Image courtesy ILO Caribbean Office.

During the pandemic, teleworking enabled the continuity of businesses and jobs. It was an unexpected leap into the future of work that has opened a scenario of opportunities and challenges for the region, the ILO said today.

6 July 2021 (Lima, Peru) — Teleworking permeated the labour markets of Latin America and the Caribbean as a way to cope with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing the continuity of activities in some sectors in the context of a devastating drop in economic activity marked by employment, falling income and business closures.

Preliminary estimates from the International Labour Organization (ILO) indicate that at the worst moment of the crisis, in the second quarter of 2020, some 23 million people transitioned to telework in the region. As in other parts of the world, this modality emerged as a mechanism to guarantee the continuity of certain economic activities and, with it, employment.

A new technical note from the ILO released this Tuesday says that in countries in the region where data is available, between 20 and 30 per cent of wage earners who were actually working did so from their homes during the lockdown measures. Before the pandemic, that figure was less than 3 per cent.

“The crisis accelerated labour market trends, which signals that together with the dramatic job loss situation, the future of work was manifesting itself earlier than expected,” said Vinícius Pinheiro, ILO Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Teleworking helped cushion the negative impacts of the crisis on labour markets, contributing to the preservation of millions of jobs. After the recovery, it will surely continue to be an option and generate new opportunities, although it is clear that there are still pending responses to the challenges for workers and for companies who quickly implemented it,” added Pinheiro.

The report advises that while it is too early to predict the extent of the effectiveness of teleworking, it is necessary for countries and societies to be prepared to assume that this modality is here to stay, either as a convenient solution for some people and companies, or through the proliferation of hybrid forms that combine work at establishments with work from home.

The ILO analysis says that although work from home already existed before the pandemic, it mainly covered self-employed workers, or special situations where it was combined with work at establishments, “but in the context of quarantine it happened, in many cases, to be the only modality of work.”

“However, not all workers were able to use this modality. It was mainly the formally employed, salaried people, with a high educational level, stable employment relationships in professional, managerial and administrative occupations, and of course with access to the necessary technologies to carry out their tasks, who demonstrated the greatest increases in telework,” explained Roxana Maurizio, ILO Regional Specialist in Labour Economics and Author of the technical note “Challenges and opportunities of telework in Latin America and the Caribbean”.

The technical note highlights that, “informal workers, self-employed, young, with lower qualifications and with low earnings, who experienced the greatest job losses and hours worked, especially in the first half of 2020, had much less access to teleworking.”

According to Maurizio, it is also important to consider that in a region characterized by labour structures with an overall low level of information and communications technology (ICT) use and with high technological gaps, “it was expected that the spread of home work and, in particular, telework, was not homogeneous between the different groups of workers.”

On the other hand, the ILO Specialist added that before this crisis, teleworking was considered as an alternative to achieve a better balance between family and work life, but during the lockdowns caused by the pandemic the situation was complex as schools were also closed and the demands for care increased.

“This affected women in a special way, given that family responsibilities continue to fall mainly on them,” said Maurizio.

The report highlights some relevant aspects that must be addressed to face the challenges of teleworking:

• Voluntariness and agreement between the parties

• Organization and working time

• Health and safety at work

• Equipment and work items

• Protection of the right to privacy of workers

• Gender dimension and telework

• The role of social actors

• Labour relationship and compliance with legislation

“The region has reported progress in the regulation of teleworking. However, the unprecedented increase in this modality of work exposed a multiplicity of challenges that must be addressed,” says the ILO analysis. “Without adequate controls, working from home could lead to labour relations that do not recognize dependency and, therefore, increases in self-employment or disguised labour relations.”

The issues of social security, work day compliance, freedom of association, access to job training, health and safety in the workplace, among others, are part of the issues to be considered. The technical note highlights that dialogue between governments, employers and workers is key to addressing these issues.

“From the perspective of companies, teleworking also represents challenges to guarantee the continuity of operations and maintain the levels of productivity required for their survival,” it adds.

“It is essential to consider the lessons learned during the pandemic,” says the ILO technical note, but it also advises that for future analyses on this topic, “it is necessary to have official statistics that provide adequate, comparable and updated information” on teleworking in Latin America and the Caribbean.