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International Partnerships

The impact of COVID-19 on employment is the most severe since the Second World War: ILO assessments and possible responses

The International Labour Organization (ILO) have published preliminary assessments (March and April) on the impact of COVID-19 on the world of work, reporting increasing unemployment and underemployment, and widening inequalities with a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable. The EU is responding with measures aimed at the most severe economic and social impacts of the crisis.

Impacts on employment are deep, far-reaching and unprecedented and the most severe since the Second World War. Full or partial lockdowns are affecting 2.7 billion workers and 1.25 billion workers are employed in sectors that are now facing a severe decline. The pandemic will not only impact the quantity of jobs but also the quality of jobs. In addition to expected income losses, inequalities and poverty will worsen with increased numbers of working poor.

Worker in Vietnam washing hands during COVID-19 crisis
ILO Vietnam

The ILO has also revealed the devastating effect of the pandemic on 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy that is nearly half of the global workforce and the most vulnerable in the labour market. Without alternative incomes, these workers and their families risk losing their livelihoods.

Inequalities are expected to worsen with a disproportionate impact on groups who are more vulnerable to adverse labour market outcomes, including older and younger people, and women, who are over-represented in most affected sectors and unprotected migrant workers.

ILO has put forward an initial policy framework that protects workers, provides income guarantees, and extends universal social protection, strengthening a demand-led recovery and builds resilience.

EU responding on many fronts

The EU is responding to these needs on many fronts. For instance, the European Commission has established a dedicated social protection technical assistance programme for countries seeking to strengthen and expand social protection to cover the most vulnerable in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Inequalities are expected to worsen with a disproportionate impact on groups who are more vulnerable to adverse labour market outcomes


In order to understand the impact of the crisis on inequality, a research facility supported by the EU and implemented by Agence Française de Developpement (AFD), is being extended. The facility is producing dedicated research on inequality and providing specific policy recommendations on how to address inequalities in different county contexts, including in response to the impact of COVID-19.

Another example of the EU’s targeted response is the support to the Better Work project, implemented by the ILO, which is helping workers in the garment sector across the world during this extremely challenging period. Guidance and support is being provided to ensure the safety of factory workers, with virtual advice and the introduction of temperature screening, social distancing, the use of masks and new handwashing requirements.