Global job losses linger after lockdowns

Even as countries and economies begin to open up, Covid-19 has continued to batter workers and, according to recent estimates, losses in global working hours are considerably higher than expected. 

An International Labour Organisation (ILO) study released this week found that in the second quarter of 2020 global working time has dropped by 17.3% compared to last year. This is the equivalent of  495-million full-time jobs. Previous projections expected a 14% drop in global working hours.

The ILO report warns that working-hour losses are expected to remain high. The organisation expects a 12.1% (345-million full-time jobs) drop in the third quarter of 2020. 

Revised projections for the fourth quarter of this year also suggest “a bleaker outlook than previously estimated”, with working-hour losses expected to amount to 8.6%, or 245-million jobs. 

The high working-hour losses have cost workers $3.5-trillion. The pandemic has hit women, young and informal sector workers the hardest.


One of the reasons for the upward revision of working-hour losses is that workers in developing countries have been affected to a much greater extent than in past economic crises, the ILO report notes.

In a number of these countries, the losses of working hours are substantially higher than in the most severely affected advanced economies. 

This, the report surmises, has to do with more limited opportunities for teleworking, the more significant effects of the crisis on informal workers, the more limited role played by public-sector employment and the more limited resources for Covid-19 response measures in these countries.

In South Africa, which was hit by the pandemic amid an already deepening unemployment crisis, job losses are expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

Earlier this month, Statistics South Africa announced that the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) fell by just more than 16% between the first quarter and second quarter of 2020. 

The GDP decline in the first quarter caused a 30.1% decline in the unemployment rate, which is expected to worsen in the second quarter. In July, it was estimated that about 3-million South Africans lost their jobs in the first month of the lockdown.

The latest unemployment statistics for the so-called “pandemic quarter” will be released next week.

The ILO recommends that countries expand fiscal stimulus packages to mitigate the losses triggered by the pandemic. 

The ILO also notes that countries with larger fiscal stimulus packages also had lower working-hour losses in the second quarter of 2020. However, the global fiscal stimulus has been concentrated in high-income countries. 

The ILO estimates that, on average, an increase in fiscal stimulus by 1% of GDP would have reduced working-hour losses by 0.8% in the second quarter of 2020.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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