People line up outside a bank to withdraw cash, in Yangon, Myanmar. People line up outside a bank to withdraw cash, in Yangon, Myanmar. 

ILO: Myanmar lost 1.6 million jobs under coup and pandemic in 2021

A report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) shows the military coup has battered Myanmar’s labour market that was already weakened by the impact of Covid-19, with women workers the hardest hit.

By Robin Gomes

The United Nations estimates some 1.6 million jobs were lost in Myanmar in 2021, with the military coup exacerbating the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

One year on from the military takeover in Myanmar on 1 February 2021, the labour market remains fragile, undermining decent work, due to continued political turmoil and conflict that have complicated the socio-economic and public health challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Losses in jobs and working hours

The United Nations estimates that total working hours in Myanmar decreased by 18 per cent in 2021 compared to 2020 levels, which is equivalent to the working time of at least 3.1 million fulltime workers. These working-hour losses are driven by employment losses as well as increased underemployment, the International Labour Organization said on Friday.

Annual employment losses in 2021 amounted to an estimated 8 per cent, or 1.6 million jobs lost, indicating a sizeable decrease from 20.5 million jobs the previous year.  The estimates cover the whole labour force of Myanmar, including formal and informal economy workers.

Key sectors hit

The political, socio-economic and pandemic challenges of 2021 have taken a considerable toll on workers and enterprises in key sectors that drive the economy. Agriculture, which accounted for half of total employment (around 10 million) at the end of 2020, was heavily impacted by lower incomes, export reductions, higher input prices, limited access to credit and monsoon flooding.

Rural farmers were also hard hit by armed conflict, violence and insecurity, leading to displacement and undermining livelihoods.

Construction, garments, and tourism-hospitality industries were also among the hardest hit in 2021, with employment losses reaching an estimated 31 per cent, 27 per cent and 30 per cent, respectively, compared to 2020.

Women were the hardest hit by losses in both working hours and jobs compared to men.  Women accounted for an overwhelming majority of job losses in the garments and tourism-hospitality sectors.

Overall, employment in the hospitality and food services sector decreased in 2021 by an estimated 30 per cent (around 80,000 persons), with women comprising around three in five jobs lost. Moreover, the decrease in demand from tourism is adversely impacting even more jobs across the wider tourism value chain.

Disruptions in the labour market have had a severe impact on other important service sectors such as public administration, banking, education and healthcare, among other industries.

GDP shrinks

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that gross domestic product (GDP) decreased by 17.9 per cent in 2021, after recording growth of 3.2 per cent in 2020. Similarly, the World Bank estimates a contraction in GDP of 18 per cent in the fiscal year 2021.

Nearly a year after the military ousted the elected government, Myanmar is facing a multidimensional humanitarian crisis. Political turmoil, armed conflict, violence, insecurity and displacement have compounded the immense socio-economic and public health challenges related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Increased poverty

An estimated 25 million people (almost half the population) were living in poverty by the end of 2021 and 14.4 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance.

“The military takeover and Covid-19 pandemic have put millions of workers in Myanmar in a grim situation.  We are witnessing a reversal of years of progress in the labour market. Should this continue, it can only lead to increased poverty and insecurity across the country,” said Donglin Li, ILO Myanmar Liaison Officer/Representative.

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28 January 2022, 17:16