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COVID-19 Triggers Global Labor Crisis

FILE - Women sit in front of mannequins at a textile market shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 30, 2020.

Negotiating solutions to the global work crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic will be at the center of discussions at the International Labor Conference over the next two-weeks. Some 4,700 delegates from 176 countries have registered to attend thе conference, held virtually for the first time because of the pandemic.

During his opening remarks, Director-General of the International Labor Organization Guy Ryder told his largely invisible audience that global action was required to overcome what he called the cataclysmic impact of COVID-19 on the world of work.

Ryder said this work crisis is four times as severe as the one triggered by the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. He said 255 million full-time jobs had been lost last year because of the pandemic, wiping out $3.7 trillion of labor income.

“One hundred and eight million people pushed back into working poverty, and the most vulnerable and already disadvantaged [are] hit hardest — young people, women, informal workers, migrants.… The pandemic has confronted us with unbearable brutality with the reality and consequences of the multiple and growing inequalities in our societies,” he said.

Ryder noted the pandemic has worsened the inequalities that already existed. He said they have hardened into deep structural injustice, widening the fairness gap between the rich and poor countries.

He said all societies have suffered unbearable loss in health and wealth, but he said recovery from the pandemic was now underway in wealthy countries that have access to life-saving vaccines. These countries, he added, can look forward to getting back quite rapidly to pre-pandemic levels of GDP.

“But for low-income countries, and most of the developing world, the prospects are starkly different. The fact is that gross inequities in vaccine distribution and vastly different fiscal firepower will inject a double dose of more inequality into the world of work, with a booster from uneven digital connectivity. That is, unless deliberate action is taken to prevent it,” Ryder said.

The ILO chief noted that this terrible global crisis required a global response. He said only effective international action can close the growing divide between the have and have-not countries.

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