New UN report offers blueprint for greener, more resilient world of work

19 June 2020

Jobs, livelihoods and the well-being of workers, families and businesses across the globe, continue to take a hit from the COVID-19 pandemic; with micro, small and medium enterprises in particular, suffering the dire economic consequences, according to a new policy brief released by the UN on Friday.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world of work upside down”, said Secretary-General António Guterres. “Every worker, every business and every corner of the globe has been affected. Hundreds of millions of jobs have been lost”.

Vulnerable groups are particularly affected, including informal workers, young people, women, persons with disabilities, refugees and migrants, highlights the World of Work and COVID-19 .

The report reveals the disproportionate and devastating impact on young people, raising the possibility of an entire so-called “lockdown generation”, which will likely emerge with fewer skills and smaller pay packets. 

In addition to young women, who are at particular risk, this also threatens to increase inequalities, both within and between countries.

“Women have been especially hard hit – working in many of the most critically affected sectors, while also carrying the greatest burden of increasing levels of unpaid care work”, stated the UN chief. “Young people, persons with disabilities, and so many others, are facing tremendous difficulties”.  

Economic reset

Meanwhile, high levels of informal work coupled with inadequate fiscal support for equal social protections, leave developing and fragile economies in the lurch, least able to cope.  

A reset to the past is not an option, the report spells out, endorsing a recovery that tackles underlying deficits in social protection, unpaid care work, labor rights protection and risks associated with new technologies.

“It is time for a coordinated global, regional and national effort to create decent work for all as the foundation of a green, inclusive and resilient recovery”, stressed the world’s top diplomat.  

Three-stage approach

Against this backdrop, World of Work lays out a three-phased response, which recommends, in the short-term, keeping businesses open and jobs available. It contends that interventions be built on existing structures, while steering activity towards sustainable ‘green’ development. 
Without compromising the health of workers or becoming less vigilant in the battle to contain the virus, the second phase focuses on the medium term and encourages a structured restart of economies and a return to work. 

“Protecting health does not mean keeping enterprises and economic activity locked down”, the report advises. 

And the final phase considers the long-term, pushing for the creation of decent jobs that support a green, resilient recovery and an inclusive future of work, that invests in social protections and increasing formalization of the workforce.  

Looking ahead

Pre-pandemic fears over existing challenges, such as new technologies, demographic changes, climate change and globalization, were already fueling anxiety the world over, the report argues.  

COVID-19 is exacerbating this unease by triggering unemployment, growing poverty, the tearing of the social fabric, together with political and economic destabilization.

“This crisis in the world of work is adding fuel to an already burning fire of discontent and anxiety”, asserted the UN chief. 

While the world cannot go backwards to pre-COVID days, it can proactively shape a “new, better, normal” in moving forward, according to the report. 

A glance at the key numbers

•    Some 1.25 billion workers are employed in high-risk economic sectors, such food and accommodation; retail and wholesale; business services and administration; and manufacturing.

•    While almost one in five young people are out of work through COVID, those employed have had their hours cut by 23 per cent. 

•    Women are disproportionately employed in the worst-affected sectors, including caring professions, where they make up between 60-70 per cent. 

•    Informal economy workers, who often lack social protection, suffered a 60 per cent drop in earnings in the first month of the crisis, alone. 

•    By mid-May, 94 per cent of the world’s workers were living in countries suffering workplace closures. 

“The world of work cannot and should not look the same after this crisis”, he upheld. “It is time for a coordinated global, regional and national effort to create decent work for all as the foundation of a green, inclusive and resilient recovery”.  

A man at work in Algeria wears a face mask to protect himself from COVID-19.
ILO/Yacine Imadalou
A man at work in Algeria wears a face mask to protect himself from COVID-19.



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