Create employment opportunities for workers affected due to Covid-19 through new budget, say expertsAs workers at home struggle without jobs and tens of thousands of migrant workers are likely to return home, experts suggest the government should be ready to provide jobs through the upcoming budget.
Chandan Kumar Mandal
The government should come up with special programmes aimed at reviving the country’s labour sector, provide relief and ensure employment opportunities for workers as they remain devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic, stakeholders say.
Labour rights activists, employers and government representatives, during an interaction discussing the pandemic’s impact on the country’s labour sector and exploring new areas for accommodating the labour force affected by Covid-19, on Thursday said the government needs to address these emerging challenges through special programmes and policies in the upcoming budget.
According to Pushkar Acharya, president of the Joint Trade Union Coordination Committee (JTUCC), an umbrella organisation of trade unions, workers in the country and Nepali migrant workers abroad have been hit by the global health crisis hard.
“We have seen workers walking on the streets without food and money and struggling to feed their families because employers did not pay them their last month’s salaries,” said Acharya, during the interaction organised by the Labour Employment Journalists’ Group.
“The government’s relief package has not reached them as a majority of them are working in the informal sector. Many have lost their jobs while others are on the verge of losing jobs. It can only get worse if the lockdown continues for some more time.”
According to Acharya, the country might plunge into a grave crisis if tens of thousands of migrant workers start returning home, where jobs are already scarce.
Thousands of Nepali workers from labour destination countries, including India, might return as they have lost their jobs, said Acharya. Once they return home, they need jobs, which is a major challenge for now.
“The next budget should consider employing these workers not only in big infrastructure projects but also explore new sectors. Otherwise, the country might face a huge problem,” Acharya said.
With the ongoing global pandemic, Nepali workers at home and abroad fear losing their jobs.
As the country has been under lockdown for over a month now with international flights banned and labour migration stopped, the country’s overall economic activities have remained suspended as almost all sectors reel under the grip of the pandemic.
While workers at home are languishing without a stable income, Nepali migrants are expected to return, fearing coronavirus infection and after being rendered jobless abroad.
Suspension of labour migration also means a reduced remittance inflow—the source of foreign currency for a country largely dependent on the money sent by migrant workers.
“The priority of this budget will also be different. This year’s budget should be focused on creating employment opportunities for those who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19 or are likely to return from foreign employment,” said Chandra Prasad Dhakal, president of the Employers’ Council under the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Dhakal suggested that self-employment schemes and promoting modernised and commercial farming can help the country create new jobs and bring the import-based national economy back to a self-sustaining one.
“Also, the budget should provide relief for the country’ private sector. If they are saved, there will be multiple impacts—existing jobs will be safe, more jobs will be created and employers can sustain the national economy by paying taxes,” said Dhakal.
Ram Kumar Phuyal, a member of theNational Planning Commission who also heads a government task force to study the impact of Covid-19 on remittance and foreign employment, said the government was committed to ensuring health, education and livelihoods of citizens affected due to the pandemic.
First, the government is ensuring public safety and then livelihoods, said Phuyal. “Various ministries are studying potential employment sectors in case migrant workers return home.”
According to Phuyal, the government was considering creating jobs in the agriculture sector, which needs to be more mechanised, commercialised and managed, and also identify other potential areas like manufacturing, construction, trade and domestic tourism.
“We are developing a chart which will give details about the labour force [employed and unemployed], still available and affected employment opportunities due to Covid-19, and whether they were temporarily and permanently affected and their chances of return,” said Phuyal.
“Once we get the numbers, we can suggest what kind of intervention is required to deal with the Covid-19 situation for different scenarios.”
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of September 22, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 has spread to 213 countries and territories around the world and infected more than 31,405,983 people with 967,505 deaths and 22,990,260 recoveries. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 5,557,573 with 88,943 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 306,304 confirmed cases with 6,420 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 65,276 cases with 427 deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.