HomeOpinion & AnalysisCOVID-19 jobs carnage : The numbers

COVID-19 jobs carnage : The numbers

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BY TATIRA ZWINOIRA

“THERE were unprecedented global employment losses in 2020 of 114 million,” the International Labour Organisation (ILO) reported early this year.

A new report by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) shows that job losses locally were nearly 1,5 million last year from both the formal and informal sectors.

The statistics confirm how millions of Zimbabweans were affected by the COVID-19-induced job carnage.

According to the 2019 labour force and child labour survey report by Zimstat, almost 2,9 million people aged 15 years and over were found to be employed.

But, in a new joint 2020 survey report on ICT usage in the country by Zimstat and Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), there were only 1 426 744 people identified as either permanent or part-time workers, a significant decline from the 2019 levels, and a worrying development for the country.

The drop is further proven in the increase in persons within the stipulated age group doing an economic activity, which rose to 8 989 981 from a 2019 comparative of 8 101 515. Zimstat defines economic activities as activities in which people are engaged in work to produce goods or provide services for pay or profit only, which covers both formal and informal sectors.

The joint report is titled ‘2020 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Access By Households and Use By Individuals Survey Report.’

“(According to) details of individuals 15 years and above…highest proportions of 29,5% for the male population and 37,8% for the female population, indicated that they were own account workers in agriculture who produced mainly for subsistence,” part of the report read.

“Countrywide, 33,6% of individuals (aged) 15 years and above were subsistence own account workers in agriculture. The female category also recorded 17% of its population aged 15+ as homemakers, compared to 2,3% which was reported in the male category for the same age reference.”

In the report, 1, 4 million were recorded as being employed from the total number of economically active persons.

Another 1,2 million were own account workers (people working for themselves), while 165 330 were contributing family workers.

The report said  421 213 were uncategorised.

Lastly, 909 649 were recorded as homemakers with 334 646 being retired or too sick or old to be engaging in any form of economic activity.

“When asked the main kind of economic activity in which establishments they work for are engaged in, close to a third (26,2%) of the individuals aged 15 years and above indicated that they worked for institutions mainly involved in wholesale and retail trades; repair of motor vehicles and motor cycles sector,” the report read.

It is a worrying development, because almost all of these sectors are in the service economy of which productive sectors are not being utilised to their maximum potential.

Most foreign currency-generating exports are derived from manufacturing sector operations.

“Just above a fifth (21,8%), of the surveyed people said they worked for establishments mainly engaged in agriculture, forestry and fishing.

“The highest proportion (39,6%) of the female population, 15 years and above, worked in wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motor cycles sector, while the highest proportion of male individuals (22%), was employed mainly in agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors.”

Last year, the global market came to a standstill owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced government to apply hard lockdowns which allowed only a few sectors to continue operating.

As a result, companies began to reduce working hours to try and contain the spread of the virus, which meant lower profit margins.

Of course, companies were forced to downscale with jobs being the first to be affected.

This problem has affected many countries.

However, in Zimbabwe’s case, existing economic challenges, including a depreciating currency piled more pressure on businesses to implement cost-cutting measures, with job cuts being the solution for most companies.

As a result, companies and those running small businesses in the informal sector were forced to cut jobs.

Recently, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions described the job market as volatile.

“If that is the number, then that is correct in the sense as what is counted as employed people include people that are in the informal economy. Remember in the last labour force and child labour survey of 2019 it was indicated that 76% of the jobs were informal jobs. So, with COVID-19 the sector that was mainly affected was the informal economy,” Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions president Peter Mutasa said.

“We lost a lot of jobs in the formal economy…but we also lost a lot of jobs in the informal economy. People are no longer working because of COVID-19 around the country. Many people even had to migrate back to rural areas and the unfortunate part is that we are not very robust in terms of reporting our labour market information.”

He said the trend of jobs losses had continued up to now owing to mostly technological advancements and economic challenges with COVID-19 only accelerating the process. The loss in income has been catastrophic, owing to the rise in the cost of living.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) says in September, prices of most basic food and non-food commodities increased mainly in Zimbabwe dollars.

Parallel market exchange rates saw increases of up to 15%, contributing significantly to price increases.

Maize grain prices went up in Zimbabwe dollar terms by between 10% and 15% across FEWS NET’s main sentinel markets.

While the government has relaxed most COVID-19 restrictions, allowing for improvements in transport availability, economic activity, and recovery of livelihoods and income-earning opportunities, the improvements have not been enough to stave off job losses.

“Improvements in income are expected to be limited as national borders remain closed to non-essential goods and services, continuing to constrain informal cross-border activities, remittance flows, and other livelihood activities,” FEWS NET said. Harare Residents Trust director Precious Shumba said the majority of households are struggling owing to “declining incomes that could not meet the rising cost of living…household income has shrunk to very depressing levels”

Government must quickly address the situation otherwise the poverty rate which is currently close to 50% will further increase.

  • This article first appeared in Weekly Digest, an AMH digital publication

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