SME World Forum

Solidarity for Young Workers in the Wake of Corona

Wednesday, April 22, 2020 By Dr. Ayman El Tarabishy

267 million young people are already excluded from employment, education, and training (NEET status), we can only foresee that, similarly to the 2008 economic crisis, young people will be forced into inactivity. This moment of unemployment and discouragement can threaten the long-term prospects of an individual’s career because of that person’s lack of access to professional and social skills, as well as valuable on-the-job experience.

Described as being most certainly ‘unprecedented,’ the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the vulnerabilities in every sector of life, especially that of the workforce. These times require a great force of sustainability and commitment to both our local and global communities. In hoping to move forward towards a global conversation, it is time to be aware and conscious of how deeply the coronavirus has touched the world. Affecting every single working person around the world (3.3 billion workers), we need to consider who amongst this population needs the most focus and assistance. COVID-19 has exposed our weaknesses and, thus, caused a decline in employment, working conditions, earnings and incomes, contractual arrangements, sales and profits, numbers of employees, business survival, business solvency, and voice and representation. Amongst the population of workers, young workers are widely the most significantly affected. Since youth labor market outcomes are highly sensitive to the business cycle, the impact of the pandemic will be worse for younger workers. We can expect to notice an increase in unemployment and poverty for those situated in the demographic of young workers.

Being strongly responsive to decreases in GDP, economic shocks, and typically burdened by the “first out” approach, young people are not in the best position to survive this storm. As working hours decline by 6.7%, the global community realizes that young workers and, especially, young entrepreneurs may not have the experience nor strategies to cope with this scale of a crisis. Currently, three-fourths of workers are in some sort of informal employment position, which makes them ‘highly susceptible to aggregate demand shocks, lockdown, and contagion.’ With our current lack of social protection, in addition to limited access to healthcare services and income replacement during periods of illness, this pandemic will most certainly affect the typical activities of informal workers, specifically younger workers.

Before the coronavirus, young people were overrepresented in wholesale and retail, trade and accommodation, and food services sectors. These being the most heavily impacted sectors, young people can only expect that these changes will turn into lay-offs and lower earnings. The current situation provides limited opportunities for those young workers in the informal economy, while additionally, creating awkward conditions for young people outside the workforce.

As the combined population works to shift into new paradigms of being and doing, organizations around the world are creating frameworks to advocate and stimulate for survival and eventual advancement. To promote ‘job-rich inclusive growth,’ we must focus on ‘stimulating the economy and employment; supporting enterprises, jobs and incomes; protecting workers in the workplace; all while relying on the exchange of social dialogue to provide solutions’ (ILO). With the goal being to promote enterprises, employment, and incomes, nations must intervene on the levels of supply, intermediation, and demand. Specifically, it is necessary to provide social protection for all, to be open to different types of financial and non-financial support, to protect formal jobs, and to support and secure the lives and livelihoods of those working in the informal economy. In the Small Matters study, conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO), it was found that seven out of ten available employment opportunities are created by small to mid-sized enterprises (SMEs). Therefore, we need to uphold the needs of these businesses so that they might support their community’s employment needs.

As Susana Puerto, coordinator for the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth from the ILO, perfectly articulated, we must commit to each other in a time such as this. Governments and enterprises which work to be informed by their citizens’ and employees’ needs will succeed in promoting humane work opportunities for all.

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