The UN labour agency is predicting that more than 430 million enterprises in hard-hit sectors such as retail and manufacturing “risk serious disruption owing to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
For millions of workers, no income means no food, no security and no future. Millions of businesses around the world are barely breathing. They have no savings or access to credit, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder has observed.
These findings appear in the ILO Monitor third edition ‘COVID-19 and the world of work’, which was released last week to coincide with May Day observances worldwide. Thus, the ILO is calling for “urgent, targeted and flexible measures” to support both workers and business, particularly smaller enterprises and those in the informal economy.
In relation to the disruption caused to the world of work due to COVID-19, the National Tripartite Committee comprising the representatives of Government, Employers and Organised Labour met last week ahead of May Day and issued a 10-point guideline for workplace safety as part of efforts to contain the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Consequently, a joint communique signed by Mr. Ignatius Baffour-Awuah, the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations; Mr. Daniel Acheampong, President-Ghana Employers Association (GEA); and Dr. Anthony Yaw Baah, General Secretary-Ghana Trades Union Congress (TUC) was issued underlying recommendations that all employers should provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and related facilities for the safety and health of workers, in compliance with the World Health Organisation (WHO) safety protocols and Ministry of Health (MoH) guidelines.
However, the Ghana Federation of Labour (GFL) says the communique failed to address major challenges facing employers and employees in the COVID-19 era. General Secretary of the GFL, Mr. Abraham Koomson, noted that the communique signed by the group failed to address the fundamental challenges of business decline and the threat of job losses.
That notwithstanding, the CEO OF Ghana Employers Association, Mr. Alex Frimpong, minced no words when he stated that this is not the time for employers to consider laying off workers following the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on businesses.
Though businesses are struggling following the pandemic, Alex Frimpong has observed that government has made some efforts to ease the burden on businesses, which include the GH¢600million stimulus package.
Whatever be the case, we believe a deeper dialogue between members of the Tripartite Committee should help iron out such discrepancies with regard to job losses and the challenges of business decline. Issues of safety at the workplace can be looked at, but addressing the fundamental question job loss threats and general business decline merits greater attention.
Closely related to the economic troubles associated with COVID-19, the Ghana Employers’ Association (GEA) petitioned the Minister of Finance last week to establish an Emergency Fund from which businesses can access working capital, pay salaries and purchase raw materials for production as COVID-19 continues to bite.
The Employers Association wants the state to take a further step and create an emergency fund to supplement the stimulus package. This will be one of the surest ways to keep employees on the payroll, Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Employers’ Association Alex Frimpong maintains.
The petition is necessary, since for some employers the disruption of activities will have a lasting effect on their businesses if action is not taken immediately to insulate them from vagaries of the pandemic.
We need to find innovative solutions for businesses and the masses of workers in order to limit the unemployment fallout and loss of income due to COVID-19, the petition reads in part. Most businesses are collapsing while others have had to downsize, and some have cut the salaries of their employees in order to stay afloat.
Things are really changing rapidly in the world of business, and both employers and employees find themselves confounded by the obvious implications of a significant rise in unemployment and underemployment.
The loss of labour income will translate into lower consumption of goods and services, which is also detrimental to the continuity of businesses and ensuring resilient economies. It is for these reasons that the ILO has recommended “urgent, targetted and flexible measures” to support both workers and business, particularly smaller enterprises.
Government has put its best foot forward and announced a GH¢600million stimulus package for SMEs, and this couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment. Let us hope that the damage wrought by this novel virus does not bring businesses grinding to a halt.