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By Sifelani Tsiko
The novel coronavirus pandemic threatens to destroy the livelihoods of more than 164 million workers in Africa’s informal economy – the largest employing sector, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said in its latest report.
The UN agency says Asia and Africa which both account for nearly 916 million workers from the informal economy are the hardest hit with full lockdowns of the informal sector.
It estimates that the number of workers from Africa stuck under complete lockdown measures is close to 164 million, while close to 101 million informal workers were under partial lockdown measures.
More than 1,6 billion workers, nearly half of the global workforce work in the informal sector worldwide.
The UN labour agency estimates that close to 1,1 billion workers lived and worked in countries that were in a total lockdown situation, with an additional 304 million in countries that had partial lockdown measures as of April 22.
Most countries in Africa and across the globe have imposed full lockdown measures that sought to enforce social distancing through mandatory workplace closures, internal travel controls and shutdown of public transport.
The ILO voiced concern over the sharp decline in working hours across the world because of disruptions in the labour market from lockdown measures.
It said lockdown measures had severe implications in terms sharp drops in incomes and livelihoods of the majority of workers in the informal sector.
The ILO estimated that the loss of working hours was equal to nearly 305 million full-time jobs worldwide.
In Africa, close to 10 percent of the working hours — equal to 37 million full-time jobs — may be lost this quarter across the continent, the UN labour agency reported.
The informal sector in Africa accounts for between 30% to 90% of all non-agricultural job and more than 40% of the GDP of most African countries.
The International Monetary Fund estimates that the informal sector’s share of the global economy has been falling on average over the last decade in Africa compared to the rest of the world due to weak financial inclusion mechanisms.
The outbreak of the coronavirus outbreak and the introduction of a raft of measures to prevent its spread has worsened the plight of many in the informal sector in Africa who survive on day – to – day trade for survival.
The majority of the poor workers in Africa’s informal sector are unable to survive without some form of daily trade.
Many have no big bank savings, credit cards and online commerce to be able to stay indoors or maintain social distance for prolonged periods.
Most African governments have closed flea markets and numerous trade activities in the informal sector to stop the spread of the pandemic.
This has exposed the financial precariousness of many in the informal sector.
Business activity for many in this sector require daily activity to earn an income and long spells from work can lead to the collapse of many livelihoods.
Income losses for the informal economy will be severe and economists say African governments must establish mechanisms to support this sector which employs the bulk of the populations on the continent.