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Universal protection needed in coronavirus recovery

Governments will need to develop universal protection policies for all kinds of workers as the labour market recovery remains unclear amidst the global coronavirus pandemic, a Korean Social Policy expert says. 

That is the view of Dr. Sophia Seung-Yoon Lee who, speaking at a global summit on work hosted by the International Labour Organisation, urged leaders to consider both their formal and informal workers, both struggling to make ends meet.

Dr. Seung-Yoon Lee is an Associate Professor of Social Policy from Chung-An University in the Republic of Korea. She said without universal social protection, precarious workers, women and youth will get left behind.


“Crisis can come in an incalculable way so we should prepare a universal social protection which can protect not only formal workers but informal workers too, and not only paid workers but unpaid workers too,” she said.

She was speaking alongside Minister of Commerce, Industry and Labour Lautafi Fio Purcell, at the regional component of the I.L.O. global summit on the world of work amidst COVID-19.

According to her research, the region lost 135 million fulltime jobs in the first quarter of 2020, with a further 235 million predicted to go by the second quarter.

The Asia and Pacific region also accounts for 80 per cent of the global total reduction in working hours between January and March.

“We have to consider the fact that many of the individual countries in this region have a large informal sector [… with] no social protection or an advanced social welfare state.

“The disease can equally spread but it can cause more devastating results to already fragile groups.”

Women, who are both losing the most hours in the service industries shuttered by the virus, and on the frontlines of the care industries dealing with the sick and vulnerable, are often unlikely to be captured by existing, and limited, social protection policies in the region, she said.

The region needs a “re-evaluation of work both paid and unpaid.

“So how do we design and create a universal social protection and an inclusive welfare state?

“I think it should be according to individual country’s labour market characteristics. Individual countries should develop tailor-made universal social protection based on a very clear understanding of their country’s labour market risks.”

Dr. Seung-Yoon Lee has a PhD in Comparative Social Policy. Her research has focused on East Asian welfare states and labour markets, precarious work and social protection, as well as the reconstruction of the welfare state with basic income as part of the research.

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