UN Policy Brief: The World of Work and COVID-19

COVID-19 causes unprecedented jobs crisis, almost all workers and businesses affected by lockdown measures.

News | 18 June 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world of work upside down. It is having a dramatic effect on the jobs, livelihoods and well-being of workers and their families, as well as on businesses – particularly micro, small & medium enterprises – worldwide, according to the Policy Brief on the World of Work and COVID-19 developed by the ILO Employment Policy Department in cooperation with the UN Secretary General and several UN organizations.

By mid-May, 94 per cent of the world’s workers were in countries with some type of workplace closures in place. Massive losses in working hours, which are equivalent to 305 million full-time jobs are predicted for the 2nd quarter of 2020, while 38 percent of the workforce – some 1.25 billion workers – is employed in high-risk sectors.

The Policy Brief, which draws on data and analysis from the ILO, warns many of those people who have lost their jobs and their livelihoods in recent months will not be able to re-enter labour markets any time soon. And many of the small and medium-sized enterprises – the engine of the global economy – are suffering immensely and many may not recover.

The Policy Brief says the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic are falling disproportionately on those who were already in precarious circumstances and who can least absorb the additional blow. The some 2 billion people toiling in the informal economy – often without rights at work and social protections – suffered a 60 per cent decline in earnings in the first month of the crisis alone.

Women have been particularly hard hit, as they are disproportionately represented in high-risk sectors and are often amongst the first to lose employment and the last to return. Persons with disabilities, already facing exclusion in employment, are also more likely to experience greater difficulties returning to work during recovery.

Young people account for more than four in ten employed globally in hard-hit sectors. Combined with disruptions in education and training, this places them at risk of becoming a ‘lockdown generation’ that will carry the impacts of this crisis with them for a long time.

The Policy Brief calls for a three-phrased response:
  • In the short-term, provide immediate support for at-risk workers, enterprises, jobs and incomes to avoid enterprise closures, job losses and income decline and mitigate the shift in work and labour into the domestic sphere. Interventions should build on existing institutions, while steering workers and enterprises towards sustainable development for a better and stronger recovery.
  • In the medium-term, ensure a comprehensive approach to returning to work without giving up on protecting the health of workers or forgoing hard-won gains to suppress the spread of the virus. Protecting health does not mean keeping enterprises and economic activity locked down.
  • In the longer-term, create decent and productive jobs for a green, inclusive, and resilient recovery and future of work. With this long-term vision in mind, policies need to ensure: Investment in social protection; transition to formality; investments in climate change and green jobs; a ‘high road’ to care work; targeted approaches for the most vulnerable and the hardest-hit and future-oriented sectors, including through developing job creation programmes and building a sustainable business environment and innovative business models; and to reduce the digital divide and leverage new technologies for human-centred development.