Around 30% of key workers are underpaid

Low pay, longer hours, poor conditions… The International Labor Organization (ILO) calls on countries to improve the working conditions and incomes of frontline workers, who have played a crucial role during the pandemic.

Nearly 30% of key workers who have provided outstanding services during Covid-19 are underpaid worldwide. These poor working conditions could scare away staff and lead to labor shortages, jeopardizing the services on which economies and societies depend, UNWTO said.

Valuing key workers means ensuring they receive adequate pay and work in good conditions said the Director General of the International Labor Office (ILO), Gilbert F. Houngbo.

According to the UN organization, 29% of key workers are low paid and earn less than two thirds of the median hourly wage. On average, these key workers earn 26% less than other employees, the ILO said. In the food sector, the proportion of underpaid key employees is particularly high, at 47%, and in the cleaning and sanitation sector, it is 31%.

These key workers fall into eight broad occupational groups, including health, food systems, retail, security, cleaning and sanitation, transportation, manual, technical and clerical occupations. According to the ILO, more investment is needed in food systems, health care and other areas.

Healthcare workers, supermarket cashiers, delivery people, postal workers, sailors, cleaners and others who deliver food and basic necessities have continued to do their jobs, day after day, even at the the height of the pandemic, often risking their lives added Houngbo.

In addition, more than half of all jobs in 90 countries are held by key workers, says the specialized agency, noting that this share is 34% in rich countries.

Almost one in three key workers has a temporary work contract (CTT), particularly in manual professions and in the cleaning and sanitation sector, the ILO points out, indicating that in the food industry, 46% of workers have a CTT.

Key workers have also experienced the highest death rates during the pandemic crisis, the organization said. For example, in countries for which data is available, workers in the transport sector have higher death rates than workers in the health sector, she said.

According to the “World Employment and Social Issues 2023: Essential Work Values” report, more than 46% of key employees in low-income countries work long hours. Long working hours are more prevalent in transport, where almost 42% of key workers worldwide work more than 48 hours a week. A significant share of key workers around the world also work irregular hours or short hours.

On the other hand, almost 60% of these workers in middle-income countries do not benefit from social protection, while only 17% of them do in developing countries.

Decent work is a goal for all workers, but it is particularly important for key workers, who provide essential goods and services in good times and bad. “, moreover recalled the head of the ILO.

The report therefore recommends greater investment in infrastructure, production capacity and human resources. And underinvestment, especially in health and food systems, contributes to decent work deficits.

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