Leveraging 'People' Power of Sustainability
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“Migration is an expression of the human aspiration for dignity, safety, and a better future. It is part of the social fabric, part of our very make-up as a human family." - Ban Ki-moon, Former Secretary General of the United Nations
The onset of covid-19 virus in 2019 has changed the dynamics at work globally. The pandemic impacted migration all around the world. To be precise, migration movements were stalled for several months. Countries imposed strict migration rules to control the spread of the virus. Lockdowns were imposed and travel restrictions were implemented leading to migrant workers returning to their home countries.
Covid-19 has taken an awful toll on the global workforce. It has wrecked millions of jobs and caused unemployment. Migrant workers have suffered the worst during pandemic stuck in their destination countries, forced to leave jobs, unemployed, and with no access to social protection. Experts say, the impact is 14 times bigger than the one after the financial crisis a decade ago. In many economies, unemployment has risen to levels last seen in the 1930s, especially affecting low-skilled workers. This also heightened disparities that surfaced during the pandemic.
The ILO says, the remittances of migrants declined sharply by 20% in 2020. It was estimated that 75% of the world’s migrants work in countries from where three quarters of covid cases have been reported globally. 90% percent of global remittances are sent by migrants from these countries. In 2022, global remittances were likely to grow by 31 billion dollars, reversing last year’s decline as economies are recovering from the pandemic according to Asian Development Bank. Migrant workers were the most affected, not only by risk of infections but also by the unprecedented impact on work dynamics that changed the world. The second half of 2021 had again slowed down the global labour market recovery. As we have entered the third year, we see uncertainties looming in the labour market. The pandemic prevented full recovery of labour markets in 2021 due to the outbreak of new variants. This affected sustainable recovery in many countries. According to ILO, global unemployment is projected to stand at 207 million in 2022, surpassing the level in 2019 by some 21 million. The effect varies for developing nations that experience high levels of inequality, more divergent working conditions and weaker social protection systems even before Covid-19 affected the world. Developing nations struggled to adjust to volatility and instability due to shifts in economic growth. Travel and tourism industry suffered heavily from border closures and restrictions. Households were pushed to poverty due to reduced income and unemployment.
The past three years have paved way for remote working and made it convenient for employers to hire potential talent worldwide without any constraints. Higher autonomy and lesser interruptions increased the productivity of employees. There were changes in the education industry as well. Collaborations and online classes were made possible anywhere in the world bringing education and knowledge to the doorstep.
Many companies adopted cost cutting measures to stay afloat during these tough times. The domestic labour market was affected displacing people at work. The domestic labour market recovery is remarkable in high-income countries, while that of lower and middle-income countries is not encouraging. The scene in domestic labour market is no different from that of migrant workers globally.
The effects are being felt in labour markets across the world, though disparity in recovery can be seen. The European and the North American regions are showing quicker recovery, while South-East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean have been slow to improve. The report says, the lopsided impact of the predicament on women’s employment is likely to last in the imminent future.
International Labour Organisation (ILO) states that unemployment rate in the global scenario is expected to remain above pre-covid-19 levels until 2023. Many people have left the labour force increasing the unemployment figures. It is estimated in 2022, the global labour force participation rate is projected to remain 1.2 percentage points below that of 2019. Temporary employment created a cushion during the pandemic though many were terminated and contracts not renewed, new jobs were created. Pandemic enabled more gig workers to join the workforce due to several factors including flexible working hours.
To help mitigate the effects of Covid-19 on migrant workers, the ILO has made specific recommendations to protect migrant workers:
# Include migrant workers in all COVID-related health and recovery packages and services.
# Implement Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) measures on the basis of equality of treatment with nationals, and ensure protection from gender-based violence and harassment at work.
# Ensure that all migrant workers, including those in irregular situations, have access to free or affordable grievance and other dispute resolution mechanisms.
# Review and enhance bilateral agreements so that they contain effective mechanisms to protect migrant workers affected by sudden economic shocks, and to facilitate their safe return.
# Extend equality of treatment with nationals to ensure non-discrimination.
# Ensure that migrant workers do not pay recruitment fees or related costs (including those related to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), testing, vaccination, vaccination certification, quarantine etc.), in line with the General Principles and Operational Guidelines for Fair Recruitment
# Introduce guidelines for recruitment associations on monitoring and supporting and coordinating migrant workers during a pandemic (or similar crisis).
# Increase inspection and government oversight of recruitment practices.
# Ensure that recruitment associations disseminate information about health and safety protocols.
Though we see slow growth in the economy and the labour market, we need to be optimistic as technological changes and globalization have created unparalleled opportunities and challenge determining a new structure of occupations. Labour regulations protect workers from risks if they are well-designed and can facilitate labour market shifts thereby allowing people to engage in higher risk and higher income opportunities. Vigorous labour market programs such as, training, job-search assistance or support to self-employment can also help workers acquire the skills they need. Migration of workers within and between countries will always have an impact on the global labour market. For many, these programs can facilitate internal as well as international labour mobility and increase access to better economic opportunities.
Dr. Anitha Ramachander
Director- SoVega Agro Private Ltd
Founder- Witty Turtle
Educationist turned Entrepreneur, Dr. Anitha has more than two decades of academic experience. She has been the Director of a leading B-School in India and Mauritius.
A regular columnist at Deccan Herald, Dr. Anitha has published over 100 publications including books, book chapters, international journal articles and conference papers for publishers.
She has been conferred the PAUL HARRIS FELLOWSHIP, the highest award of Rotary International, in recognition to the outstanding participation in the Group Study Exchange program in Kentucky, USA. She is also a recipient of International Achievers’ Award 2010-2011 for Education Excellence. The Award was conferred on the occasion of 4th International Achievers’ Summit on “Global Business Opportunities” in Singapore. Indian Achievers Forum in association with Singapore Indian chamber of commerce and Industry (SICCI) and India-Thai Chamber of Commerce honours the outstanding achievers from all over the country and abroad.