COVID-19 To Push 40 Crore Indians Deeper Into Poverty: ILO
A view of poverty in IndiaPhoto credit: FEE

COVID-19 To Push 40 Crore Indians Deeper Into Poverty: ILO

50 lakh jobs in the Arab Gulf, where a majority of the workers are Indians, is expected to be lost

Around 40 crore Indian workers in the informal sector are at risk of falling deeper into poverty during the COVID-19 crisis, a fresh study from the International Labour Organization (ILO) reveals.

“COVID-19 is already affecting tens of millions of informal workers. In India, Nigeria, and Brazil, the number of workers in the informal economy affected by the lockdown and other containment measures is substantial,” the ILO report said.

According to the ILO, current lockdown measures in India, which are at the high end of the University of Oxford's COVID-19 Government Response Stringency Index, have impacted these workers significantly, forcing many of them to return to rural areas.

The Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT) aims to track and compare government responses to the coronavirus outbreak worldwide rigorously and consistently.

The OxCGRT systematically collects information on several different common policy responses governments have taken, scores the stringency of such measures, and aggregates these scores into a common Stringency Index.

Data is collected from public sources by a team of over one hundred Oxford University students and staff from every part of the world.

India ordered a nationwide 21-day lockdown on March 24, limiting movement of the entire 1.3 billion population of India as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 pandemic in India.

The lockdown was placed when the number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases in India was approximately 500.

Unfortunately, following the announcement of the lockdown, many impoverished migrants were left without work and unable to pay for their rent and food.

Without the ability to sustain themselves in urban centres and in light of the almost complete shutdown of public transportation, hundreds of thousands of migrant men, women, and children were forced to walk hundreds of kilometres trying to reach their villages and home states. Some have died making the journey.

And on March 29, to contain the spread of the virus, the Ministry of Home Affairs had also issued an order to states to intercept migrants on their way home and quarantine them for two weeks.

Amit Mishra, a workers’ rights activist in Uttar Pradesh, told The Lede, that the migrant workers who have returned from New Delhi and other urban centres are already clueless about their job security.

“Many were sent back without any assurance of re-joining the job when the COVID-19 crisis is over,” Amit who heads WADA foundation, a workers’ rights organisation, said.

Uttar Pradesh saw a mass return of migrant workers after job losses in Delhi and other cities.

50 Lakh Jobs Lost In Arab Gulf

Meanwhile, the ILO report reveals that around 12.5 crore workers in Asia and the Pacific region and 50 lakh workers in the Arab region will lose their jobs due to the COVID-19 effect.

“Workers and businesses are facing catastrophe, in both developed and developing economies... We have to move fast, decisively, and together. The right, urgent, measures, could make the difference between survival and collapse,” Guy Ryder, ILO’s Director-General, said.

According to the ILO, the COVID-19 crisis is expected to wipe out 6.7% of working hours globally in the second quarter of 2020 – equivalent to 19.5 crore full-time workers.

“Large reductions are foreseen in the Arab States (8.1%, equivalent to 5 million full-time workers), Europe (7.8%, or 12 million full-time workers) and Asia and the Pacific (7.2%, 125 million full-time workers),” the study reveals.

Huge losses are expected across different income groups but especially in upper-middle-income countries (7%, 100 million full-time workers). This far exceeds the effects of the 2008-09 financial crisis.

There are 90 lakh Indian workers in the Arab Gulf countries and many are low skilled and low paid workers.

This is the worst global crisis since World War II, the study says.

“This is the greatest test for international cooperation in more than 75 years,” said Ryder.

“If one country fails, then we all fail. We must find solutions that help all segments of our global society, particularly those that are most vulnerable or least able to help themselves,” Ryder adds.

Sectors At Risk

The sectors most at risk include accommodation and food services, manufacturing, retail, and business and administrative activities.

According to the new study, 1.25 billion workers are employed in the sectors identified as being at high risk of “drastic and devastating” increases in layoffs and reductions in wages and working hours. Many are in low-paid, low-skilled jobs, where a sudden loss of income is devastating.

These sectors employ 1.25 billion workers around the world, representing almost 38% of the global workforce. Depending on the country context, these workers are facing a drastic and devastating reduction in working hours, wage cuts and layoffs.

Of the economic sectors most affected, the wholesale and retail trade segment represent the largest share of workers, who are typically low paid and unprotected.

This group of 482 million workers includes, among others, checkout clerks, stockers, shopkeepers and workers in related jobs. Workers in this sector who are engaged in activities deemed essential (eg: food distribution) may continue to work, but they face greater occupational health risks.

According to ILO, the outlook is highly uncertain.

“The current outlook is characterized by an extraordinarily high uncertainty regarding both the magnitude of the current shock to economies, the duration of the shock, and the long-term impacts on businesses and labour market prospects,” the ILO study says adding that real-time monitoring and updating of policy responses is critical for all governments.

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