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ILO says Asia and the Pacific labour forces expected to grow by over 200 million by 2015

More "quality" jobs needed to reduce poverty, sustain growth

Press release | 12 August 2007

BEIJING (ILO news) – Asia’s vast labour force, already estimated at some 1.8 billion workers, is expected to grow by more than 200 million between now and the year 2015, posing new policy challenges to the region’s rapidly growing economies, according to a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO)Note .

The report, “Visions for Asia’s Decent Work Decade: Sustainable Growth and Jobs to 2015” said, however, that expanding output would not be enough to create the jobs needed to reduce poverty and the massive informal economy, and that there remained “a great deal of serious work to be done” to improve the quality of the jobs that are created and to ensure that the benefits of Asia’s future economic growth are more equitably distributed.

“One thing is clear: doing business as usual is not sustainable over the long term,” said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “Asia is experiencing unprecedented growth and development. At the same time, vulnerabilities arising from environmental pressures, economic insecurity, shortcomings in governance and unequal income distribution pose a threat to the region’s future development.”

The report is to be discussed at an ILO Asian Employment Forum to be held here on 13-15 August. The meeting is the first major gathering of senior government, labour and employer representatives from some 20 countries in Asia and the Pacific since the launch of the Decent Work Decade at the ILO’s Asian regional meeting a year ago.

The report highlights the implications of key drivers of change for policy choices in Asia that could help realize decent work and promote sustainable development, including Asia and the Pacific’s growing share of global GDP, favourable demographic trends, growing consumption and increased worker productivity.

The service sector will be the main source of job creation and by 2015 will become the largest sector, representing about 40.7 per cent of the region’s total employment, the report says. The share of industrial employment is expected to increase from 23.1 per cent in 2006 to 29.4 per cent in 2015, while the share of agricultural employment is projected to decline from 42.6 per cent to 29.4 per cent between 2006 and 2015.

But the report also identifies major challenges requiring significant attention in the coming years to ensure social and environmental sustainability. Despite a decline in the number of working poor living on less than US$2 per person, per day since 1996 by some 123 million, over 1 billion, or 61.9 percent of the region’s workforce, were still working in the informal economy, with little or no social protection and often in low-productivity jobs. While this share has dropped from 67.2 per cent a decade earlier, it is not likely that there will be a major reduction in the relative size of the informal economy by 2015 the report said.

Thus “to truly succeed during the Asian Decent Work Decade,” the report said, “the policies and programmes put in place by the tripartite partners must help to provide opportunities for at least 1.1 billion Asians to, themselves, realize decent work.”

Other challenges facing the region include:

  • An ageing labour force that is expected to see between 1 in 10, and in some cases 1 in 4 people in some countries over 65 years of age by 2015;
  • The need to improve job quality and ensure equal opportunities between young women and men;
  • Increasing migration that will see millions of workers in Asia leaving their homes each year to work abroad;
  • Accelerating rural-urban migration that will see the region’s urban population grow by 350 million by 2015, while the rural population will increase by only 15 million;
  • The inability of wage growth to keep pace with labour productivity growth in some countries;
  • Rising income inequalities between extreme poor and other workers, as well between as rural and urban workers; and,
  • Long working hours becoming the norm in many parts of Asia.

The report calls for an effective balance between flexibility, stability and security through improved labour market governance, including the adoption and adherence to international labour standards, improving accountability and transparency, and building the capacity of employers and workers to engage more effectively in serious dialogue.

It also warns that growth and sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific could be seriously undermined by environmental degradation, depletion of natural resources and climate change. The report refers to the ILO’s “Green Jobs Initiative” encouraging governments, employers and workers to develop policy tools aimed at achieving an environmentally sustainable process of development and job creation.

“Meeting the challenges facing the region will require far-sighted thinking and careful planning,” Mr. Somavia said. “We all need to work together to make globalization and economic growth more inclusive.”

Note Visions for Asia’s Decent Work Decade: Sustainable Growth and Jobs to 2015, International Labour Organization. The report, and other ILO studies on policy directions for jobs creation and poverty reduction, sustaining productivity and competitiveness for decent work, defining institutions and policies for equitable and efficient labour markets, rolling back informality and a knowledge management network, are available at /public/english/region/asro/bangkok/asiaforum/download/visions.pdf