Leveraging 'People' Power of Sustainability
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As with any major global event, COVID-19 initiated a knee-jerk reaction around the world. Businesses and societies came to a halt while planning their way out of this crisis. With the halted movement of people and goods, immigration and labour market dynamics took a paradigm shift. In between these seemingly surreal realities, we explore the world around us with the above context.
Handling Of The COVID crisis: The Vested And The Invested
Though the COVID19 pandemic somehow united the world in crisis, the management and recovery path varied from one country to the other (Jha, 2021). Briefly, the key players and their role during this phase included-
a. Government- Government of each country was at the centre-stage being responsible for taking strategic direction and policy decisions to tackle the pandemic including decisions as to how to deploy front-liners and use available resources to get out of the situation. It is here that the world witnessed the vested and the invested with reference to the actions taken. For instance, how the marginal society was treated, social security was provided for small and medium businesses, healthcare facilities offered, youth engagement policies made with a genuine interest for building a positive future, as well as, how the country cooperated and helped other countries in this unprecedented time. The world saw leaders who tirelessly and selflessly worked through this difficult time with an objective of faster recovery and sustainable development. Whereas, on the other hand, there were also those who were dealers in disguise.
b. Frontliners – The untiring and selfless contributions of millions of front-line workers including medical and healthcare professionals, law enforcements, tutors and academicians, public transport specialists and more should never be forgotten. When the world stood still, they kept moving to keep the world safe and a better place to live in.
c. Businesses/Industries- For most businesses and industry, the pandemic presented a tough test of resiliency. The cost of operation increased many fold and newer ways of working, like remote and hybrid working became a new normal. For instance, in Australia, 40% of all businesses reported an increase in operating expenses in the past months and almost one in five had staff unavailable due to COVID-19. Almost one in ten businesses were anticipating the change in operating expenses due to supply chain disruptions, recent floods and geopolitical world events (ABS, 2022).
d. The People- In most of the economies, the common people were left with very little choice but to abide by what the respective Governments decided on their behalf, for good or worse. Socio-economically speaking, globally, more than 144 million jobs were lost during this phase of time causing a major shift.
In Australia, underemployment hit a historic high of 13.8% with youth underemployment rising to 23.6% by April 2020. By 2020, 870, 000 people in Australia lost their jobs (ABS, 2021). The World Bank notes, “The new poor are likely to be more urban and educated than the chronic poor, more engaged in informal services and manufacturing and less in agriculture” (Pawar, 2021). The World Health Organisation (WHO) recorded 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide with the rise in unprecedented stress caused by social isolation resulting from the pandemic (WHO, 2022).
For young people enrolled in education, the newer home-based learning methodologies negatively impacted them in terms of restrictive social interactions with both their physical as well as psychological needs unmet (AIHW, 2021). For those in the middle-aged spectrum especially the women, lives and livelihoods were grossly impacted. A recent report notes that women’s jobs were 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs (McKinsey, 2020). As far as the elderly people were concerned, they were the worst affected by not only the virus and the consequent lockdown measures but also the digital divide. Healthcare denied for conditions unrelated to COVID-19, neglect and abuse in institutions and care facilities, an increase in poverty and unemployment, impact on well-being and mental health and the trauma of stigma and discrimination are the key effects experienced by the elderly people (UN, 2020).
During the pandemic phase, movement of people came to halt and immigrant-dependent economies like Australia faced even more challenges to manage the labour market dynamics.
Immigration And Labour Market Dynamics In The Post-COVID World- A reference to Australia
As we know, immigration is the process of moving into a new country usually in search of new prospect and better opportunity for settling in and living there permanently. Over the past many years, migration has played a critical role in shaping Australia's society and economy. With nearly 30% foreign-born residents, Australia has one of the highest amounts of immigrants in the world (both in total numbers, and per capita) (Wikipedia, 2022). Australia's projected population will be 38 million by 2050 and migration is expected to be contributing USD 1,625 billion to Australia's GDP (MCA, 2015). Thus, for a successful immigration story to continue especially post COVID-19, more thrust has to be given on economic integration of the immigrants to make the nation an attractive destination that provides fair access to the local labour market and help realise the once popular perception of ‘living the Australian dream’.
The great Australian dream for a good life was a major attraction for immigrants. However, as a recent research rightly notes, with rising cost of living, less jobs and growth prospects, “there is a growing gap between Australians’ hopes for a decent, middle-class life, and the gritty reality faced by most households – who find it harder and harder to pay their bills, and who worry that their children will never have the same opportunities we once took for granted” (Stanford, 2019). Another report also notes that in Sydney, where the housing prices and cost of living surge is strongest, it took about four times the median household income to buy a home in 1975. Today, with a median house price surpassing A$1m, that figure is 12 times and is pricier than in New York and San Francisco. Australian millennials risk becoming the first generation in the country’s recent history to be poorer than their parents at the same age (Safi, 2016).
Briefly, such a scenario could be attributed to geopolitical influence, political motive and inefficient labour market functionaries like the agents with vested interest who help in influencing the labour market outcome, casualisation and insecure work, while eventually dragging down the whole economy in the long-run.
Plainly speaking, the COVID-19 disruptions have taken its toll on the health and well-being of people and their level of tolerance. Therefore, at this critical post-COVID juncture, any policy missteps would only negatively impact the already tense situation. To sum up it would be prudent to ponder upon the statement made by the ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder and align our actions without wasting any further time- “Two years into this crisis, the outlook remains fragile and the path to recovery is slow and uncertain. We are already seeing potentially lasting damage to labour markets, along with concerning increases in poverty and inequality. There can be no real recovery from this pandemic without a broad-based labour market recovery. And to be sustainable, this recovery must be based on the principles of decent work – including health and safety, equity, social protection and social dialogue”.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2021), One year of COVID-19: Aussie jobs, business and the economy, Australian Bureau of Statistics Mar 2021.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2022), Business conditions and sentiments, Mar 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) (2021), COVID-19 and the impact on young people, 24 June 2021
McKinsey (2020), COVID-19 and gender equality: Countering the regressive effects, 15 July 2020
Migration Council of Australia (MCA) (2015), The Economic Impact of Migration
Pawar, M. (2021), More than 144 million jobs lost, COVID caused a global employment shift, Charles Sturt University
Safi, M (2016), The death of the great Australian dream, The Guardian
United Nations (UN) (2020), Policy Brief- The impact of COVID-19 on older persons, May 2020, UN
Wikipedia (2022), Foreign-born population of Australia, Wikipedia
World Health Organisation (WHO) (2022), COVID-19 pandemic triggers 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide, 2 March 2022
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