COVID-19: Catastrophe for ‘White Collar’ Jobs in India

The road towards #AtmaNirbharBharat and New India should ensure resilience in the formal economy, immediate support, and harnessing our data and digital capabilities for significant impact in the lives of people.

0 673

The novel coronavirus pandemic and resulting recession have destroyed jobs of millions of people across the worldat staggering levels. Due to lockdown and social distancing, many self-employed, casual workers and regular workers were unable to work, and many lost their jobs and source of livelihoods. Understandably, this has aggravated the already grim employment situation due to worldwide economic slowdown, particularly in developing regions such as South Asia, for both white- and blue-collar jobs.

Job Loss Scenario

As per the latest report by International Labour Organization (ILO), nearly 400 million full-time jobs were estimated to be lost by second quarter (April–June) in 2020. South Asia, significantly accounted for 110 million of the total 235 million full-time jobs lost during the second quarter.There were 21 million full-time job losses in first quarter and 110 million in the second quarter of 2020. Since the quarter one of 2020, it is estimated that job losses increased by over 400 per cent in both South Asia and Africa.

Another report also highlighted greatest reduction in working hours having occurred in Latin America (20 per cent) and South Asia (18 per cent) in the 2020 second quarter. The job loss was highest in informal sector, casual and temporary jobs in services and industrial sectors, owing to severe lockdowns. South Asian region has the highest share (75 per cent) of informal workforce, especially in India, which constitutes 81 per cent employment in informal sector.

Job Losses in India during Lockdown

The employment or livelihood of most of the people was affected during the lockdown and pandemic in India, especially those engaged in informal sector. Although there have not been any official estimates, however, several surveys conducted in India highlight the miserly of people who have lost their jobs.

An important finding from several survey studies during the lockdown, mostly telephonic in nature, shows that on an average 6 out of 10 workers had lost their jobs or livelihood sources, 7 out of 10 casual labourers had lost their jobs, while 6 out of 10 self-employed respondents could not pursue their economic activities and 4 out of 10 regular workers had lost their jobs. Interestingly, these surveys’ findings also highlighted that over 8 out of 10respondents who worked as casual labour and self-employed in informal sector said “we would get back to work once the lockdown would be over”.

Surveys during Lockdown Findings

(Job losses)

Centre for Sustainable Employment, Azim Premji University 67 per cent of workers had lost their employment; 80 per cent of workers in urban areas and 57 per cent workers in rural areas reported employment loss
National Council of Applied Economic Research About 5 per cent of the salaried workers lost their jobs during Q1 of 2020. Two-thirds of casual workers were unable to work at all during the lockdown and the rest found work only for some days. By mid-June, only 60 per cent of these workers were able to return to work. About 31 per cent of the respondents said that they did not face any challenge in return to their work after lockdown relaxed, with a significant difference between respondents in rural (37 per cent) and urban (25 per cent) areas
Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI) CityMakers 6 out of 10 workers in informal sector in urban area lost their jobs. Over three-fourths of them reported that they will resume the work once the lockdown is lifted
Jan-Sahas About 29 per cent of migrants who had left for their villages are now back in cities, while 45 per cent want to return
IMPRI Returnee Migrant Workers Around 70 per cent of returned migrants in Uttarakhand reported their willingness to go to resume work once lockdown is lifted
Action-Aid Close to 78 per cent of workers in urban areas reported that they had lost their livelihood as compared to 58 per cent in rural areas
IMPRI VillageMakers (during Unlock 3.0) Over half (56 per cent) of the respondents, which were rural women were unemployed during the pandemic


As many as 41 lakh youths in the country lost jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while construction and farm sector workers account for the majority of job losses, according to a joint report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

While the government has not released any data pertaining to job losses during the lockdown, it acknowledges the quantum of migrants, around 1.5 crores, who returned to their homes.

Also Read : National Employment Policy: Contours of a Post-COVID-19 Framework

Also, the estimates suggested by government indicate that around 8-10 crores workers were affected due to lockdown, mostly in informal sector of non-agriculture nature.

