OECD labour markets bounced back strongly from the COVID-19 pandemic, but the global employment outlook is now highly uncertain according to a new OECD report.
Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has caused lower global growth and higher inflation, with negative impacts on business investment and private consumption.
The OECD Employment Outlook 2022 says that while labour markets remain tight in most OECD countries, lower global growth means employment growth is also likely to slow, while major hikes in energy and commodity prices are generating a cost of living crisis.
Since the low point of the pandemic in April 2020, OECD countries have created about 66 million jobs, 9 million more than those destroyed in a few months at the onset of the pandemic.
The OECD unemployment rate stabilised at 4.9 % in July 2022, 0.4 points below its pre-pandemic level recorded in February 2020 and at its lowest level since the start of the series in 2001.
The number of unemployed workers in the OECD continued to fall in July and reached 33.0 million, 2.4 million less than before the pandemic.
Looking at individual countries however, the unemployment rate in July remained higher than before the pandemic in one fifth of OECD countries. In a number of countries, labour force participation and employment rates are also still below pre-crisis levels. Moreover, employment is growing more strongly in high pay service industries, while it remains below pre-pandemic levels in many low pay, contact-intensive industries.
“Rising food and energy prices are taking a heavy toll, in particular on low income households,” OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said. “Despite widespread labour shortages, real wages growth is not keeping pace with the current high rates of inflation. In this context, governments should consider well targeted, means-tested and temporary support measures. This would help cushion the impact on households and businesses most in need, while limiting inflation impacts and fiscal cost of that policy support,” he said.
Tight labour market conditions mean that companies across the OECD are confronted with unprecedented labour shortages. In the European Union, almost three in ten manufacturing and service firms reported production constraints in the second quarter of 2022 due to a lack of labour.
Nominal wages are not keeping pace with the rapid rise in inflation. The real value of wages is expected to decline over the course of 2022, as inflation is projected to remain high and generally well above the level expected at the time of relevant collective agreements for 2022. The cost of living crisis is affecting lower-income households disproportionally. They have to devote a significantly larger share of their incomes on energy and food than other groups and were also the population segment falling behind in the jobs recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In these circumstances, supporting real wages for low-paid workers is essential, according to the report. Governments should consider ways to adjust statutory minimum wages to maintain effective purchasing power for low paid workers. Targeted, means-tested, and temporary social transfers to people most affected by energy and food price hikes would also help support the living standards of the most vulnerable.
In the current circumstances, active discussions between governments, workers and firms on wages will also be key. None of them can absorb the full cost associated with the hike in energy and commodity prices alone. This calls for giving new impetus to collective bargaining, and for rebalancing bargaining power between employers and workers, enabling workers to bargain their wage on a level playing field.
Countries should step up their efforts to reconnect the low-skilled and other vulnerable groups to available jobs. About two thirds of OECD countries have increased their budget for public employment services since the onset of the COVID 19 crisis. However, more funding is not enough: employment and training services need to be integrated, comprehensive and effective in reaching out to employers and job seekers.
Improving job quality for frontline jobs should be an urgent priority for governments. More than half of OECD countries set up one-time rewards to compensate workers in the long-term care sector for extra work during the pandemic. Yet less than 30% of countries have increased pay on an ongoing basis.
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