Rapid assessment highlights impact of COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable workers and small-scale businesses in Lebanon

The assessment examines how the crisis has affected employment and livelihoods of Lebanese nationals and Syrian refugee workers, as well as the new challenges now facing small-scale enterprises in an already fragile economy.

Press release | 05 June 2020
Beirut, Lebanon - An assessment exploring the impact of COVID-19 on workers and small-scale businesses in Lebanon was issued on Friday (June 5), highlighting some of the challenges that workers, particularly the most vulnerable, are facing in terms of employment, source of income, current economic conditions, and prospects for the immediate future. The assessment also addresses the effects of the pandemic on small-scale businesses, their coping strategies and business prospects.

The assessment was conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research (Fafo), in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), Save the Children International, Mercy Corps, Oxfam and UNWomen. It is based on a selected sample of 1,987 Lebanese nationals and Syrian refugees, who have participated in programmes implemented by the agencies and organizations involved in the report.

Findings show an overall deterioration in the living and working conditions of the women and men in the study sample as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken to contain it. The COVID-19 crisis has “added yet another challenge for the country’s vulnerable workers, particularly Syrian refugees who tend to accept lower wages and tougher working conditions,” the assessment adds.

Survey results show that, prior to the lockdown, the majority of respondents were working without written contracts, paid leave, social security or health coverage. Only 11 per cent of respondents had worked during the reporting period of the lockdown, with almost twice the share of Syrian refugees being permanently laid-off.

Income in March 2020 decreased by more than two-thirds for all workers, and only a few reported having household savings. The majority identified cash support as an important measure that would help minimize the adverse impact of the crisis, while in-kind food assistance to families was rated as the second most important measure.

“As the findings of this report show, the pandemic has clearly exacerbated the economic and social problems many workers have long been forced to face,” said Frank Hagemann, ILO Deputy Regional Director for Arab States.

“The assessment provides good insight into the types of actions needed to address the employment and livelihoods challenges faced by these workers. In the immediate term, the government and its development partners must move quickly to provide the comprehensive support these workers and the businesses employing them desperately need, such as immediate short-term job creation and cash assistance. Over the long term, we must look at implementing measures to formalise employment and provide social protection - measures which contribute to advancing decent work for all.”

“The COVID19 pandemic is more than a health crisis and the findings of the rapid assessment clearly highlight the high economic and social costs for workers and small-scale businesses” said Celine Moyroud, the UNDP Resident representative in Lebanon. “In line with the UN’s global focus on socio-economic recovery, the assessment provides useful entry points to accelerate support in the immediate and longer term”.

The study highlights the impact the crisis is having on female workers in relation to reported income loss, rates of dismissal from the workforce, and increased household and childcare duties which have been and continue to be disproportionally undertaken by women.

Impact on small-scale enterprises

The assessment also covers representatives of 363 small-scale enterprises from a range of sectors including agriculture, wholesale and retail trade, as well as accommodation and food services.

Around half the enterprises in the sample had stopped operations temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures, with only 9 per cent operating as normal and 40 per cent operating with reduced working hours or a reduced number of workers.

Reduction in demand and sales, restriction on foreign currency and cash flow, as well as political and social instability were cited as some of the biggest obstacles facing enterprises in the coming months.

The assessment provides programmatic recommendations to humanitarian and development partners on ways to coordinate efforts in supporting the most vulnerable workers amongst both Lebanese and Syrians, such as through immediate and urgent cash assistance, as well as through financial support for struggling enterprises. It also proposes medium and longer-term measures, which focus on supporting job creation in a more protected manner and reforming the work permit system to ensure Syrian refugees have better access to decent working conditions. The assessment also highlights the importance of a national framework promoting the transition from the informal to the formal economy through social dialogue, that takes into account the situation of all workers.