COVID impact gathers momentum as employees and SMEs bear the brunt of its fury

COVID impact gathers momentum as employees and SMEs bear the brunt of its fury

With only a fifth of countries providing sick pay, there has been a worldwide prediction from the International Labor Organization of over 25 million job losses in various sectors.

According to worrying findings released by the international Trade Union Congress on surveys conducted on 86 countries globally to monitor government and employer response to the pandemic, it found out that only 21% of countries are providing sick leave for all or part of the workforce, who represent an appreciable number of the world’s most powerful economies. Quite as expected, the egregious situation is sending tremor through the world of work and the statistics are unflattering.

According to the International Trade Union Congress, governments in various countries are likely to opt for five policies espoused by the congress. Expectedly so, 50% of these countries are implementing provision of free healthcare and some 34% opting for employment protection packages for those self-isolating. Similarly, 31% clamor of select countries are doling out tax relief on businesses and 29% offering bailout funds for businesses and other sectors.

Granted, some businesses have kept their staff on and safeguarded their income and job security in the medium to long term, but be that as it may, there are still some businesses that have to lay off workers to be operational, with some still taking government emolument.

While some businesses can afford to remain open with staff working from home by way of video conferencing and online discussions, others with comprehensive cost analysis deem it a total waste of time and resources by only retaining the essential and needed workers.

Interestingly, with over 50% of the world’s population not connected to the internet, this venture is near impossible and seldom serves a greater respite to developing countries, with small SME’s, farmers, and startups which are part of the informal sector struggling to fend daily. For these people who directly depend on regular commute to work and daily transactions for their stipends, the disparity in stimulus packages poses a higher risk of shutdown as they require income support, which they find paltry.

On the agriculture front, farmers are in dire straits as most of their produce is rotting away with poultry farmers calling for government intervention as they are experiencing egg glut. The repercussion of these excesses includes rotting of the eggs and debt accumulations as their businesses are running on loans, and creditors are demanding payment. Most of them are calling on government to create outlets for these eggs via their purchase and donation to orphanages, campaign programs on the health benefit of eggs in the diet of people and injection of funds into their farms, as many risk layoffs to salvage the situation.

Many countries have innovatively introduced stimulus packages to protect businesses and keep cash flowing in, and Ghana is one of such countries but  despite the injection of GH1 billion stimulus to businesses by the government, there has been snippets of dissatisfaction from business owners over its insufficiency in mitigating the impact of the pandemic on their venture coupled with other individuals in the local industry also bemoaning  their non-eligibility  due to certain policies surrounding the disbursement to them despite its availability.

Per the regulation on payout, they need to be a registered company and most small businesses in Ghana are unregistered, another conversation which unravels another blip in our system. Government’s interaction and liaising with trade unions and business owners on practical solutions such as income support and tax credit for the self-employed in extenuating the effect of the pandemic on the economy will be a welcome relief.

Unarguably, our frontline health workers are very vulnerable and susceptible to infections as they bravely combat the deadly virus, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the IT personnel, bankers, traders, farmers, caterers, janitors and those rarely celebrated heroes who in their own small way play major roles by oiling the wheel of our economy in normal times.

In striving for economic stability, let’s not lose sight of the people who play a collective role in making things happen for growth and sustainability of our economy. More than ever before, proactive measures will be needed for the most vulnerable workers, part time and self-employed workers who are not qualified for unemployment and other insurance benefits.