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Global employment, trade hit hard by pandemic

By LIU XUAN | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-04-13 10:39

People who lost their jobs wait in line to file for unemployment following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at an Arkansas Workforce Center in Fort Smith, Arkansas, US April 6, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Employment, working hours and world trade are all taking a massive hit globally as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts normal economic activity and life around the world, said major international organizations.

The novel coronavirus will wipe out 6.7 percent of working hours globally in the second quarter of 2020, which is equivalent to 195 million full-time jobs, according to a report released by the International Labour Organization on Tuesday.

The report, "ILO Monitor 2nd Edition: COVID-19 and the World of Work", said all income groups are expected to have huge losses, especially in upper-middle income countries, far exceeding the effects of the 2008-09 financial crisis.

The ILO foresaw large reductions in working hours in Arab states, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, and said more than 81 percent of people in the global workforce are currently affected by full or partial workplace closures.

Sectors such as accommodations, food and beverages, manufacturing and retail are identified as being at high risk of "drastic and devastating" increases in layoffs and reductions in wages and working hours, affecting about 1.25 billion workers, the report said.

Chen Yun, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Labor and Social Security, said industries based on customer service are suffering the greatest impact of the pandemic, as social distancing is one of the most powerful ways to cut off the spread.

Moreover, Chen said, these industries would be affected for the longest time, and would also have the slowest rate of work resumption.

The possibility of growth in the future to make up for these losses will decrease, since the outbreak has altered people's consumption habits, he added.

"It will also take some time for people to overcome the psychological effects of the pandemic," said Chen, adding that this will make it very difficult for sectors such as food and beverages to recover.

From a regional perspective, the ILO's report said the proportion of workers in these "at risk" sectors varied from 43 percent in the Americas to 26 percent in Africa.

In the United States, some Labor Department reports over the past two weeks indicated that around 10 million people have lost their jobs as businesses across the world's largest economy shut down to stop the virus's spread.

Another survey taken during the week of March 12 showed that the US economy lost 701,000 jobs and the unemployment rate increased 4.4 percent-the worst figures since March 2009 during the depths of the global financial crisis.

Workers and businesses are facing a catastrophe in developed and developing economies alike, said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, calling for more international cooperation to find solutions that help all segments of global society.

"If one country fails, then we all fail," he said. "The choices we make today will directly affect the way this crisis unfolds and so the lives of billions of people."

Meanwhile, the World Trade Organization said on Wednesday that global trade is expected to fall 13 percent to 32 percent this year.

Releasing its annual "Trade Statistics and Outlook Report", the WTO said the decline would likely exceed the trade slump brought on by the global financial crisis of 2008-09, and North America and Asia are expected to suffer the most.

The WTO estimated that a recovery in world trade of 21 percent to 24 percent could take place in 2021, but only if the pandemic is brought under control.

"The immediate goal is to bring the pandemic under control and mitigate the economic damage. ...But policymakers must start planning for the aftermath of the pandemic," said WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo. He added that "if countries work together, we will see a much faster recovery than if each country acts alone".

Xinhua contributed to this story.

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