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Updated on: 7 April, 2021
After nearly a year of COVID -19 crisis in North Macedonia, the future is still uncertain. While the various vaccines give some reason for optimism, mutations in the virus and new information from the World Health Organization about the likely persistence of the pandemic in 2021 are causes for concern. The last wave of COVID -19 hit much harder and the number of Macedonian citizens infected increased exponentially, putting enormous pressure on the health system to treat patients.
By the 7th of April 2021, the total number of diagnosed since the beginning of the epidemic is 132.728 (6,7% of the total population), the number of cured patients is 111.765, the number of deaths is 4.073 and the number of active cases is 21.891.
The measures active as of November 3, 2020 are the mandatory facemasks in indoor and outdoor public spaces, the restriction of public assembly of more than 4 people, restriction of the closing time of catering establishments to 21:00 each day. Social distancing (2 meter) and hygiene measures remained the same. However, these measures showed to be ineffective and additional measures have been introduced on April 5, 2021: closure of coffee bars and restaurants; training/sport jams and gambling houses. A restriction on free movement (curfew) is extended and now is enforced between 20:00 and 05:00. These measures are enforced for the period between 6-20 April.
The rapid spread of the pandemic in early March 2020 interrupted the growth momentum abruptly. Measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have slowed economic activity, which in turn has had a negative impact on the national budget.
The ongoing crisis is expected to:
The pandemic has had a negative impact on overall economic activity in North Macedonia, where average GDP fell by -5.4% in 2020. According to the State Statistical office, North Macedonia’s economic output shrank by an estimated 4.5% year-on-year in 2020. Exports of goods and services fell by 10.9% in nominal terms in the year under review, while imports declined by 10.5%. Household final consumption decreased by an estimated 5.6% last year. The unemployment rate declined throughout 2020, reaching 16.1% in the fourth quarter, which is 0.5 % points lower than last year. In a recent interview, the Minister of Economic Affairs, said the government’s stimulus packages had saved around 80,000 jobs.
Even with government support, businesses are facing serious and unprecedented cash flow, supply, and operating problems. The economy will not be able to return to pre-crisis levels (or the counterfactual scenario without the pandemic and without new government reforms). Cumulative output losses for 2020 and 2021 are estimated at EUR 3.7 billion. Based on more recent projections, the National Bank forecasts a 17.1% decline in exports of goods and services in real terms.
The new wave of COVID-19 cases and the introduction of strict closure measures in all European countries has led to a worldwide decline in the consumption of textile products. The consequences of the decrease in sales throughout the European market have triggered additional challenges for Macedonian textile companies. The trend of reduction and cancellation of orders from abroad is evident again in early 2021, given the additional current closures of European countries, especially Germany.
In fact, companies are expecting a 50% drop in sales and additional order cancellations in the coming period, but the situation is already devastating, with the employers’ association stating that production facilities have been working almost not at all since January. According to the latest statement by the Textile Industry Employers’ Association in Macedonia, production has almost come to a standstill and the textile industry is facing serious challenges to survive.
According to the latest research reports since the crises began, in 2020; 7,000 textile workers lost their jobs; up to 18% of the total number of textile workers are registered as newly unemployed. The most common reason for termination of employment in the textile industry is the expiration of their fixed-term contract as a result of decreased production orders. However, in 2020, this basis has increased by 123% compared to 2019. Workers on fixed-term contracts are the ones who have suffered the most.
The situation is more critical compared to last year, especially because factories are facing challenges without any government support available during this current period. At this moment, the country is facing troubles to pass a law to financially support workers’ wages. If this law is not passed, the employers association warns that 20% of the workers in the textile industry will remain out of a job.
The textile and garment industry accounts for 12.82% of the country’s total industrial output and covers about 10% of the country’s exports. Experts say that if the government does not work harder to save this industry, the consequences will be devastating.
