Latin America celebrates Labor Day with high unemployment

Latin America reached a historical record of 41 million unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Man with mask carrying a box

The World Labor Organization estimated last year, amid the pandemic, that Latin America and the Caribbean will reach a record 41 million unemployed adults. Photo: Freepik

LatinAmerican Post | Carlex Arujo

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Leer en español: Latinoamérica celebra el día del trabajo con alto desempleo

In November 1884, the IV Congress of the American Federation of Labor was held in Chicago, in which it was proposed that as of May 1, 1886, employers would be forced to respect the 8-hour workday or face a strike. As a consequence, Andrew Johnson, the then president of the United States, promulgated the so-called Ingersoll Act, establishing 8 hours of work per day. As this law was not complied with, the labor and union organizations of the United States mobilized on May 1, 1886. The strike lasted 4 days, when the revolt in Haymarket began. These events ended with thousands of workers fired and injured (some sentenced to hanging).

A workday without work

The unemployment rate for the month of February 2021 was 15.9%, according to figures from the Colombian Government. This meant an increase of 3.7% compared to the same month of the previous year (12.2%). The global participation rate was 61.6%, which represented a reduction of 1.6% compared to February 2020 (63.2%). The occupancy rate was 51.8%, showing a decrease of 3.7% compared to the same month in 2020 (55.5%), according to the National Administrative Department of Statistics of Colombia.


This panorama is not only for Colombia, but for the entire region. The World Labor Organization estimated last year, in the midst of the pandemic, that Latin America and the Caribbean will reach the record number of 41 million unemployed adults, throwing away all the progress that had been registered in recent years. The ILO itself warns that this will deepen inequality and poverty in this area.


The gender struggle continues

On the other hand, the fight for gender equality in the labor market continues. According to the report "Facts and Figures: Economic Empowerment" on the Official Web Portal of UN Women, women still earn less than men who perform similar tasks. In most countries, women on average earn only 60-75% of men's wages. It is estimated that worldwide, women could increase their income by as much as 76% if the gap in the employment share and the gender pay gap were overcome.

However, women bear a disproportionate responsibility for the unpaid care work they provide to others. For example, they work as housewives or caring for the elderly, children or the sick. Women spend between 1 and 3 hours more than men on housework, between 2 and 10 times more time per day on caregiving and between 1 and 4 additional hours per day on market activities.


How do labor rights violate the informal work of women?

For women, the chances of working in the informal employment sector are higher than for men. In South Asia, more than 80% of women in non-agricultural jobs are in the informal sector; in sub-Saharan Africa, 74% and in Latin America and the Caribbean, 54%. In rural areas, many women earn their livelihoods from small-scale farming, almost always informally and often without pay, according to a report called "Facts and Figures: Economic Empowerment" by UN Women.

Also read: Latin America in debt: pending accounts

Additionally, more women than men are in vulnerable, low-paid or undervalued jobs. Until 2013, 49.1% of working women in the world were in vulnerable employment, often without protection of labor laws, compared to 46.9% of men. Women were much more likely than men to be in vulnerable jobs in East Asia (50.3% vs 42.3% of men), Southeast Asia and the Pacific (63.1% vs 56%), Asia South (80.9% vs 74.4%), North Africa (54.7% vs 30.2%), the Middle East (33.2% vs 23.7%) and Sub-Saharan Africa (almost 85 , 5% versus 70.5%).



Future outlook

ECLAC forecasts a more favorable 2021 for emerging economies in this area. Peru (9.0%), Panama (5.5%), Bolivia (5.1%), Chile, Colombia and the Dominican Republic (all three with 5.0%) are seen as the countries that will pull the economic improvement and , along with it, employment in this second year of the pandemic. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean hopes that vaccination programs and health measures will stabilize the region.