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Hazards and insecurities for Workers in the World - International Labour Organization Report

The International Labour Organization recently published the report on the status of workforce and the conditions majority of them work in. The report indicate pointers that tells how the world is dependent on them and the importance of work they do which we tend to ignore at times.

By March 2020 when the COVID stuck the world, 80% of the world’s population lived in countries with required workplace closures.

Across the world, these workers produced, distributed and sold food, cleaned streets and buses to minimize the spread of the pandemic, ensured public safety, transported essential goods and workers to their jobs, and cared for and healed the sick. These are the key workers and they can be found among eight main occupational groups: food system workers, health workers, retail workers, security workers, manual workers, cleaning and sanitation workers, transport workers, and technicians and clerical workers.

According to the report, Across the 90 countries with available data, key workers make up 52% of the workforce, although the share is lower in high-income countries (34%), where economic activities are more diversified and there is a smaller share of workers in agriculture.

Women account for 38% of all key workers globally, which is lower than their share in non-key work (42%). Women constitute two thirds of key health workers and more than one half of key retail workers, but they are grossly under-represented in security and transport.

High-income countries rely heavily on international migrants to perform key services in occupations like agriculture and cleaning and sanitation.

The findings reveal the importance of occupational safety and health (OSH) protections – to which transport workers had less access – but also the benefits of working in formal workplaces with collective representation. Formally employed workers with job security and union representation had working environments were able to fare better with the increased demands and risks of working during the pandemic.

Key enterprises that provided goods and services deemed essential by governments at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic faced many challenges. These included managing disrupted supply chains, financial uncertainty, declines in investment, problems with staffing, and implementing emergency OSH guidelines. These issues were more acute for micro and small enterprises.

Major Highlights of the report:

During the pandemic, the incidence of verbal abuse and threats increased sharply for all key workers. Nearly one in three key employees is on a temporary contract, though there are considerable country and sectoral differences.

More than 46% of key employees in low-income countries work long hours, while a substantial share of key workers around the world has irregular schedules or short hours.

On average, 29% of key employees are low paid regardless of countries’ level of development. Key employees earn 26% less than other employees.

Nearly 60% of key workers in low- and middle-income countries lack some form of social protection. Less than 3% of key workers in low- and lower-middle-income countries received training during the preceding 12 months.

Specific groups of key workers are exposed to particular hazards or insecurities:

Food system workers regularly face high levels of working poverty, endure OSH risks, and overall are poorly covered by labour and social protection.

Health workers face significant OSH challenges, including exposure to psychological risks. Working conditions in occupations such as care work reflect women’s gender segregation, low remuneration and pay gaps.

Security workers face elevated risks of violence and harassment, and more than one third work excessive hours. They are at greater risk of developing physical and psychological illness as a result of their work.

Warehouse work has expanded with the boom in e-commerce, yet the work entails comparatively low pay, a high prevalence of temporary contracts and subcontracted work, high worker turnover, and few prospects for training and career progression.

Cleaning and sanitation workers routinely face stigmatization. Many are employed on temporary contracts, and they are one of the lowest-paid occupational groups. More than three out of five key transportation workers work long hours, contributing to significant safety and health risks.

Proposed solutions:

Safety and health protections that apply to all branches of economic activity and all workers, regardless of their employment status

Investments in physical and social infrastructure in key sectors are necessary for improving working conditions and strengthening business continuity.

Investments in health and long-term care. Adequate investments in health and long-term care are costly, but they pay off. The ILO estimates that increased spending to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal targets on health would generate 173 million jobs.

Investments in resilient food systems. Agricultural workers are highly susceptible to income fluctuations and would benefit from minimum guaranteed prices and insurance systems. Infrastructure investments would further support the productivity and sustainability of food systems.

Investments in resilient enterprises. 85% of key workers are in the private sector. Ensuring that enterprises have adequate resources and capacities is thus a prerequisite to attain decent work for key workers as well as to reinforce our capacity to maintain the delivery of key products and services during a crisis.

Governments and employers and workers organizations should come together to develop an actionable road map for identifying and addressing specific obstacles to the delivery of key goods and services, both in good times and bad.

Like an insurance policy, such a strategy would more than pay for itself when the next crisis hits. This is one of the most important policy lessons to be drawn from the COVID-19 pandemic.

All credits for above information goes to International Labour Organization (



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