COVID-19 has created a new urgency to protect working people, with compulsory unemployment insurance a much-needed safety net - research

The outbreak of COVID-19 has created a new urgency to address issues affecting working people worldwide, including the digitalisation of the economy, the need for continuous education, and the fragility of many national social protection systems.

This is according to a new report by Zurich Insurance Group (Zurich) and the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford. It notes that the adoption of compulsory unemployment insurance – as well as insurance for health, disability, and income protection, along with protection for dependents – can provide security and allow people to reskill and adapt to a changing world of work.

“Having a workforce that is protected, well-trained and agile is paramount for a healthy economy and everyone needs to play their part,” said Alison Martin, Zurich’s CEO Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA) and Bank Distribution. 

Based on two global surveys and interviews with business leaders, the report argues that no single stakeholder can shoulder the impact of these changes alone. The long-term health of societies depends on the sharing of responsibility among individuals, employers, benefit providers and governments.

Key findings of the report include:

  • A growing need for adequate protection: The pandemic highlighted the importance of strengthening protection for atypical workers such as freelancers, gig workers or part-time workers, many of whom have lost work and fall between the cracks of existing and emergency social safety nets.
  • Millennials and Gen Z will likely become more risk-averse: Before COVID-19, younger generations were twice as likely as older workers to choose freelancing as a career path. The trend may now reverse with younger workers seeking job security, which might imply rethinking self-employment and their part in the gig economy.
  • Higher pressure to adapt to technological change as digitalisation accelerates: With COVID-19 boosting digitalisation, including the use of AI and automation, the need for reskilling has increased. However, the global survey showed a mismatch between an individual’s self-perceived personal level of risk and their willingness to take steps to address it. Governments and employers alike could play a role in informing workers about the risks to their jobs and the opportunities available.
  • Redistribution and increased flexibility are necessary features of protection beyond COVID-19: Compulsory health insurance schemes ought to have embedded within them a redistributive capacity as a means of reducing inequality, such as between higher and lower income earners as well as between different worker generations. The rise of a new world of big data also calls for protection that is designed with greater inbuilt flexibility and continuity across career choices, which includes a more flexible uptake, payment for, and switching between and within insurance products.