Ref. :  000024586
Date :  2006-08-28
Language :  English
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Asia and Pacific region faces massive jobs gap

ILO Regional Meeting to discuss new strategies for creating productive employment, decent work and reducing poverty

Author :  OIT / ILO

Monday 28 August 2006 (ILO/06/39)

BUSAN, Republic of Korea (ILO News) - Robust growth in trade, investment and output have failed to keep pace with the growth of the labour force and tackle rising unemployment in Asia and the Pacific, where an estimated 250 million more workers are expected to be looking for jobs over the next decade, according to a new report from the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The report, "Realizing Decent Work in Asia" (Note 1), prepared for the ILO's 14th Regional Meeting to be held here from 29 August to 1 September, says the region has made remarkable headway economically and now occupies a "premier position in the global economy."

However, while many countries in the region have made huge strides in reducing poverty, over 1 billion "working poor" are living under the US$2 per person, per day poverty line, including more than 330 million living in extreme poverty of less than US$1 a day. What's more, unemployment rates have increased over those prevailing five to seven years ago in much of the region.

"The gap between growth and job creation is producing a deficit in decent work and putting the brakes on efforts to reduce poverty," says Juan Somavia, Director-General of the ILO. "The jobs challenge is enormous. At approximately 1.9 billion working women and men, Asia's labour force is huge and growing - by at least 14 per cent, or 250 million, over the next ten years."

Government, employer and worker delegates from 40 ILO member States in the region will discuss diverse challenges, including competitiveness, productivity and decent jobs in a globalizing context; decent jobs for young people; managing labour migration; labour market governance for realizing decent work in Asia; and extending social protection to the informal economy. The discussions will take up standards and fundamental principles and rights at work, gender equality and social dialogue as cross-cutting themes.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the jobs deficit is its impact on young people. In 2005, Asia had over 48 per cent, or 41.6 million, of the world's young people without work. The risk of being unemployed for young people is at least three times higher than that of adults.

Asia & Pacific economies and the labour market Other decent work challenges identified by the ILO include:

* Wage growth lags behind productivity gains: In China labour productivity in manufacturing rose by 170 per cent between 1990 and 1999, while real wages rose by slightly less than 80 per cent. Pakistan and India experienced a decline in real manufacturing wages since 1990 - a drop of 8.5 per cent in the former and of 22 per cent in the latter. India's wage decline occurred despite an increase in manufacturing labour productivity of over 84 per cent over the same period, indicating deterioration in workers' livelihoods despite the increasing efficiency of their labour;

* Long working hours: Large productivity gains aren't translating into substantially shorter working hours. The top six economies in the world in terms of annual hours worked are all Asian - Bangladesh, Hong Kong (China), Malaysia, Republic of Korea , Sri Lanka, Thailand - and a large share of people work 50 hours or more a week;

* Inequalities between the sexes: Despite progress in the past 15 years, gaps still exist. Female manufacturing workers in Singapore earn on average only 61 per cent of their male counterparts, while in recent years the gender gap in manufacturing wages has declined in some countries including Japan, Malaysia and the Republic of Korea;

* Rising mobility of workers: In recent years, 2.6 million to 2.9 million workers in Asia have left their homes each year to work abroad. Over 50 per cent of the migrants come from South Asia (India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka), and the rest mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines. In a change from the past Asia now absorbs an increasing proportion - an estimated 40 per cent - of the migrants;

* Uneven decline in child labour: Between 2000 and 2004 the number of child workers aged 5-14 years declined by 5 million in Asia and the Pacific, but the region has still some 122.3 million working children - about 64 per cent of the global total;

* Workers' safety and health: Some 1 million workers are killed annually in Asia by work-related accidents and diseases. Among the most serious health concerns is HIV/AIDS: about 97 per cent of persons living with HIV/AIDS are aged 15-49 years, the most productive working age group, indicating the impact of the disease on the productive labour force will be serious;

* Rights at work: While many countries have strengthened national laws in line with the fundamental principles and rights at work (particularly relating to discrimination at work, child labour and forced labour), recent events in some countries reflect serious threats to freedom of association;

* A growing representation gap: Union membership ranges from between 3 to 8 per cent of the labour force in countries such as Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia and the Republic of Korea, and 16 to 19 per cent in New Zealand, Australia and Singapore. Union 'density' is lowest in countries with large informal and agricultural sectors but has declined in most countries of the region. Employers' organizations have also experienced challenges, including the increasing diversity of companies and the growing presence of multinationals, which are often not affiliated with national Federations.

Faced with these and other deficits, the report notes that there has been widespread support for the ILO's "Decent Work Agenda," and cites progress since the ILO's last Asian Regional Meeting in managing the forces of globalization, notably through national plans of action for decent work.

"In this period of turbulence and rapid change, the world is looking to Asia for examples and good practices on how to seize opportunities and address the challenges posed by globalization and intensifying competition and progress in technology," Mr. Somavia said. "With decent work now endorsed as a global goal, the task is to make it a reality - and Asia has the potential to take the lead. The widespread endorsement of a decent work approach is recognition that 'business as usual' will deliver neither the quantity of jobs people need or quality jobs that can redress deep imbalances and lift people out of poverty."

For more information visit or contact the ILO communications team: Sophy Fisher,, tel.: +8210/865-98535, Thomas Netter,, tel.: +8210/865-95657 and Karen Naets-Sekiguchi,, tel.: +8210/865-95320.

The ILO holds Regional Meetings in Asia and other regions of the world to tackle challenges and problems facing the world of work and review ILO's activities. The delegates will also receive a report on the activities of the ILO in the Asia and the Pacific during the past five years. The ILO is a tripartite organization whose meetings are attended by delegates of governments, employers and workers, all of whom have the right to vote.

Note 1 - Realizing decent work in Asia, Report of the ILO Director-General, 14th Asian Regional Meeting, Busan, Republic of Korea, August-September 2006, ISBN 978-92-2-118770-7. The official report is complemented by a background report that provides data and detailed analysis of the region's employment and social conditions: "Labour and Social Trends in Asia and the Pacific 2006, Progress towards Decent Work, Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific", ISBN 92-2-119039-0.

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