Covid-19: Nearly half of global workforce at risk of losing livelihoods, report says

This photo, taken on March 14, shows a worker supervising a machine that welds aluminum at a plant in Zouping, Shandong Province, China.
This photo, taken on March 14, shows a worker supervising a machine that welds aluminum at a plant in Zouping, Shandong Province, China. © STR / AFP

The sharp drop in global working hours due to the coronavirus means that nearly half of the global workforce – 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy – are in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed, the International Labour Organization warned on Wednesday.


In its third report on how the pandemic is affecting workers around the world, the UN agency warned of the impact on the most vulnerable who are often in the hardest-hit sectors.

The 1.6 billion people are at risk of seeing "massive damage to their ability to earn a living", said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.

"We all have to think of the human suffering, the human need that stands behind that extraordinary figure," he added.

The ILO said the crisis was causing an unprecedented reduction in economic activity and working time. It estimates that global working hours declined by 4.5 percent in the first quarter of 2020 compared with the last three months of 2019.

In the second quarter of 2020, global working hours are expected to be 10.5 percent lower than in the last pre-crisis quarter, due to the extension of lockdowns.

The ILO said these lost hours are the equivalent of 305 million full-time jobs. That number represents a major escalation of a previous second-quarter estimate of 195 million job losses.

The organisation said the Americas – down 12.4 percent, followed by Europe and Central Asia each down 11.8 percent – would be the regions losing the most working hours over the second quarter.

No income, no food 

The ILO said the hardest-hit sectors would be accommodation and food services, manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, and real estate and business activities.

"As the pandemic and the jobs crisis evolve, the need to protect the most vulnerable becomes even more urgent," said Ryder.

"For millions of workers, no income means no food, no security and no future.

"Millions of businesses around the world are barely breathing. They have no savings or access to credit,” he said.

"If we don't help them now, they will simply perish.”

The ILO found the proportion of workers living in countries with recommended or mandatory workplace closures has decreased from 81 to 68 percent over the last two weeks – mainly driven by the lifting of workplace shutdowns in China.

However, the situation has worsened elsewhere, with workplace closures increasing.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Take international news everywhere with you! Download the France 24 app