On the basis of the data analysis of the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) to understand the likely impact on informal workers in urban areas during and after the lockdown period, we estimated that about 93 million informal workers are involved in five sectors that are most affected, namely, manufacturing; trade, hotel and restaurant; construction; transport, storage and communications; and finance, business and real estate. Out of total 93 million informal workers in these sectors, 50 per cent are self-employed, 20 per cent are casual workers on daily wages and 30 per cent are salaried or contract employee without any social safety net.

Job Losses as India Unlocks

Similar to the independent surveys findings, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), an independent think tank estimates also revealed that 21 million people have rejoined their employment or jobs after the government have started to unlock. The reversal of job loss – if not incomes – has been achieved and the employment rate is moving towards pre-lockdown levels. Almost two-thirds of the jobs added (14.4 million) were of self-employed (small traders) and wage labourers.

The CMIE reports also mentioned about 6.8 million daily wage earners lost their jobs since April 2020, and 15 million people took to farming during this period either as self-employed or casual labour. This reveals that the loss of jobs in self-employment and casual labour category is a temporary or short-term phenomenon, which is not true in case of full-time salaried jobs. The salaried people (includes both permanent and temporary) who have lost their jobs may not get back to employment in the near future.Particularly, the white-collar jobs, once lost, are far more difficult to retrieve.

Job Losses of White-Collar, Regular Salaried

The CMIE reports that about 18.9 million salaried people who lost their jobs, declined by a whopping 22 per cent during the lockdown. Salaried jobs were estimated at 86.1 million in 2019–20, which fell to 67.2 million by July 2020. They are preferred forms of employment for most people as these jobs offer better terms of employment and also better wages.

The biggest loss of jobs among salaried employees was of ‘white-collar professional employees’, which include 5.9 million workers between May and August 2020. The white-collar workers include engineers, including software engineers, physicians, teachers, accountants, analysts and the type, who are professionally qualified and were employed in some private or government organisation. The lockdown did not impact white-collar clerical employees. These include largely desk work employees ranging from secretaries and office clerks to BPO/KPO workers and data-entry operators. They possibly shifted to the work-from-home mode, said CMIE. Since the lockdown was announced, several companies across sectors have taken to job cuts, along with salary reductions and leave without pay.

This exposed the fragility of India’s formal sector, which is always considered the ideal job in labour market, moreover, highlighting the support it requires for resilience. These ballooning numbers of job losses for formal white-collar workers, having higher value addition, are depicting a worrisome picture of Indian job market with rising unemployment and huge future uncertainty amidst the pandemic and recession.

There is considerable research that indicates that job losses can result in permanent economic damage if workers stay unemployed for too long. This is the key concern of policy makers and other stakeholders today.

Also Read : COVID-19 and India–Gulf Migration

Towards Resilience for Formal Jobs

The COVID-19 pandemic and recession, undoubtedly, have put major strain on national economies and employment scenario. In India, apart from the agriculture sector, which has positive growth rate, both manufacturing and services sector are under stress, having serious implications for informal and casual workers, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), as well as big businesses. As India unlocks, there are recoveries recorded for casual workers and self-employed with obvious limitations of economic activities. The regular/salaried workers (permanent and temporary jobs) job losses and revised terms of job and salaries owing to the performance of businesses and enterprises have revealed the fragile state of affairs and are a serious concern for the Indian economy.

Many countries across the world such as USA and UK, are providing various support to the businesses and salaried workers to protect the job losses, such as contribution to salaries, unemployment allowances, loans, etc., often surpassing the debt limits, during the ongoing pandemic and recession. As we move towards the New Normal of COVID-19 protocols, work from home, virtual economy, digitisation and automation at work processes, the white-collar jobs are threatened. In fact, the coronavirus has, indeed, proved to be the disastrous for them, as we deal with the pandemic and economic crisis.

In India, the government has suggested the businesses to keep the jobs intact without any potential and significant support. As the country unlocks in the economic recession, the formal jobs (both permanent and temporary) in government and private sector are facing various churns from layoffs, delay payment, reduced payments, and so on. Clearly, the government needs to act now and focus on the regeneration of the economic activities, as well as stimulating the aggregate demands giving due consideration to those who have lost their white-collar jobs and vulnerable businesses to minimise the losses. The road towards #AtmaNirbharBharat and New India should ensure resilience in the formal economy, immediate support, and harnessing our data and digital capabilities for significant impact in the lives of people.