The International Labor Organization (ILO), a branch of the United Nations concerned with labor and workers’ rights issues, issued a report Wednesday explaining how the global economic crisis could create a global employment crisis by the end of the year.
“By the end of 2008 working poverty, vulnerable employment and unemployment were beginning to rise as the effects of the slowdown spread,” the report states. “If the recession deepens in 2009, as many forecasters expect, the global jobs crisis will worsen sharply.” Even for those who keep their jobs, the report predicts that “earnings and other conditions of employment will deteriorate.”
The ILO warns that Subsaharan Africa and South Asia will harshly affected by the worsening job market.
In a worst-case scenario, the ILO says 51 million jobs could be lost in 2009, meaning that 7.1% of the world’s working population would be out of a job. In a more realistic scenario, the report foresees a loss of 30 million jobs, with a global unemployment rate of 6.5%. The unemployment rate has increased in recent years, from 5.7% in 2007 to an estimated 6% in 2008.
Even the report’s most optimistic scenario for this year, a loss of 18 million jobs at an unemployment rate of 6.1%, is not much different than the ILO’s October 2008 prediction of 20 million jobs lost this year due to the financial crisis.
The report warns that developing countries in South Asia and Subsaharan Africa will be harshly affected by the economic crisis. Although working poverty – defined as having daily wages of US$2 or less – is on an overall decline, these regions are still characterized by poor working conditions, low salaries, and an insecure job market. This will only worsen in 2009, according to the ILO.
“Taking into account that a wage and salary job in poor regions may still not ensure all the components of a decent job, it becomes understandable that only a minority of working people have a job that is well paid, respects their fundamental rights and ensures some security in case of job loss, personal or family illnesses, or other difficulties.” The report says that by the end of 2008, nearly 53% of workers around the world could be in “vulnerable employment”.
In terms of actual unemployment, however, developed countries are the ones most likely to be affected by the downturn, as they are more tied to the global financial system. The unemployment rate in the European Union and other developed economies increased by 0.7 percentage points in 2008, the largest increase of all regions. “Globalization combined with rapid technological advances is another challenge for labour markets in the region,” the ILO says. “It is important for workers and employers to be ready and able to adjust quickly to change and to stiffer competition.”
Still, the unemployment rate of 6.4% in these developed countries is far less than in North Africa and the Middle East, which had unemployment rates of 10.3% and 9.4% respectively. East Asia had the lowest unemployment rate of the regions at 3.8%.
The report urged global economies to take cooperative measures, including working with the United Nations, in order to stem the economic crisis. It also asks governments to address the “negative social consequences of globalization” by placing on emphasis an social justice-based programs targeted toward women, youth, and other “vulnerable groups”.
In particular, the ILO says governments should establish public infrastructure projects such as road construction, expand health insurance and unemployment benefits, and focus on the creation of green jobs when devising their stimulus plans. “When governments design fiscal stimulus packages, it is important that they consider employment-related goals, including explicit employment growth targets,” the report concluded.
“In the world, there remains a huge untapped labour potential, and economic growth and development could be much higher if everyone was given the chance of a decent job.”