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.”

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