LABOUR’S CHALLENGES “AMPLIFIED” BY COVID-19
THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 PANDEMIC ON WORKING PEOPLE IN SOUTHERN AFRICA: THE ROLE OF TRADE UNIONS
SATUCC Regional Research
In 2020, the Southern Africa Trade Union Coordinating Council (SATUCC) with the support of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (RLS) undertook a study to examine and evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on the working people in Southern Africa, from a labour perspective. The study adopted an integrated conceptual framework based on decent work pillars and tenets of the political economy analysis to illuminate on the assessment and understanding the impact of COVID-19 on workers to proffer recommendations that would spur SATUCC’s commitment in exploring available policy options to deal with the pandemic.
This study is an explanatory baseline cross sectional survey that relied on an online structured questionnaire to collect primary data from representatives of the trade unions from 14 selected SATUCC affiliate national centres in eight (8) selected countries namely: Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The study can be downloaded by selecting the PDF button below.
a) COVID-19 impact on Economic Sectors/ Employment and Development Paradigm Shift: The findings showed that by order of severity, the national affiliates reported that the most sectors that were impacted were: tourism and service, informal economy, transport and education. The study also established that job losses were also pronounced in these areas of the economy. Specific selected examples include Mozambique, where by the end of the first half of 2020, around 42,000 labour contracts had been suspended. Malawi estimates 680,000 fired employees and loss of K84bn in income. Zambia estimates 70,000 for the first half of year; while South Africa estimates 1.5 million. The job losses were not confined to the formal economy only, but also included the informal economy.
b) Wage, Income and Livelihood for Workers: Across the countries surveyed, wages, incomes and livelihoods were impacted severely due to the pandemic. About 67% of the respondents noted that there was a reduction in wages due to COVID-19, and that income and livelihoods have been compromised. Wage theft was rife and rapidly increasing across the region, even in countries where governments had provided wage subsidies.
c) Campaign for Decent employment under COVID-19 and beyond: The study established and affirmed that the decent work deficits before COVID-19 have deepened with the impact of the pandemic. It showed that the labour market in Southern Africa is not only characterised by lack of employment opportunities but also by poverty wages, lack of social protection and seven essential securities which undermine the notion of decent work. The majority of workers face acute decent work deficits in the region.
d) Strengthening Quality of Social Dialogue under COVID-19 and beyond: It was noted that over 90% of all the national centres indicated that there was some form of social dialogue on the onset of pandemic with government utilising available tripartite structures. Nonetheless, the quality of social dialogue was not as elaborate to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the labour market more holistically. The involvement of trade unions in coming up with responses to the pandemic was limited. Based on the rating of how social dialogue indictors were fairing during the pandemic; apart from tripartite consultations, most of the affiliates (75%) agreed that freedom of association has been comprised and the right to organize almost suspended. About 58% also agreed that collective bargaining rights have been suspended and 45% were of the view that the legal right to strike had been abrogated. Only about 25% experienced stability in the employer and employee relationship.
e) Enhancement of Social Protection: This study established that most governments have responded to the crisis by putting in place emergency assistance, over and above the existing social assistance, to mitigate the COVID-19 lockdown effects. Whereas most of the countries developed some forms/schemes for social protection as a response to COVID-19, it was both the quality and quantum of the cover that was an eye-soar. Disbursements to households in need ranged from US$4-US$30 per household per month. Like earlier studies, the study also affirms that countries that have “institutionalised social assistance, rely on domestic resources, and follow a rights- or justice-based approach, were swift to provide emergency assistance”. The pandemic showed the inadequacies of the existing social protection mechanisms.
f) Regional Engagement on Migrant Workers conditions under COVID-19: The study established across the countries that the COVID-19 crisis highlights once more the vulnerability of migrant workers to informal contracts, exploitative employers, unsafe work conditions, and restricted access to basic services.
g) Campaign for Fundamental Workers’ Rights and Employment Conditions: This study has established that the pandemic has impacted on the fundamental rights of the workers. The stability and security of work, balance of work and family across the countries surveyed was reported to have been compromised.
h) Dealing with the Impact on COVID-19 on Informal Economy: This study established most of the workers in the informal economy which already had pre-existing deficits in decent work before the pandemic, were among the top key sectors impacted by COVID-19. The study also confirmed that the thorny issue regarding the organizing in the informal economy by trade unions remains a challenge. The pandemic has amplified a number of challenges that young people were already facing, including an increase in insecure or informal work and the lack of social protection.