The mismatch between the number of people who annually reach working age and the availability of jobs has been a matter of constant concern globally during the better part of the period since the global financial crisis of the last decade. The International Labour Organisation’s latest forecast that a few more millions are set to join the pool of the jobless during this year and the next, is in line with its own previous estimates. In any case, with the growth in global gross domestic product registering a six-year low in 2016, expectations of generation of new jobs were always going to be low. But a no-less-serious concern in the ‘World Employment and Social Outlook 2017’ pertains to the stubborn challenge of reducing the extent of vulnerability that currently affects about 42 per cent of the total working population. This concern refers to lack of access to contributory social protection schemes among the self-employed and allied categories, unlike their counterparts in the wage-earning and salaried classes. The former segment accounts for nearly 50 per cent of workers in the emerging economies and 80 per cent in developing countries. The hardships faced by these 1.4 billion working people will become more apparent when seen in the backdrop of either the absence of strong welfare legislation or its effective enforcement in a majority of these countries. It is no surprise that besides Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia has been the most affected by such volatile conditions.
To be sure, the overall share of these vulnerable workers dropped from 46 per cent of total employment in 2015 to 42 per cent in 2016. But the latest report projects only a mere 0.2 percentage point rate of reduction through 2017-18. In comparison, it says the proportion of the population in jobs characterised by vulnerability declined by an average annual rate of 0.5 percentage points in the previous decade. As a result of the relatively slow reversal rates in more recent years, these numbers are projected to increase globally by 11 million a year. The other implication of an increase in the number of people facing vulnerable working conditions is the real danger this poses of a slowdown in reducing the incidence of working poverty. It is this celebrated rise in income levels in the lowest rungs of the population that lent the current phase of globalisation the social and political legitimacy, a phase that has otherwise posed the risks of economic dislocation and unprecedented mass migration. The challenge for policymakers worldwide is to ensure that incomes do not fall below the levels of basic subsistence as the world marches towards the poverty reduction targets under the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.