Essential workers who kept families, societies and economies going while the world was on COVID lockdown, need better pay and conditions urgently, if countries are to future-proof themselves from the next global crisis, UN labour experts said on Wednesday.
“In a number of countries, key sectors are facing labour shortages, because people are increasingly reluctant to engage in work which is not properly, adequately, fairly valued by society and rewarded in terms of better pay and improved working conditions,” said Manuela Tomei, Assistant Director-General for Governance, Rights and Dialogue at the International Labour Organization (ILO).
According to a new report from ILO drawing on data from 90 countries, key workers remain severely “undervalued” and their contributions insufficiently recognized.
The study focuses on essential workers in sectors such as health, retail, food systems, security, sanitation and transport. ILO’s findings show that during the COVID-19 crisis these key workers suffered higher mortality rates than non-key workers, because of greater exposure to the virus.
They also continue to be over-represented among low pay workers, defined as those who earn less than two-thirds of the median wage.
Key recommendations in the report include strengthening regulation in essential areas such as wages and workplace safety, as well as targeting investments in the health and food sectors and in support of small businesses.