The International Labour Organisation, ILO, has called on countries across the globe to improve the working conditions and earnings of key workers who were essential during the COVID-19 crisis.
According to a new ILO “World Employment and Social Outlook 2023” report, this is important to fully reflect their contribution to society and their importance in the daily functioning of economies
The report said the value of essential work underscored the extent to which economies and societies depended on key workers, and also how they were undervalued.
“The poor working conditions of key workers exacerbate employee turnover and labour shortages, jeopardizing the provision of basic services. jImprovements in working conditions and greater investment in food systems, health care, and other key sectors are necessary for building economic and social resilience to shocks,” the report said.
Speaking on the report, ILO Director-General, Gilbert F. Houngbo, said: “Healthcare workers, supermarket cashiers, delivery workers, postal workers, seafarers, cleaners, and others supplying food and necessities continued to perform their jobs, day in and day out, even at the height of the pandemic, often at great personal risk.
“Valuing key workers means ensuring that they receive adequate pay and work in good conditions. Decent work is an objective for all workers but it is particularly critical for key workers, who provide vital necessities and services both in good times and bad.”
During the COVID-19 crisis, key workers suffered higher mortality rates than non-key workers, overall. Among different categories of key workers mortality rates varied; for example, in countries with available data, transport workers had higher mortality rates than health workers.
The findings reveal the importance of occupational safety and health (OSH) protection, as well as the greater security associated with working in formal workplaces, with collective representation percent, and in cleaning and sanitation, it is 31 percent.
These sectors employ a large share of migrants, especially in high-income countries.
Nearly one-in-three key workers are on a temporary contract, although there are considerable country and sectoral differences. In the food industry, 46 percent are in temporary work. One-in-three employees in manual occupations and in cleaning and sanitation are on temporary contracts.
Cleaning and security work is commonly outsourced, and other key occupations are routinely staffed with agency workers. This is particularly the case in warehousing and increasingly so in healthcare.
More than 46 per cent of key employees in low-income countries work long hours. Long working hours are more common in transport, where nearly 42 percent of key workers across the globe work more than 48 hours a week. A substantial share of key workers around the world also has irregular schedules or short hours.
Nearly 60 per cent of key workers in low- and middle-income countries lack some form of social protection.
In low-income countries, social protection is minimal, only reaching 17 per cent of key workers. The picture is even bleaker for self-employed key workers in most developing countries, as they are almost entirely without social protection.