Covid-19 may render 27.3m non-agri sector workers jobless
ISLAMABAD – As many 27.3 million workers in non-agriculture sector of the country are at risk of losing their livelihood besides an estimated 56.6 percent of the population is socio-economically vulnerable due to COVID-19 crisis, reveals the Pakistan Economic Survey 2019-20 released here on Thursday.
The survey says that total 37.9 million workers are employed in non-agriculture sector out of the total 61.7 million labour force across Pakistan.
Out of 37.9 million non-agriculture workers, 27.3 million (72 percent) work in the informal sector which are most at risk of losing their livelihoods as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, says the document. The top two sectors where these informal economy workers are employed are wholesale and retail trade (33 percent) and manufacturing (23 percent).
Quoting the Labour Force Survey 2017-18, it says that as many 23.8 million are agriculture workers out of the total labour force of the country.
Among the most vulnerable, the expected loss of employment (across both the agriculture and non-agriculture sectors) is estimated to be between 12.5 million to 15.5 million in case of moderate slow-down of economic activity/partial lockdown, and between 18.7 million and 19.1 million in case of severe restrictions to economic activity/full lockdown, says the impact assessment report of the survey on COVID-19 outbreak. It is expected that wholesale and retail trade will lose maximum workers followed by manufacturing, construction and transport, it adds.
According to impact assessment report, an estimated 56.6 percent of the population is socio-economically vulnerable due to the COVID-19 crisis. Women and children, especially those from more disadvantaged households and those who are home-based workers, will be among the most impacted.
If further says that women dominate professions such as domestic workers, teachers and instructors in schools and colleges while several are also employed by SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises). Due to the lockdown conditions, closure of schools and colleges, stalling of transportation, and general inability to pay salaries, women are among the most vulnerable to lose employment. This could act to reduce female labour force participation in the country.
In addition, an analysis of home-based workers (HBWs) revealed that there are currently 12 million HBWs who earn around Rs 3,000 to 4,000 per month. Given that they belong to informal sector, they too face multidimensional issues such as low-income security and absence of social protection. In the current COVID-19 situation, this segment of labour force is arguably most at risk of losing livelihoods due to its inability to supply the required labour hours.
The impact assessment report recommends that there is a need to identify potentially vulnerable women-led households (approximately 13 percent) that are at greater risk of poverty, hunger and disease. Databases of poverty alleviation programmes such as Ehsaas and Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) can be leveraged to identify this target group.
Due to the resultant contraction in the global economy and restrictions on international and intercity travel, migrant workers (overseas Pakistanis) may be adversely impacted in terms of permanent or temporary unemployment, or reduction in incomes, says the survey. About 60,000 migrant workers who completed their registration at the Protectorate Office could not proceed overseas due to travel restrictions and domestic and international lockdown. Additionally, hiring for 100,000 foreign positions has been halted.
In addition to that, COVID-19 has directly impacted 42 million school going learners from pre-primary and primary to higher secondary and degree college levels. “This situation stands to potentially exacerbate risks and vulnerabilities to an already weak education system, as well as steepen illiteracy levels,” it says adding that this calls for a comprehensive approach to ensure continuity of learning, mitigating the spillover effects of economic recession and safeguarding our frail education system.
Provision of healthcare for non-COVID related illnesses is currently facing disruptions and closures with maximum resources and manpower being diverted towards responding to outbreak of pandemic, says the assessment report. This includes primary healthcare services such as routine immunization and general child healthcare.
Border closures and existing lockdown conditions, preventing market place activity, will potentially have a disruptive impact on the agriculture value chain, says the economic survey. It may lead to reduction in or non-availability of agricultural supplies such as Kharif plant seeds, fertilizers and livestock feed.
Lockdown, market closures, trade restrictions and disrupted supply chains may restrict people’s access to sufficient/diverse and nutritious sources of food, especially in those areas most impacted by the virus and with a pre-existing lack of food security. Reduction in purchasing power will also potentially lead to insufficient food and nutritional intake. These causes stand to decrease dietary intake and increase the prevalence of malnutrition and related health ailments in Pakistan.
The impact assessment on COVID-19 crisis concludes that the severity of the COVID-19 impact is yet to be fully determined due to its unprecedented nature.
It further says the dire need for reliable data availability and data banks has strongly emerged to better monitor the effectiveness of policy intervention and serve our large population. “Lack of investment in research and development, especially in the areas of health, medicine and related equipment to increase self-reliance has not been able to seek warranted attention.”