Western Balkan economies, the Serbian government contained “the expansion of poverty”, according to the new rapid assessment report, joint work of the ILO and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

News | 11 September 2020

© iStock

Following the introduction of strict public health measures and the subsequent slump in economic activity, working hours in Serbia declined by an estimated 14.8 per cent during Q2/2020. Shorter working hours and furlough schemes contributed significantly to this decrease. If the health crisis persists and employment retention programmes discontinue, however, people may be pushed into unemployment, the study warns.

The report identifies sectors in which over 700,000 workers are at immediate risk as the health crisis persists: wholesale trade, retail trade, accommodation, transport, services, forestry and logging, and crop and animal production. Of this workforce, almost 314,000 work on their own account and over 267,000 are informal workers. Microenterprises, employing more than 735,000 workers, were hit hardest by the crisis with more than one in four completely ceased operating. The government provided a generous financial assistance measure in the form of employment retention subsidies, which for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises amounted to about 65 per cent of total labour costs.

While the report welcomes the “near universal support to both firms and citizens”, it also offers five preliminary policy recommendations:

• A more selective and targeted approach
• Solutions to support a large number of circular and seasonal workers
• Mitigating the less visible social costs of the pandemic
• Optimising the new youth employment programme
• Using social dialogue more consistently and more effectively.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the ILO Office for Central and Eastern Europe and the EBRD established a joint task force to assess the impact of the crisis on the region’s economies by examining the likely short- and medium-term effects on employment and the labour market.

The report on Serbia follows already published studies and recommendations for Montenegro and North Macedonia.