The ‘lockdown generation’ has been hit hardest by Covid-19

Young people are disproportionately affected by the jobs purge triggered by the Covid-19 economic crisis.

This is according to a report recently released by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which tracks the continued effects of the pandemic and global efforts to curb infections.

Fifteen-to-25-year-olds “are facing multiple shocks from the Covid‑19 crisis, which could lead to the emergence of a ‘lockdown generation’”, the report reads. Because global youth employment is concentrated in some of the hardest-hit sectors — including manufacturing and hospitality — and in the informal economy, the economic blow to this age group has been “faster and harder”.

According to the report, before the pandemic, more than four in 10 young workers globally were working in the four sectors that are most adversely affected by the crisis. And almost three-quarters of those young people (131-million) were informally employed.

“When employed, young people are concentrated in types of work that render them vulnerable to income and job losses during the current crisis,” the report notes, adding that this group is more prone to income shocks,owing to their already lower salaries and savings. 


Statistics South Africa’s most recent quarterly labour force survey put the country’s youth unemployment rate at 58.1% in the last quarter of 2019, up by 3.4% from the previous year.

As a result of this shocking statistic, the government has focused its employment efforts on young people. In his State of the Nation address in February, President Cyril Ramaphosa described youth unemployment in South Africa as “a crisis”.

Now, faced with the new crisis triggered by the pandemic, legislators  have questioned the success of existing plans to create more jobs.

The agendas of two recent portfolio committee meetings were almost derailed by criticism of the employment and labour department’s ability to fulfil its employment mandate, levelled in the main by Democratic Alliance MPs Michael Cardo and Michael Bagraim.

Last week, in a meeting on the annual performance plans of the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and the Compensation Fund, Bagraim likened its agenda to “moving the deck chairs on the Titanic”. He said much that was presented by the entities at the meeting was “absolutely irrelevant”, considering the inevitable economic shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The ILO’s report paints a dire picture of the future of global job security, even as many governments ease lockdown regulations and workers return to their jobs.

According to the report, estimates show a decline in working hours of about 10.7% relative to the last quarter of 2019. This is equivalent to 305-million full-time jobs.

On Tuesday night, during a committee meeting on the department’s draft budget, Cardo pushed for his colleagues to make a statement about  whether the department is “fit for purpose in tackling this huge unemployment crisis”.

“I think we should reflect on whether the department of employment and labour has been successful in incorporating that employment focus into its everyday work,” he said. 

“This observation would seem to be all the more important to make now that we are facing an unemployment crisis of unprecedented proportions in South Africa, with the prospect of three to seven million people joining the ranks of the unemployed.”

Although others disputed that the meeting was the right time to make such a statement, Bagraim said: “If you look at that expanded mandate, we were the worst in the world percentage-wise for unemployment … This was before Covid-19 … So to say that they had some intervention like the … surely, we need to say that the department has failed?”

During the earlier meeting employment and labour director general Thobile Lamati said the department is “currently sharpening our instruments and our tools” to deal with the effects of the lockdown on jobs.

UIF commissioner Teboho Maruping said the fund planned to set aside 10% of its assets to fund job creation schemes by March 2025, and to create 5 000 jobs by 2021 through its investments. 

The Compensation Fund plans to create an additional 4 000 jobs through the president’s youth employment scheme and 7 000 jobs through its investments by 2025.

Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi said the department’s job-creation plans will be dealt with at a later date, as part of “an integrated strategy coming from government, because there is a lot of debate about this relating to the future”.

He added: “Once the storm comes, we will be able to talk about that.”

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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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