The pandemic has exposed inequalities and social fissures in societies that are hitting hard the most vulnerable and marginalized groups

UN Policy Brief:
The World of Work and Covid-19

The economic blow of Covid-19.

The Covid-19 pandemic has not only been a global public health crisis – it has also been an economic one. Around the world, lockdowns have forced entire industries and businesses of every size and description to close their doors, and millions of people have either temporarily or permanently lost their jobs.

In a policy brief published in June 2020, the United Nations (UN), led by the International Labour Organization (ILO), indicated that “94 percent of the world’s workers [were] living in countries with some type of workplace closure measurements in place” the month prior.

“The pandemic has exposed inequalities and social fissures in societies that are hitting hard the most vulnerable and marginalized groups,” says the brief. “As a result, multidimensional poverty and inequality are likely to increase significantly.

Revised estimates from the World Bank suggest that the number of people living in poverty could increase by 70-100 million, which would be the first increase in poverty since 1998.”


Women, who are overrepresented in high-risk sectors such as accommodation and food services, retail and domestic work, have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. In sectors that haven’t been affected economically – such as healthcare – women have been put at risk of contracting the virus instead.

People living in developing countries and fragile contexts, those with disabilities, the youth and the two billion people who work in the informal economy have also been severely impacted. Small and medium-sized businesses are unlikely to recover.

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, has said: “The world of work cannot and should not look the same after this crisis. It is time for a coordinated global, regional and national effort to create decent work for all as the foundation of a green, inclusive and resilient recovery.”


As economies the world over seek to rally amid Covid-19, our reliance on digitisation to make remote working possible has increased dramatically. This isn’t an uncomplicated situation. The UN and ILO warn about the downsides of technology on the future of work. “New technological innovations underpinning the Fourth Industrial Revolution, such as network technology, Big Data, 3-D printing, artificial intelligence and robotics, transform the very nature of work and risk deepening gaps and inequalities,” they say in the brief.

But this is not to suggest that technology cannot be used to our advantage as we seek to make our economies more resilient. We need to ensure that the 4IR technologies we use are human-centric, that investment in digital skills remains an abiding priority, and that the future they facilitate focuses on our collective economic and social sustainability. Perhaps then, technological innovations are likely to offer important solutions, rather than serve as a further hindrance.