The UN’s International Labour Organization said at least 34 million jobs have been lost in Latin America and the Caribbean as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The ILO said it is the region most affected in the world both in terms of hours worked and labour income. During the first three quarters of this year, hours worked dropped by 20.9%, while labour income declined by 19.3%. This is compared to a global average of 11.7%.

The ILO urged countries in the region to adopt immediate strategies to deal with the problem.

In early August, the organisation had estimated that 14 million jobs had been lost in the Latin America and Caribbean region. But in its September technical note on the impact of COVID-19 on the labour market, the ILO found that in the nine largest countries alone, accounting for 80% of the region’s workforce, 34 million jobs had been lost, either permanently or temporarily.

“We face an unprecedented challenge: that of rebuilding the region’s labor markets, which implies facing structural failures that have worsened with the pandemic,” ILO regional director Vinícius Pinheiro said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

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Pinheiro noted the third quarter had brought some economic recovery and, according to preliminary data, a tentative recovery in employment.

He said the region faced structural problems like low productivity, income inequality and low savings.

Groups that were already economically vulnerable before the pandemic are more affected by the job losses. Women and young people under the age of 24 are hit harder than men and adults, the ILO said.

The countries with high unemployment rates in the region are Colombia (16.8%), Peru (15.6%) and Brazil (13.8%).

In the Caribbean, dependence on tourism and the drop in tourist arrivals is behind most of the decline in aggregate output, ranging from 5.3% in Jamaica to 25.5% in Anguilla.

On average, the tourism industry in the Caribbean contributes directly up to about 33% gross domestic product, with total contributions reaching about 40% in countries such as Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and The Bahamas, and about 70% in the British Virgin Islands and Aruba, the ILO report said.

The tourism industry provides direct employment to 413,000 workers in the Caribbean, or 18% of total employment. If indirect and induced employment are considered, these figures could increase to 43% Caribbean-wide and up to 90% in Antigua and Barbuda.

According to workforce surveys, about 70% of hotels laid off staff in April, while 66% shortened the working week or hours worked, and 53% had cut wages.

The organisation estimates that layoffs had affected 75% of tourism workers in Jamaica, with the delayed reopening of the cruise ship industry worsening the situation.

Most Caribbean countries provided COVID-19 relief measures to tourism workers, such as food, utility aid and income support.

“In terms of specific measures benefiting the tourism sector, governments in the region have opted to channel resources to businesses and employers rather than to workers. Specifically, 15 out of 21 countries have implemented business-support measures aimed at tourism (some of which include financial support in exchange for job retention), compared to only eight that have implemented measures at an individual level,” the report said.

It highlighted in particular Jamaica’s COVID Allocation of Resources for Employees, which includes, among other measures, temporary cash transfers to enterprises in the tourism sector based on the number of workers remaining employed; temporary cash transfers for persons who have lost their jobs with incomes below a certain threshold; subsidies for small enterprises; and general support measures including direct assistance for small farmers, the elderly and the homeless.

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