GENEVA (AFP) – Some 1.25 billion workers are seeing their livelihoods threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations said Tuesday, warning it was the “worst global crisis” since World War II.
In a fresh study, the International Labour Organization warned that the global spread of the new coronavirus and the drastic measures taken to rein in the disease would, during the second quarter of 2020 alone, wipe out 6.7 percent of working hours globally.
That is equivalent to 195 million full-time workers, the UN agency pointed out.
The study comes as the number of cases of the new coronavirus, which first emerged in China late last year, soared past 1.35 million worldwide, including more than 75,500 deaths, according to a tally compiled by AFP from official sources.
The report found that the Asia Pacific region would see the greatest loss in hours worked, with the equivalent of 125 million full-time jobs obliterated there over the next three months.
“The pandemic is having very serious consequences for the world of work,” ILO chief Guy Ryder told reporters in a virtual briefing.
“Just over four out of every five workers live in a country where partial or total lockdowns are in operation,” he pointed out, with a full 81 percent of the global workforce of 3.3 billion people now affected.
The agency said it expected there would be “huge losses” across all different income groups, especially in upper-middle income countries.
“This far exceeds the effects of the 2008-9 financial crisis,” it said.
And it cautioned that the number of people added to the world’s unemployment rolls this year due to the pandemic was now expected to be “significantly higher” than the 25 million it projected just two weeks ago.
That comes on top of the nearly 190 million people registered as jobless in 2019, prior to the pandemic, it said.
“During the past two weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified and expanded in terms of its global reach, with huge impacts on public health and unprecedented shocks to economies and labour markets,” the study said.
“It is the worst global crisis since the Second World War.”
ILO said that a full 1.25 billion workers were currently employed in sectors identified as being at high risk of “drastic and devastating” increases in layoffs and cuts in wage and working hours.
Many of these people “are in low-paid, low-skilled jobs, where a sudden loss of income is devastating,” it said.
At the same time, some two billion people worldwide work in the informal sector, mainly in poorer countries, and “are particularly at risk,” ILO said.
“Workers and businesses are facing catastrophe, in both developed and developing economies,” Ryder said in a statement.
“We have to move fast, decisively, and together. The right, urgent, measures, could make the difference between survival and collapse.”
ILO called for “large-scale, integrated policy measures” to help get employers and workers through the crisis, including broad support to enterprises, employment and incomes, stimulus packages for economies and jobs, and shoring up protections for workers in the workplace.
“The choices we make today will directly affect the way this crisis unfolds and so the lives of billions of people,” Ryder said, stressing that “with the right measures we can limit its impact and the scars it leaves”.
“We must aim to build back better so that our new systems are safer, fairer and more sustainable than those that allowed this crisis to happen.”