August 14, 2020

The OECD designates Spain as the country with the most workers at risk of COVID-19 infection


The annual employment report of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) is marked by how the coronavirus pandemic has affected employment in the so-called ‘club of rich countries’ and by the recommendations for the crisis in the employment does not lead to a “social crisis”. One of the data for which the international organization especially points to Spain is for its large proportion of workers in positions “at risk” to the coronavirus. Almost six out of ten workers (56%) perform jobs that carry risks of infection with the virus, the highest number of the 24 analyzed countries of the OECD, which presents an average of 48% of workers at risk.

ILO warns that pandemic threatens progress in equality in the world of work

ILO warns that pandemic threatens progress in equality in the world of work

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At a time of reopening of many workplaces and recovery of a certain “normality” after the worst moments of the pandemic, the OECD warns of the need for a return to work marked by safety and health prevention. It is the “main short-term objective to limit the spread of the virus, prevent an increase in sick leave and ensure that workers feel safe enough to work effectively,” the report said.

According to the agency’s analysis, around half of the working population is “at risk” of contagion in the performance of their work. A figure that changes by country, with the highest record in Spain (56%), followed by Slovakia (53%) and Ireland (52%), and the lowest figures in Luxembourg (39%), the Czech Republic (44%) ) and Estonia (44%). The study justifies the differences between countries, mainly due to differences in the composition of occupations, according to the degree of physical proximity with colleagues by profession and the most frequent physical interactions with the public.

Although the OECD annual report does not break down more detailed data on the risk of contagion faced by workers – pending the next study release – it does highlight that women are relatively more likely to work in “risky” jobs in all OECD countries except Greece. The same is true for low-income workers, who more often accept jobs that, under normal conditions, expose them to physical contact and an increased risk of infection.

On the other hand, the OECD points out that workers at risk do not vary too much depending on the population density of the workers’ place of residence: while urban areas have a higher proportion of work that can be done from home, outside of cities have a higher proportion of jobs that do not allow teleworking, but instead involve a low level of physical proximity.

Given the high number of workers exposed to contagion, the organization recommends “continue promoting telework”, as well as implementing “the occupational safety and health practices” necessary to limit the spread of contagion. In the opinion of the OECD, it is not only advisable to “define the best practices” to work safely, but also “support companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises” in their application, for which it recommends negotiation with social dialogue.

More unemployment than expected by the Government

The agency projects its unemployment estimates, which will take the average levels of the OECD to maximums, above the data recorded in the past crisis that started in 2008. “The unemployment rate for the entire OECD could reach 9.4% in the fourth quarter of 2020, surpassing all the peaks reached since the Great Depression, “indicates the agency. Its forecast for Spain, the second country with the highest unemployment rate, is less optimistic than that of the Government. The OECD estimates that, in the best case scenario, Spain will touch the 22% unemployment rate in the last quarter of the year (21.8%). In the event of a major outbreak in the second half of the year, the unemployment rate would climb to 25.5%.

In addition, the crisis will continue to be seen in employment in 2021, which will not be able to recover the pre-pandemic levels despite the improvement in response to 2020. The OECD calculates that at the end of next year, the Spanish unemployment rate will be at 17% at best. If there is a regrowth, the data will be 20% at the end of 2021.

Angel Gurría, Secretary General of the OECD, spoke at the press conference to present the report about the high uncertainty that still exists about the virus itself and, therefore, also about its effects. From the prudence of this context, the OECD shares some recommendations for the recovery of employment. The agency welcomes the extraordinary measures approved by many countries to deal with the consequences of the pandemic, such as the more flexible conditions of the ERTE, the greater protection from losses due to COVID-19 and liquidity loans to companies in Spain.

In the OECD’s view, in the short term public support should focus on the sectors that are still affected by the containment measures and that are highly marked in their activity by the pandemic, but instead suggests withdrawing it from those that are reactivate and those that are not viable. Specifically on ERTEs (and similar measures taken in other countries), the report points out that continuing to hold positions that will not survive in the future may be a way of preventing the restructuring that the economy will undergo later on.

The measures that have hampered the dismissal, which have been taken by countries such as Italy and Spain, have prevented job destruction during the pandemic, but the agency warns that it can also increase the negative consequences for temporary workers, with more terminations of this type of jobs and fewer hires due to restrictions on the dismissal of permanent staff. In Spain, the report shows that job offers have decreased by 40% in June compared to pre-crisis levels.

The most precarious are the most vulnerable

After the general data, the entity fears that the most vulnerable groups in the current labor market are the most affected in the employment crisis. Women, youth and low-income workers are the most affected in the first effects of job destruction in this crisis and recommends that rich countries take measures so that they do not fall behind in the recovery. The ILO has also warned of the risk that the pandemic will reverse the equality of the labor market..

Angel Gurría highlighted in a press conference the recommendation to act “fast” so that young people are not “the big losers of the crisis”. For this, Stefano Scarpetta, director of Employment of the organism, has highlighted the need to “do better than in the past crisis”, in which many young people were disengaged for years from the labor market or at the beginning of their very precarious professional careers. “For that we need employers,” added Scarpetta.

As for low-wage workers, the study finds that they have been “twice as likely” to have to stop working entirely in this crisis compared to those with higher incomes. To protect the most vulnerable, those who lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic, the OECD recommends that some countries extend the duration of unemployment benefits to prevent the unemployed from rapidly moving to “much less generous” minimum income benefits “and improving the social protection of” own-account workers, part-time workers and other non-standard workers “. Many of them have been supported through temporary measures due to the pandemic, such as the extraordinary provision of ‘unemployment’ for cessation of activity for the self-employed in Spain. Orghanism shares the convenience of reviewing the structural social protection system of these groups so that they are not left behind in this new crisis.

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