On 16 February 2021, the Government announced the launch of the 5th package of support aimed at mitigating the negative impact of the pandemic on the economy. This package consisted of 29 measures with an estimated cost of EUR 160 million. This will bring the total of the North Macedonian aid up to over EUR 1 billion. Unfortunately, this measure is not yet effective due to the blocking of some opposition parties in Parliament. The previous four packages included the following measures:
The 5th package of measures also includes support for payment of the salaries of workers in the private sector at the level of 14.500 (minimum wage) per employee for April and May 2021 or 50% of salary contributions, which would protect a large number of jobs. Companies and employees in the textile, leather and shoe industries will be able to use funds from the key measures of the package. Due to the delay in adoption of this measures many employees that are dependent on this support, still have not received wages for February.
The protocol for preventive measures for all jobs, arising from the plan to reduce restrictive measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, defines activities to be undertaken in working environments:
The previous governmental support packages have not been implemented consistently by the beneficiaries. To make matters worse, it started during the period of the early parliamentary elections and affected the newly formed technical government, which aroused the interest of stakeholders and the public in the impact of these measures.
The less-than-ideal situation in the textile, leather and footwear industry before the pandemic was reflected after the declaration of the pandemic in North Macedonia and it further deteriorated. Government decrees, measures and recommendations were vague, confusing and it can be said that some of them were in contradiction with positive labor legislation. Only a small part of the decrees, measures and recommendations have substantially reached the labor market in labor-intensive and low-wage industries in a positive way for workers. However, in practice in the labor market, especially in the private sector, a number of violations occurred, especially in the release of these vulnerable categories of workers.
Relevant measures from previous Governmental set of measures to support the business sector aimed at reducing the economic damage caused by proclaiming a coronavirus pandemic – COVID 19:
In practice, in the labour market and especially in the private sector, there have been a number of violations especially in the area of payment of the minimum living wage and release of the workers, and the vulnerable categories of workers.
Local NGO Glasen Tekstilec together with Helsinki committee for human rights is working directly on the field to protect the garment workers by providing advisory support on what the worker should do if they face job losses, violence on their labour rights. They are using intensive media campaign through social media channels to address the support for the workers in daily shows, contact programmes etc. Glasen tekstilec is publicly exposing the names of the garment factories that dismissed workers and submits legal charges against employers to the Labour inspectorate. “Glasen Testilec” was quite active in reaching out to workers in textile and garment factories. Various reasons were used by the employers to terminate contracts, such as cases where employees on a part-time contract were terminated prematurely, i.e. before the expiration of the fixed term employment contract.
Project “Responding to the socio-economic effects of KOVID-19 by supporting vulnerable groups of low-paid workers, workers who are part of the informal economy and temporary workers” funded by Foundation Open Society Macedonia was implemented by several grass route organisations.
The Macedonian Occupational Safety and Health Association (MOSHA) has been closely monitoring the progress of the disease, offering information and resources for dealing with COVID-19 in North Macedonia and Western Balkans, in cooperation with its partners. During the pandemic, MOSHA has prepared and distributed guidelines and recommendations on infection control and prevention to more than 7000 health workers, together with the Trade Union of Health Workers from Centre Clinic in Skopje and the Institute of Public Health. MOSHA also provided assistance to construction and factory workers for compliance with the Coronavirus Prevention Guide. The Construction, Industry and Engineering Union has 3,800 members who comply with these guidelines in their day to day activities.
Macedonian Occupational Health and Safety organization (MOSHA) is actively working on raising awareness on extended measures for workers safety. Many of the activities include translating fighting corona virus guidance, or how to act in situation of contracting corona virus. MOSHA has issued guidance’s for production facilities on how to adhere to the recommendations for workers protection. In cooperation with the MOT National Office, made the translation and technical editing of the publication “Faced with a pandemic: Care for occupational safety and health. Within CIVICA Mobilitas programme, MOSHA received an emergency ad-hoc grant to work on protection of workers at risk from the crisis and will educate service sector workers about their rights and opportunities in this situation.
Macedonian Occupational Safety and Health Association (MOSHA) and PHI Institute of Public Health (IPH) of the Republic of Northern Macedonia established the Knowledge Center “EPI KOVID-19 Center for Occupational Safety and Health”.
Ministry of Health
Corona virus in MK
Ministry of Labour
Macedonian chamber of doctors
Macedonian occupational safety and health association
Adopted economic measures for support of the business sector
Institute of public health
Employers Association from North Macedonia
Federation of Trade Union SSM
Straightening Social dialogue- EU funded project