Will focus on how employment, economic progress can be safeguarded

The 15th Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting (ARPM) of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) gets underway here on Sunday amid concerns of huge unemployment among youth in the region, a widening gender gap and the promise of green jobs.

About 500 people, including Ministers, representatives of workers' and employers' organisations, and academics from more than 46 countries in Asia, the Pacific and the Arab States are slated to attend the four-day deliberations.

The main thrust of the meeting will be how employment, economic and social progress can be safeguarded in the face of the uncertain global economic outlook, according to the ILO.

Director-General of the ILO, Juan Somavia in a statement set the tone by saying that, “The existing unbalanced growth cannot continue. It has failed to deliver jobs of the quality and quantity needed to assure women and men and their families a decent life. Today, unemployment levels in Asia and the Pacific have yet to reach the pre-crisis low of 76.9 million in 2007. Nearly 60 per cent of the region's workers are in vulnerable employment. The crisis of youth employment demands urgent action. Young people make up around 20 per cent of the region's population but are half of the jobless.”

A report on the Asia-Pacific Labour Market Update produced for the ILO's 15th ARPM, says that the global outlook is increasingly uncertain. Asia will not be immune from turbulence and weak demand.

While the region's economic performance remains positive – in some countries impressively so – there are signs of slowing growth, with economic and social vulnerabilities appearing in both industrialised and developing Asia.

Stressing social protection for workers, the report admits that while a high level of coverage is ultimately desirable, it is not necessarily indicative of a household's ability to pay. In this regard Thailand stands out. Not only does its scheme cover almost 95 per cent of the population but the share of total health expenses paid “out-of-pocket” by households is low, at less than 20 per cent. In contrast, in China, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam, “out-of-pocket” payments account for 35 per cent to 55 per cent of total health expenditures.

Women face wide gaps in both economic participation and earnings in the region. In Pakistan the difference was 33.7 percentage points in labour force participation and 45 per cent in wages, the highest for both indicators among the sample of countries. In Nepal, male-female inequality in wages is among the highest (40.5 per cent) but among the lowest when it comes to labour force participation (7.4 percentage points).

The report said that moving to a low-carbon, sustainable development path opens up new opportunities for investment, business ventures and the creation of “green jobs.” In Bangladesh, environment-related jobs (both direct and indirect) already represent about 10 per cent of all employment opportunities, with sustainable transport (45 per cent) and climate adaptation activities (35 per cent) accounting for most of these new employment opportunities. The government is spending about $ 2 billion a year on sustainable development, which should create about 1.7 million new jobs.

New jobs in China

In China, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences projects that about 30 million new jobs will be created between 2005 and 2030 in forestry and the energy sector, based on current energy efficiency promotion policies, reduced emissions and the protection of the ecosystem.

Unemployment among the youth is a serious concern. A lack of decent and productive jobs for young people is a drag on Asia's economic potential, and may also threaten social stability, the report said.

Compared to adults, young people are at least three times more likely to be unemployed in the region as a whole and nearly five times more likely in South-East Asia and the Pacific. In light of the projected deceleration in economic growth in the region, the report predicts that the pace of employment creation could also moderate during the latter part of 2011.

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