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  • Writer's pictureMelo Acuna

Women and young workers severely affected by job loss

Millions of jobs lost due to COVID-19 in the Asia-Pacific region

MANILA – The International Labor Organization (ILO) said massive drops in working hours because of the COVID-19 crisis resulted in damaging impact on jobs and incomes in Asia and the Pacific.

In a new study entitled “Asia-Pacific Employment and Social Outlook 2020: Navigating the crisis towards a human-centred future of work”, released from its regional office in Bangkok, Thailand, said the economic backlash of the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out some 81 million jobs in 2020. Almost all economies with available quarterly data for the year showed employment levels contracted compared to 2019.

The impact, according to the ILO study “has been far-reaching, with underemployment surging as millions of workers are asked to work reduced hours or no hours at all. Overall, working hours in Asia and the Pacific decreased by an estimated 15.2 per cent in the second quarter and by 10.7 per cent in the third quarter of 2020, relative to pre-crisis levels.

Working-hour losses are also influence by millions of persons moving outside the labour force or into unemployment as job creation in the region collapsed. According to available quarterly data, the report provides a preliminary estimate that the regional unemployment rate could possibly increase from 4.4 per cent in 2019 to be between 5.2 per cent and 5.7 per cent this year.

“COVID-19 has inflicted a hammer-blow on the region’s labour markets, one that few governments in the region stood ready to handle. Low levels of social security coverage and limited institutional capacity in many countries have made it difficult to help enterprises and workers back on their feet, a situation compounded when large numbers remain in the informal economy. These pre-crisis weaknesses have left far too many exposed to the pain of economic insecurity when the pandemic hit and inflicted its toll on working hours and jobs,” said Chihoko Asada Miyakawa, ILO Assistant Director General and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

Most countries in the region manifested a larger decline in working hours and employment for women than men. Women were more likely to move into inactivity than men. Young people, according to the report, were especially affected by working-hour and job losses.

“The youth share in overall employment loss was 3 to 18 times higher than their share in total employment,” according to the ILO study.

“The report shows a clear picture of young people and women being pushed out of work compared to other workers,” says Ms. Sara Elder, Senior Economist at the ILO Regional Office and lead author of the report. She added with increased unemployment, young workers are likely to find difficulty to compete for new jobs. If and when they find work, it may not even match their aspirations. Millions of women have also paid a high price and it could take years for the unemployed to return to full employment.

With lesser paid hours of work, median incomes are falling, according to the study. Labor income is estimated to have fallen by as much as 10 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region in the first quarters of 2020 or equivalent to a 3 per cent loss in gross domestic product. In absolute figures, preliminary estimates in the report find an additional 22 million to 25 million persons could fall into working poverty, which would push the total number of working poor (living on less than US$1.90 a day) in the Asia-Pacific region to between 94 to 98 million in 2020.

Ms. Elder said they were able to show in their report that government efforts to help enterprises retain workers, albeit on reduced hours, have worked to prevent what would be larger job losses.

“Given the mounting evidence that social protection and employment policies save jobs and incomes, the home is that the crisis brings about a more permanent and increased investment in elements needed to boost resilience and promote a more people-centered future of work,” she concluded. (Melo M. Acuña)

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