Covid-19 crisis and the delicate balance to guarantee labour rights or lay off

Covid-19 crisis and the delicate balance to guarantee labour rights or lay off

As the world prepares to commemorate the International Labour Day tomorrow (May 1), several workers around the world are distraught and traumatised by socio-economic menace that Covid-19 pandemic is leaving in its wake.

And more than ever before, the Covid-19’s depressing effects have ignited a serious parallel global debate as to whether or not employers and employees will survive the major crisis and if yes, what major steps could be implored to cut costs during the struggle to meet employees’ financial and statutory obligations.
According to the initial assessment of the impact of Covid-19 by the International Labour Orgnisation, on the global world of work, the effects will be far reaching pushing almost 25 million people out of employment, underemployment and working poverty unless a decisive, coordinated and immediate response is adopted globally.

Unfortunately for many companies world over, laying off workers during a crisis like this has proved the most convenient way stereotypically geared towards the ‘cost cutting reflex’. And indeed, this would be understandable bearing in mind the effects of Covid-19 on the wider economies; however, the spirit and the methods with which the employees are laid off defeats its purpose and further burdens and marginalises the already distressed employees, especially in these turbulent times.
While we are cognizant that certain groups of employees have been disproportionately affected by the current job crisis, majority of the workers in Uganda that are headed for tougher times predominantly include those in less protected and low paid jobs – particularly the young and the elderly, the sick, women as well as the migrant workers.

This, therefore, calls for pragmatic strategies by both the employers and the government that emphasise what needs to be prioritised while interrogating other options to reduce costs such as working half-time, unpaid leave agreeable by employees, halting bonuses, bans on overtime, and other cost cutting measures that may deem fit.
This, in turn, would not only make termination of contracts as a last option but also ensure that many employees are not left to a second- or third-guess on what lies ahead of them – and instead, appreciate the current financial health of their firm, factory, or organisation.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the global economic growth rate is expected to drop to 1.6 percent from the 2.9 per cent that was recorded in 2019 as a result of the economic effects of the Covid-19.
This is mainly due to the demand and supply shock across the globe that has seen many advanced economies, including the US and China, register negative growth because of suspension of economic activity as well as making workers stay at home in order to contain the virus.
Whereas Uganda’s macroeconomic outlook for the current Financial Year 2019/20 and medium term had been projected to grow by 6.3 per cent, this is very unlikely due to the widespread economic effects arising from the

Covid-19 pandemic and the drastic measures adopted globally and domestically to curb the crisis.
The Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development recently disclosed that Uganda’s growth projections for the financial year ending June 2020 had been revised downward from 6-5 percent, with imports expected to decline by 44 percent over the next months to June 2020. This may push a number of Ugandans below the poverty line by 780,000 in the best-case scenario or 2.5 million in the worst-case scenario.
Suffice to note that some of the preventative measures to the COVID-19 by the Government of Uganda have also systematically affected the world of work in both the public and private sector. Literally, apart from the essential staff in the essential service sectors, majority of the workers have been sent home indefinitely while others are under strict guidelines to work from home amidst a lot of uncertainty as to whether their jobs were guaranteed after the crisis or not.
And yet, there are those women and men with stringent instructions to remain at their workplaces through the night in order to observe curfew schedules. These and more have grossly continued to violate some of the workers’ rights across the divide.
As Guy Ryder, director-general of the International Labour Organisation, said; “this is no longer only a global health crisis, it is also a major labour market and economic crisis that is having a huge impact on people.”

The much needed response to the Covid-19 in the labour sector globally must particularly enforce social dialogue capable of facilitating social protection, supporting employment retention (short-time work, paid leave, and others subsidies) and financial tax relief, including micro and small medium-sized enterprises.
The crisis we are in and the projected worse times ahead also call for more fiscal and monetary policy measures to support the specific economic sectors.
And while Ugandans live under the lockdown for unspecified period of time during the pandemic, they ought to look out for where and who to anchor their hope for survival as the world continues to wrestle down the socio-economic effects of this invisible enemy.

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