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Covid vaccine inequality is stalling jobs recovery, warns ILO

Jobseekers at a work fair in Los Angeles, United States, 05 October 2021. The ILO said the global labour market recovery has stalled and revives down its outlook for the year. (Photo: Keystone/EPA/Etienne Laurent)

Working hours equal to around 125 million full-time jobs are expected to be lost this year, some 25 million more than previously expected, due to a stalled and uneven pandemic recovery, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said on Monday.

The UN agency sharply revised its outlook for the devastating impact on people’s livelihoods of the Covid-19 crisis, which has claimed over five million lives and disrupted economies worldwide.

It now estimates the total number of hours worked this year to be 4.3 per cent below pre-pandemic levels compared with 3.5 per cent previously.

ILO director-general Guy Ryder told reporters at the press briefing in Geneva that the labour market recovery had stalled and the relative optimism at the beginning of the year had faded due to new waves of the Covid outbreak and a slower-than-expected recovery.

Ryder also called out the worrying divergence in the speed of the recoveries between high and lower-income countries, as the uneven roll-out of vaccines and disparities in fiscal stimulus packages deepen the divide.

In the third quarter of 2021, total hours worked in high-income countries were 3.6 per cent lower than the fourth quarter of 2019.

By contrast, the gap in low-income countries stood at 5.7 per cent and in lower-middle income countries, at 7.3 per cent.  Young people, especially young women, were also particularly hard hit.

“The pandemic has made an already unacceptably unequal world more unequal still,” he said, warning that without more equitable access to vaccines and fiscal resources, this “great divergence” will persist.

The ILO monitor estimates that for each 14 persons fully vaccinated in the second quarter of 2021, one full-time equivalent job was added to the global labour market.

With equal access to vaccines, low income and lower-middle-income countries could increase the hours worked in the last three months of the year by two and 1.2 percentage points respectively, it added.

Ryder, who will be taking part in the annual G20 summit in Rome this weekend, said he will be “standing in a queue” of organisation leaders urging politicians to act swiftly to ensure an inclusive recovery.

“They have the opportunities and the responsibility to act and the time to do so is absolutely now.”