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27 February 2024

Unemployed in Asia could surge by 23m: ILO

A potential employee reads recruitment posters hanging from lines at an unofficial labour market in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China. The global economic slowdown is taking its toll on China, especially the millions of rural migrant workers who have recently lost their jobs. (REUTERS) 

The number of people out of work in Asia could surge by 23.3 million this year as the global financial crisis continues to batter the region's economies, according to a study released on Wednesday.

The crisis could also force rural-to-urban migration to slow down, with many facing the prospect of returning to low paying agricultural sector as factories and firms slash jobs, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) report said.

"A dramatic increase in working poverty of more than 140 million people by 2009 is projected under this scenario, representing regression of the Asia and Pacific region to a working poverty rate of 2004," the study said.

"These projections are not just numbers, they carry with them a real risk that children may be forced to withdraw from school in order to work and support their families," it said.

It said the region's robust growth in the past was not matched by "broad-based gains in real wages," leading to sharp inequalities in many countries.

"The substantial growth slowdown taking place is likely to lead to stagnant or falling real wages, with the potential for increased incidences of wage related disputes," the study said.

As Asia moves to spend about 3.9 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on stimulus packages, there is also a need to protect employment and support household purchasing power, it said.

"Stimulus geared toward infrastructure projects provide a direct way to generate employment, while also laying the future foundation of growth," the paper said.

Governments should also spend on schools, hospitals and healthcare to mitigate the impact of the crisis while also looking at ways to boost worker skills for longer-term productivity.

"While the crisis represents tremendous challenge to the region, the response measures to the crisis represents a unique opportunity to address economic, social and environmental priorities," it said.