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Coronavirus Pandemic Proved Catastrophic for White Collar Jobs

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

The Coronavirus pandemic and the global economic recession have destroyed the jobs of millions of people across the world at staggering levels. Due to the lockdown and social-distancing, many casual, regular workers and self-employed people were unable to work and had to lose their livelihoods. Understandably, this has aggravated the already grim employment situation worldwide, particularly in developing regions such as South Asia, for both white and blue-collared workers.

The Scenario In South Asia

The job loss scenario in South Asia: As per the latest report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), nearly 400 million full-time jobs were lost this year by the second quarter (Q2 April-June). South Asia significantly accounted for 110 million of the total 235 million full-time jobs estimated to be lost during the Q2. There were 21 million full-time job losses in the first quarter (Q1) and 110 million in the Q2 of this year. Since Q1, it is estimated that job losses increased by over 400 per cent in both South Asia and Africa.

Another report highlighted the major reduction in working hours that had occurred in Latin America (20 per cent) and South Asia (18 per cent) in Q2. Job losses were the highest in the informal sector, given the casual and temporary nature of jobs in the services and industrial sectors, owing to severe lockdowns. The South Asian region has the highest share (75 per cent) of the informal workforce, especially in India, as 81 per cent of those employed work in the informal sector.

Unemployment In India

Job losses in India during the lockdown: Livelihoods of most of the people were affected during the lockdown and the pandemic in India, especially of those engaged in the informal sector. Although there have not been any official estimates, several surveys conducted in the country highlight the misery of the people who have been left jobless. An important finding from several studies during the lockdown was that on an average, six out of 10 workers had lost their jobs or livelihood sources. Seven out of 10 casual labourers had lost their jobs, while six out of 10 self-employed respondents could not pursue their usual economic activities and four out of 10 regular workers had been retrenched.

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An estimation of 93 million workers in informal labour have lost their livelihood.

Frighteningly, as many as 41 lakh youths in the country faced a job loss due to the contagion-induced lockdowns while construction and farm sector workers accounted for the majority of lay-offs, according to a joint report by the ILO and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). While the Government has not released any data pertaining to job losses during the lockdown, it acknowledges the quantum of migrants, around 1.5 crores, who returned to their homes. The estimates by the Government indicate that around 8-10 crore workers were affected due to the lockdown, mostly those who were in the informal sector and whose work was non-agricultural in nature.

Based upon the data analysis of the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) to understand the likely impact on informal workers in urban areas during and after the lockdown period, we estimated that about 93 million people were involved in five sectors that have been the most affected, namely manufacturing, trade, hotel and restaurant, construction, transport, storage and communications, finance, business and real estate. Out of the total 93 million informal workers in these sectors, 50 per cent are self-employed, 20 per cent are casual workers on daily wages and 30 per cent are salaried or contract employees without any social safety net.

Job losses as India unlocks: Similar to the independent survey findings, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), an independent think-tank, also estimated that 21 million people have rejoined work after the Government began the “unlocking” of the economy. The reversal of job loss — if not incomes — has been achieved and the employment rate is moving towards pre-lockdown levels.

Almost two-thirds of the jobs added (14.4 million) were of self-employed (small traders) and wage labourers. The CMIE report also mentioned that about 6.8 million daily wage earners lost their jobs since April and 15 million people took to farming during this period either as self-employed or casual labour. This reveals that the loss of jobs in the self-employment and casual labour category is a temporary phenomenon, which is not true in case of full-time salaried jobs. Salaried people (both permanent and temporary) who have lost their jobs may not get back to employment in the near future. Particularly, white-collar jobs, once lost, are far more difficult to retrieve.

The Fragility Of The Formal Sector

White-collar job losses: The CMIE reported that about 18.9 million salaried people lost their jobs during the lockdown. Such jobs were estimated at 86.1 million in 2019-20, which fell to 67.2 million by July. These are preferred forms of employment for most people as they offer better terms of employment and wages. The biggest loss of jobs among salaried employees was of white-collar professionals, which included 5.9 million workers between May and August.

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The pandemic impacted white-collar clerical employees like secretaries, clerks, BPO/KPO workers, etc less.

This group includes engineers, software engineers, physicians, journalists, accountants, analysts, teachers and mostly those who are professionally qualified and were employed in some private or Government organisation. However, the pandemic did not impact white-collar clerical employees too much.

These largely include employees ranging from secretaries, office clerks to BPO/KPO workers and data-entry operators. They possibly shifted to the work from home (WFH) mode, said the CMIE report. Since the lockdown was announced, several companies across sectors have taken to job cuts, along with salary reductions and leave without pay.

This exposed the fragility of India’s formal sector, which was traditionally considered the ideal place in the labour market. The report also highlighted the support the formal sector requires resilience. These ballooning numbers of job losses for formal white-collar workers, having higher value addition, are depicting a worrisome picture of the Indian job market. There is considerable research that indicates that job losses can result in permanent economic damage if workers stay unemployed for too long. This is the key concern of policymakers in the country and other stakeholders today.

Towards resilience for formal jobs: The COVID-19 pandemic and the global economic recession, undoubtedly, have put a major strain on national economies and the employment scenario. In India, apart from the agriculture sector, which has shown a positive growth rate, both the manufacturing and services sector are under major stress. This has serious implications for informal and casual workers, small and medium enterprises as well as big businesses.

As India unlocks, there are recoveries recorded for casual workers and for the self-employed ones with obvious limitations for the economic activities that can be undertaken for the moment. For the regular/salaried workers (permanent and temporary employees) job losses and revised terms of contract and salaries, owing to the poor performance of businesses and enterprises, have revealed the fragile state of affairs. This is a serious cause of concern for the Indian economy.

What Does The Government Need To Do?

Many countries across the world, such as the US and the UK, are providing various kinds of support to businesses and salaried workers to stem job losses and the problems arising from them. They are taking various measures such as contribution to salaries, unemployment allowances, loans and so on, often surpassing the debt limits, to help their citizens during the ongoing pandemic and recession. As we move towards the “new normal” of COVID-19 protocols, WFH, a virtual economy, digitisation and automation of work processes, more and more white-collar jobs will be threatened.

In India, the Government has urged businesses to keep jobs intact without any potential and significant support. As India unlocks, formal sector jobs in the Government space and the private sector are facing various churns from lay-offs, delayed payments, reduced salaries and so on.

Clearly, the Government needs to act now and focus on regeneration of economic activities as well as stimulation of aggregate demands, giving due consideration to those who have lost their jobs in the formal sector, and also to businesses rendered vulnerable by the pandemic. The road towards an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat(self-reliant India)’ and “New India” should ensure resilience in the formal economy, give immediate support and harness our data and digital capabilities to make a significant impact on the lives of people.

By Balwant Singh Mehta & Arjun Kumar, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI)

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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