Sectors dominated by women and migrant workers in Southern Africa are the hardest-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report, as workers across the region face lower quality lives, loss of income and a battle for a “living wage”.
The Southern African Trade Union Coordination Council released a study into the impact of the pandemic on workers in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region this week, with findings calling for a coordinated effort by governments to improve the lives of migrant workers.
The findings largely pointed to the cases of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi as top providers of migrants and Botswana, Namibia and South Africa as top recipients in the SADC region.
According to the International Organisation for Migration, over 850 migrants were called back in Mozambique, whose families consisted of more than 4,100 relatives. There was also evidence of anxiety when employers left it to the workers to decide whether to return or not.
“When the cases began to be confirmed in South Africa, my employer warned of the seriousness of the disease and the upcoming lockdown,” said a worker of his decision to go home.
An Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development report in 2018 estimated immigrant workers raise South African income per capita by 5%. This was attributed to higher average educational attainment of foreign-born workers, the higher share of foreign-born individuals in the working-age population, as well as the possible increase in total factor productivity through efficiency gains as a result of increased specialisation of the labour force.
The study established that across the countries, the Covid-19 crisis intensified the vulnerability of migrant workers to informal contracts, exploitative employers, unsafe work conditions and restricted access to basic services.
At a two-day virtual seminar this week, unions across the region, including those under union federation Cosatu, gathered to discuss joint efforts and campaigns which were now necessary under the harsher conditions left by the lockdown laws and the ensuing economic devastation. One of their main takeaways was the need for a universal basic income wage in the region.
The sectors most affected by the pandemic, by order of severity, were tourism and service, informal economy, transport and education. Women were highlighted as having taken a harder hit from the virus in the labour market and at home.