As vicious cycle turns, gig workers at bottom of job wheel

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Gig workers will likely be hit more than others by the coronavirus, the International Labor Organization (ILO) warned in a new report. On the flipside, permanent workers are going into telecommuting as countries impose lockdowns.

Citing a report from the Washington, DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, the ILO said as much as 70 percent (or a low of 40 percent) of the world’s population could become infected by the coronavirus 2019 pandemic.

Meanwhile, gig workers are susceptible. They do not have access to paid or sick leaves and are less covered by social protection that provides smooth sailing in turbulent income waters, the United Nations agency said in a preliminary assessment report entitled “Covid-19 and the World of Work: Impacts and Responses”.

Workers worldwide could lose as much as $3.4 trillion in wages by the end of 2020, driving millions into poverty, it said. There will be between 20 million and 35 million more working people in poverty than before the pre-Covid-19 estimate for 2020. Before the pandemic, a decline of 14 million working poor was seen for 2020.

The estimates are based on the absolute poverty threshold of less than $3.20 in 138 poor and middle-income countries.

Job-wise, the vulnerable groups are those with underlying health conditions and older people most at risk of developing serious health issues. As seen during the global financial crisis, young persons, already facing higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, are also more vulnerable.

The number of affected women will be greater compared to men, with ILO estimating that 58.6 percent of employed women in the services worldwide will be affected compared to 45.4 percent of men.

Certain groups will be disproportionately affected by the jobs crisis, which could increase inequality, the report said. These include people such as casuals and gig workers in less protected and low-paid jobs.

The youth, older workers, and migrants are vulnerable due to the lack of social protection and rights, and women tend to be over-represented in low-paid jobs and affected sectors.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, 8.8 million and 35 million additional people will be in working poverty worldwide, compared to the original estimate for 2020 which projected a decline of 14 million worldwide, warned the report.

“This will translate into falls in consumption of goods and services, in turn affecting the prospects for businesses and economies,” said ILO director-general Guy Ryder. “This is no longer only a global health crisis; it is also a major labor market and economic crisis that is having a huge impact on people.”

Almost 25 million worldwide will lose employment because of the pandemic, the ILO report said. That’s higher than what happened after the global financial crisis in 2008-2009 when global unemployment reached 22 million.

The ILO said indicators show a rise in global unemployment of between 5.3 million in a “low” scenario and 24.7 million in a “high” scenario.

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