Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Sunday said the “crisis of the middle class” was advancing in various parts of the world, and was a problem shared by all countries.

Delivering a special address at the opening of the 15th Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting (ARPM) of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) here, Mr. Noda said statistical data showed that the gap between the rich and the poor was widening in many countries, including industrialised nations, and a trend depicting an ongoing polarisation of society could be seen.

He pointed out that it had been 43 years since the ILO ARPM was last held in Japan and the country had recovered from post-war devastation and hurtled headlong on the path of an unprecedented level of economic growth.

“This was an era overflowing with the hope that each individual could enjoy the affluence linked to the burgeoning national economy,” Mr. Noda said. The biggest driving factor behind this was the existence of the “large middle class” and the fruits of high-level economic growth spilled over from the wealthy class to this section.

Disparities

Mr. Noda spoke of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the disparities it reflected and said that in Japan the talk of a divided society had already been around for several years. He called for a safety net to counter the various forms of crisis that could easily cross borders in a globally connected world, and to strive to achieve the principle of decent work. The New Growth Strategy drawn up in 2010 identifies employment creation as a central task and places the focus on green jobs, enhanced linkages in the field of health care, regulatory reform and human resource development. He said he would like Japan to establish a system of social security that was sustainable, even with its declining birth-rate and ageing population, and make it a model for the entire region.

ILO Director General Juan Somavia said that while growth and output were rebounding, productivity was rising, and investment was back, “dark clouds are gathering again”. Asia is now more open than ever before — this means openness to both positive and negative developments elsewhere. While the global growth model developed over the last three decades may have served some countries of the region well economically, it had also proven to be unbalanced, unfair, and unsustainable, Mr. Somavia said.

It had created inequalities, new environmental challenges and major decent work deficits. If left unaddressed, it would threaten social cohesion, political stability and long-term development, he said.

The world and Asia needed a new vision of growth and development that could open the way to a new era of social justice.

Mr. Somavia said it would be a serious mistake to misread the crisis as being primarily one of confidence, in financial markets in the Eurozone.

Uprisings

On the contrary, there was a growing feeling in many quarters that multilateral governance frameworks and even many national political systems were not coping well with the power of global financial operators.

Popular uprisings as in the Arab world, mass protests, demonstrations, riots and other expressions of anxiety and danger were on the rise, Mr. Somavia said. Young women and men had led many such actions expressing frustration and anger over economic exclusion and lack of genuine opportunity.

In this context, global policymakers needed to reconnect with the needs of working families and tackle the global jobs crisis at its root. It was vital to put in place global policies and measures that stimulated investment in the real economy by productive enterprises that generated decent jobs and significantly reduced the space for unproductive financial operations, Mr. Somavia said.

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