PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — Tentative signs of recovery are emerging in Caribbean labour markets, following the unprecedented disruption in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the latest estimates from the International Labour Organization (ILO) in the seventh edition of the ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the World of Work.

New quarterly and annual estimates based on the ILO’s ‘Nowcasting Model,’ indicate that 7.7 percent of working hours in the Caribbean were lost during the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2020. This figure indicates a decrease from corresponding values for the second quarter (24.7 percent) and third quarter of 2020 (11.5 percent) and brings the average loss for the year 2020 to 11.7 percent. The magnitude is equivalent to a loss of approximately 2.1 or 1.7 million full-time jobs in the region depending on whether the 40- or 48-hours-per-week threshold is considered.

“It is safe to assume that summary indicators hide an uneven impact on Caribbean labour markets depending on the worker, business or country considered. For example, previous research indicates how the COVID crisis led to a more than proportional negative impact on youth labour market performance within the region and how small businesses were the first to interrupt payments to social security schemes,” said Diego Rei, Employment and Labour Market Policies Specialist within the ILO Decent Work Team and Office for the Caribbean.

The latest projections for 2021 presented in the ILO Monitor Report show that most countries will experience a relatively strong recovery in the second half of the year, as vaccination programmes take effect but the speed of such recovery is still to be determined.

The report, however, highlights concerns that the path may be “K-shaped” with some sectors and workers recovering timely and fully and others that have been hit hardest being left behind. Particularly concerning is the fact that two high employment-intensive sectors for the Caribbean such as accommodation and food services and retail were the ones most affected and at higher risk of lagging behind worldwide.

“However quick the recovery materializes, it is a reality that some citizens, workers and businesses will be back on their feet later than others. It is our duty to ensure that they are not left behind by addressing the risk of loss of job skills, of weakened labour market attachment and of business disruption. More generally, we need to ensure all Caribbean countries focus on a human-centred recovery. This means prioritizing employment, income and social protection, workers’ rights, social dialogue and accounting for new elements accelerated by the recent crisis. Those include changes related to technology and work arrangements, such as, for example, digitalization and teleworking, as well as the challenges that go with them such as connectivity gaps and digital literacy,” concluded Dennis Zulu, Director of the ILO Decent Work Team and Office for the Caribbean.