ILO Turns Spotlight on Asia Pacific Dimensions of Stark Global Youth Employment Crisis

ILO regional meeting, preceded by a long process of consultation and research, focuses on the Asia Pacific dimensions of a "stark" global youth employment situations.

Press release | BANGKOK | 27 February 2002

BANGKOK (ILO News):- The Asia Pacific dimensions of a "stark" global youth employment situations are under the spotlight at an ILO regional meeting opening in Bangkok today, drawing together a 12-month long process of consultation and research.

With 66 million unemployed youth1 in the world today, and projections of worse to come, ILO global studies note that youth employment statistics "provide a stark warning." Youth unemployment has grown by 10 million since 1995 – and currently accounts for 41 per cent of the global total of 160 million. And, the ILO predicts an 11 per cent increase in the world’s youth population in the decade to 2010 – rising by 116 million to 1.2 billion. Asia and the Pacific will account for the vast majority of this increase, some 73 million. Coupled with this are further predictions that the global economy will need to accommodate half a billion more people in the labour forces of developing countries over the coming decade.

Papers prepared for the Bangkok meeting note that, in many of the countries and territories covered by the ILO’s Asia and Pacific office, at least half of the population is aged below 20 years – among them, Afghanistan, Cambodia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Lao PDR, Nepal, Pakistan and the Solomon Islands. However population structures vary widely. Within major industrialized and developed economies in the region – Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore – the median age is well above 30 years. In China and the Republic of Korea, the median age hovers around 30; while in the other countries, median ages are lower, and very often much lower than 30. The region’s two major population centres, China and India, have populations of 1 billion or more – and each has a youth population of around 200 million.

Despite the variety in population and youth employment profiles – research for the meeting points to two shared features: youth are always more likely to be unemployed than adults; and they are more vulnerable to shocks in the labour market.

In developing countries, the situation for youth may be even worse than the unemployment figures show. Many young people cannot afford to be without a source of income – and so make do with casual employment, intermittent work, insecure arrangements and low earnings. Underemployment is high among young people working in household production units and in the large informal sector. Youth unemployment and underemployment are linked with social problems such as crime, vandalism and drugs, and perpetuate a vicious cycle of poverty and exclusion.

The ILO/Japan Tripartite Meeting on Youth Employment in Asia and the Pacific will consider forms an important part of the ILO’s support for a high level policy network on youth employment, established by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan together with ILO Director-General Juan Somavia and World Bank President James Wolfensohn.

The policy network has drawn together leading figures from private enterprise, civil society and economic policy, and has put recommendations before the UN General Assembly. Based on its recommendations, four priorities are promoted for national action plans:

  • Employability – investing in education and vocational training for young people and improving the impact of these investments;
  • Equality – giving young women the same opportunities as young men
  • Entrepreneurship – making it easier to start and run enterprises for young women and men
  • Employment – placing employment creation at the centre of development strategies and macroeconomic policy.

Thailand’s Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Welfare H.E. Mrs. Ladawan Wongsriwong was chief guest, opening the meeting.

ILO Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific Mr. Yasuyuki Nodera said that, according to UN Secretary General Mr. Annan, freely chosen, productive employment was "the very foundation on which social stability rests."

"And yet," Mr Nodera said, "in the world today, decent work is in alarmingly short supply. For young people, the shortage is chronic."

"We know, in short, that our young people, our future, do not have enough decent work. And therefore, our future does not yet have social stability. And neither do we."

The ILO Asia Pacific meeting is the penultimate step in an intensive preparatory process of research and consultations across eight countries and territories. It will lead to a series of publications, including a regional overview of youth employment and an action manual.

The preparatory process has included:

  • gathering more data on youth employment in Asia and the Pacific to supplement those in the ILO’s global statistical work, Key Indicators of the Labour Market (KILM). This includes an overview and assessment of youth data available on the internet;
  • Studies looking at the job creation potential of information and communications technology for youth; and active labour market policies;
  • Surveys of eight of the countries and territories taking part in the meeting (Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Viet Nam and Hong Kong, China);
  • National workshops in six of the eight countries, identifying strategies and project proposals. These will be discussed at the regional meeting, and presented for donor funding.

Issues in Thailand

Supplementary papers prepared for the conference include an overview of youth employment in the meeting’s host country, Thailand.

Thai youth make up almost one fifth of the total population, notes ILO Labour Market Policies specialist Elizabeth Morris, and account for some 18.4 per cent of the total labour force. Economic growth in Thailand in the years before 1997 improved quality of life for Thailand’s youth – but they were hit disproportionately hard by the financial crisis of 1997. The crisis provided a sharp reminder that youth are among Thai society’s most vulnerable groups.

The ILO is a global labour organization within the United Nations system dedicated to promoting decent work: securing employment, improved conditions of life and work, social protection and social dialogue.

1United Nations standard definition of youth, aged between 15 and 24 years.