GENEVA (ILO News) - The state of the world labour market, reeling from the economic fallout of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, will be the prime topic at a major Forum on employment, which will take place at the Geneva Headquarters of the International Labour Organization on November 1-3.
A report * prepared for the ILO's first Global Employment Forum calls on member States to "reinforce the emphasis on achieving acceptable employment outcomes, even in turbulent times." According to ILO estimates, as many as 24 million employment opportunities could be lost by the end of 2002 simply because of slower economic growth - evident even before September - which will hamper the potential of economies to create new jobs.
Keynote speakers scheduled to address the Forum include United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, Joseph Stiglitz, 2001 Nobel laureate for economics, heads of UN agencies, political and business leaders from all regions, as well as trade unionists, academics and policy makers.
ILO Director-General Juan Somavia, who will be among the keynote speakers, says that the employment crisis needs to be faced head on and that, in spite of increased physical insecurity in the lives of citizens throughout the world, "The biggest risk to security of the majority of people today stems from unemployment and poverty."
He notes that the current economic slowdown has revealed the glaring need for "public policies that adequately reflect the importance of work in people's lives and the aspiration for decent work in conditions of equity, security and dignity."
"The gravity of the economic and labour market downturn must spark a global re-think of the role of employment policies in alleviating poverty and spurring economic growth," says Mr. Somavia.
With up to one-third of the world's workforce either unemployed, underemployed or working poor, the ILO Director-General has branded such pervasive underemployment as "a waste of human potential."
The ILO report warns that, if "economic and productivity growth rates up to 2010 remain similar to those of the 1990s, a depressingly clear employment picture emerges: the working poor will grow in number, in a more populous world. At least 160 million people are outright unemployed, over 300 million people are in jobs but looking for more work and more than one billion are living on less than one dollar per day."
Hundreds of thousands of direct job losses have been announced since the attacks on New York and Washington. One estimate by aviation and tourism experts say global job losses in those sectors alone could soon reach one million.
The United States, the European Union and Japan, all of whose growth projections had already been revised downward, seem likely to face even deeper economic and employment setbacks, according to the ILO. "Retrenchments in many major industries have become severe; foreign direct investment is likely to decrease and markets for developing countries in the industrialized world will likely contract; debt relief negotiations may face new complications."
The ILO report will be submitted to the Forum's 400 delegates - senior government officials and international policy makers, business and trade union leaders, academics and NGOs. It highlights the shortcomings of "a worldwide tendency to view job creation as a residual outcome of other economic objectives and not as an explicit goal in itself."
The report points out that, even in the relatively robust decade of the 1990s, the world economy created only about 40 million new jobs per year for the approximately 48 million new job seekers entering the labour market. In order to secure more productive employment for the current working poor, "the global economy will need to accommodate the 500 million people who will increase the labour force in developing countries over the coming decade."
During the Global Employment Forum, the ILO will stress the enormous challenge facing world leaders to redress this situation and display the political will necessary to implement policies to deal with the gaping shortfall in employment.
The Forum aims to formulate policies to:
- Place employment at the centre of economic and social policy, nationally and globally.
- Ensure that women's work is fully acknowledged and rewarded and that women are enabled to contribute fully to economic and social development.
- Galvanise global action to raise the levels and quality of employment worldwide.
- Building a platform for strategic alliances with other UN agencies and Bretton Woods institutions to ensure an integrated approach to employment issues, both globally and nationally.
Despite the magnitude of these challenges, the ILO says that "it is possible to envisage a more favourable future for employment, based on a number of long-term trends in the world economy that give ground for optimism. Among these are the prospects raised by international trade, the revolution in information and communications technology, which has thus far touched only a small percentage of the world's workforce, and substantial increases in industrial productivity during recent years."
To confront the crisis facing the world's millions who are seeking decent work, the ILO is calling for a new strategic "global alliance for employment" grouping all United Nations agencies and the Bretton Woods institutions - to ensure an integrated approach to policy advice globally and nationally.
* A Global Agenda for Employment: Discussion paper. Employment Sector. International Labour Office, November 2001.