WORKFORCE EXPLOITATION DURING COVID PANDEMIC

By Moksha Grover

Exploitation of workers is a very common phenomena followed by many employers since a long time in several countries across the globe. This covid pandemic has mainly impacted and increased the rates of child labour and forced laboures. Reports provided by agricultural farms and slaughterhouses, where most of the workforce exploitation is of migrant workers are really horrific. Many workers have been subjected to loose their employment and income. As a result, these affected groups are often subjected to discrimination. These affected groups are mostly children, women, people working in informal sector, religious minorities, LGBTQ community, refugees etc.

There is clearly a need to stop labour exploitation and ensure all the workers have safe working conditions and adequate pay. It is important to ensure that exploitation of workers does not become a ‘new normal’ in this pandemic.

REDUCED INCOME

This pandemic has led to the reduce in income of many households. Many rich business owners have been declared as bankrupt. As a result, many companies have reduced the income of their workers as well as terminated many people from their company to maximize their profits thus, leading to the loss of employment and income. Due to these circumstances, the overall world has seen an increase in social issues like poverty. According to Asia–Pacific Employment and Social Outlook 2020: Navigating the crisis towards a human-centred future of work  estimates, the economic backlash of the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out some 81 million jobs in 2020[1]. Due to this reduction in income and loss of employment, many workers have been found carrying a hangover of debt as many had taken loans from friends and other sources and because of the loss they suffered by the pandemic, they were not able to pay back what they had borrowed.

OVERWORKING OF REDUCED WORKFORCE

As a consequence of loss of employment and increased production in certain industries, many people have to work overtime and many have suffered overloads of work. Many of them don’t even get breaks in between their work and are made to work continuously due to reduced labour.      Because of poverty, they even have to work and cannot leave their work due to their helplessness. These labourers are meeting additional pressures to meet their targets and many of them don’t even get good working conditions. Having limited access to healthcare, sanitation, drinking water further increases their vulnerability.

EMPLOYMENT DECEPTION AND FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION

Many people having the hope to have better job opportunities visited countries like USA, UK. However, this sense of job security was sabotaged as when they later reached these countries, they found that these jobs actually didn’t exist. This organised criminal deception represents a worrying trend, given tighter visa restrictions following Brexit, which may encourage workers without employment to seek jobs in the informal economy, with a higher risk of exploitative conditions[2].

In this pandemic, businesses also suffered a lot with respect to high costs they incurred on purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as setting up the systems of offline work in their office and formulating new procedures and guidelines ranging from new health and safety protocols to new audit report systems. Also, while audits into supply chains have continued, these were taken up from a long distance without physical contact which limited businesses’ oversight of their suppliers.

RISKS FOR THOSE ALREADY IN SITUATIONS OF LABOUR EXPLOITATION AND FOR SURVIVORS— MIGRANT WORKERS

People those who are marginalized, discriminated against, and impoverished are at greater risk of exploitation. However, due to this pandemic, they are even at a greater risk of exploitation with inadequate healthcare and some essential facilities. Due to restricted movement including the border closures and travel disruptions during the pandemic, these workers are not even able to return to their hometowns. This is the case with migrant workers. These workers often live in poorly sanitized and unhygienic labour camps and due to inadequate healthcare facilities, they are prone to health risks. And because of this pandemic they are not able to return home. They go to different lands to earn money but often become the victims of exploitation due to any social or religious factor. the sudden announcement of the pandemic left 13 crore migrants with no way to return home and no money in India. When the lockdown got relaxed, many employers got worried about the shortage of labour and whether these migrant workers will return back. However, when these labourers returned back, none of the employers were concerned about their health and facilities. As a result of all these consequences, many people are now facing mental health issues thus, increasing the cases of mental health risks.

CHILD LABOUR

This economic and social crisis is predicted to particularly affect children. An estimated 42-66 million children could fall into extreme poverty as a result of the crisis this year, adding to the estimated 386 million children already in extreme poverty in 2019[3]. Before this pandemic, there was an improvement in child labour almost in all countries around the world. Many children had started going to school and educating themselves. But due to this pandemic, everything got disrupted. The whole education system became online and those who were not able to afford this system unfortunately, had to give up on their studies. This led to thousands of children leaving schools and working as forced labourers.

Due to this pandemic, many households have fallen into extreme poverty as a result, they force their children into child labour. Children who belong to marginalised communities, are disabled or homeless are more prone to indulge in child labour. In addition to being forced in child labour, many children, mostly girls are also burdened with increased household responsibilities and domestic chores.

REPUROPOSING AND INNOVATING OPERATIONS

It is very important to stop labour exploitation and take necessary measures and steps in order to prevent this exploitation. Following steps and measures can be taken to stop workforce exploitation.

  • Ensuring workers, a regular and good pay should be made essential for all the companies and organizations.
  • Job security should be given to all the employees.
  • Government should take adequate measures and frame policies in support of all the labourers and workers and ensure safe working conditions for them.
  • In the wake of this pandemic, all the organisations and companies should provide all its workers with personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Overloading of work and overtime of workers should be avoided.
  • Working in collaboration with educational institutions for the purpose of boosting re-enrolment and avoiding children engaging in child labour.
  • Migrant workers who have been confined to a workplace and are subjected to forced labour should be rescued.

CONCLUSION

In this pandemic, there is a risk of labour exploitation to become the ‘new normal’. The poor labourers are forced to work in informal sectors and face exploitation due to the lack of sources and income. If this issue is not controlled now, it would be very difficult to control it in future. There should be appropriate measures taken to help all the workers who are at a risk of this exploitation and for those who are already facing this exploitation.


[1] ‘81 million jobs lost as COVID-19 creates turmoil in Asia-Pacific labour markets’, International Labour Organization (15th December,2020) https://www.ilo.org/asia/media-centre/news/WCMS_763819/lang–en/index.htm> accessed 21st September,2021

[2] Dr Oana Burcu, ‘Evaluating the risk of labour exploitation among migrant workers in the UK during Covid-19’, University of Nottingham < https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/vision/evaluating-the-risk-of-labour-exploitation> accessed 21st September,2021.

[3] ‘COVID-19 impact on child labour and forced labour: The response of the IPEC+ Flagship Programme’, International Labour Organization (May,2020) < https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@ed_norm/@ipec/documents/publication/wcms_745287.pdf> accessed 21st Septemer,2021