The number of hours worked in the world deteriorated in the first quarter of 2022 to 3.8% below the level of the fourth quarter of 2019 (the pre-Covid benchmark), the 9th edition of the ILO Monitor on the World of Work shows. This is equal to a deficit of 11.2 crore full-time jobs, indicating a significant setback in the recovery process.

Recent containment measures in China account for the bulk of the global decline in jobs. The ILO’s latest estimates show a marked deterioration from its January 2022 projections, which showed the number of hours worked at 2.4% below the pre-crisis level, recording a loss of 7 crore full-time jobs.

The other factor that contributed to the job losses was the conflict in Ukraine. It had a regional and global impact. Also, inflation rose to record levels during this period, especially food and energy prices, and global supply chains were disrupted. In addition, heightened financial turbulence and monetary policy tightening also impacted labour markets. "There is a growing but uncertain risk of a further deterioration in hours worked over 2022," says the report.

During the quarter, the gender gap in hours worked remains “large” but some improvement has been seen in high-income countries. Women globally now spend 18.9 hours weekly in employment, or 57% of the average hours worked by men (33.4 hours), the report adds.

Despite some improvements in 2021, the gender gap in hours worked widened during the first quarter of 2022. The global gender gap in hours worked was 0.7 percentage points larger than the pre-crisis situation (fourth quarter of 2019) during the first 3 months of 2022.

In what can be a positive development, in high-income countries, women and men, both experienced a strong recovery in hours worked, the report highlights. The trend of increase in the gender gap fully reversed in these countries. The organisation says at this pace, it would take 30 years to close the gap in hours worked in high-income countries.

In contrast, the gender gap in low-and middle-income countries remains larger than the pre-pandemic level despite some progress. The situation is similar in lower-middle- and upper-middle-income countries.

"In the first quarter of 2022, men worked an average of 10.5 more hours per week through employment than women in low-income countries, 15.7 more hours in lower-middle-income countries (excluding India), and 9.1 more hours in upper-middle-income countries," says the ILO report.

However, because the initial level of hours worked by women in India was very low, the reduction in hours worked by women in India has only a weak influence on the aggregate for lower-middle-income countries. In contrast, the reduction in hours worked by men in India has a large impact on the aggregates, the report flags.

The gender gap in India has increased amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year, India slipped 28 places to rank 140th rank in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2021. The report said India was the third-worst performer in the region, having closed 62.5% of its gap. The gender gap widened from 66.8% closed one year ago to 62.5% in 2021.

Among the drivers of this decline is a decrease in women’s labour force participation rate, which fell from 24.8% to 22.3% in 2021. The share of women in professional and technical roles declined further to 29.2%. Only 14.6% of senior and managerial positions in India are held by women and only 8.9% of firms have female top managers.

Further, women’s estimated earned income is only one-fifth of men’s, which puts India among the bottom 10 globally on this indicator.

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