Amid massive drops in working hours due to the COVID-19 crisis, around 81 million jobs were wiped out in 2020 in Asia-Pacific labour markets, according to a new report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The economic backlash of the pandemic had a devastating effect on jobs and incomes, mostly young people and women, in Asia and the Pacific, ILO said in its Asia-Pacific employment and social outlook report.
As per the report, employment levels contracted in nearly all economies with available quarterly data for 2020 as compared to 2019.
The impact of the crisis 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, the report noted.
The report said that working-hour losses are also influenced by millions of persons moving outside the labour force or into unemployment as job creation in the region collapsed. As per ILO preliminary estimate, unemployment rate could increase from 4.4 per cent in 2019 to somewhere between 5.2 per cent and 5.7 per cent in 2020.
"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.
According to the report, most countries in the region saw a larger decline in working hours and employment for women than men. Also, women were more likely to move into inactivity than men. Young people have also been 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, it said.
The report also warns that given the scope of the damage to labour markets, the overall size of the fiscal response in the region has been insufficient, especially in the region's developing economies. As a result of fiscal expenditure gaps, the crisis is likely to exacerbate inequalities among countries in the Asia and the Pacific.
On the positive side, the report noted that government efforts to help enterprises retain workers, albeit on reduced hours, have worked to prevent what would otherwise be larger job losses. "Given the mounting evidence that social protection and employment policies save jobs and incomes, the hope is that the crisis brings about a more permanent and increased investment in elements needed to boost resilience and promote a more people-centred future of work," ILO said.