MANILA, Philippines—The number of unemployed in Asia could swell to 113 million in 2009, or 22.3 million more than last year, due to the global economic crisis, according to the most pessimistic scenario of the International Labor Organization (ILO).
The UN agency Wednesday said that Asia was likely to have 7.2 million more jobless people in 2009 than last year.
In a report on the crisis’ fallout in the region, the ILO said the ranks of unemployed would likely balloon to 97 million in 2009 in Asia, the world economy’s star performer in recent years but where a third of the population still live on a little over US$1 a day.
Some 51 million new jobs will be needed this year and the next to absorb Asia’s growing labor force, with most jobs needed in the region’s giant economies—20.3 million in India, 10.9 million in China and 3.6 million in Indonesia.
The ILO said Asian nations could become vulnerable to social unrest as millions lose their jobs because of the global economic crisis.
A number of countries in the region such as Malaysia, South Korea and Thailand have stopped issuing work permits to foreign workers to counter rising unemployment, adding more pressure on other economies relying on employment opportunities abroad.
ILO officials, economists and labor experts Wednesday urged governments to implement a “diversified” fiscal and policy response to the crisis to ensure that vulnerable groups, particularly women, were given employment opportunities.
In the Philippines, the Arroyo administration is touting a P330-billion economic recovery package, which allots about P108 billion for infrastructure spending. It has also set aside funds for grants and loans to displaced workers.
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) said it would hire 500,000 workers in 2009 to build and maintain at least 29,000 kilometers of roads and other public facilities like school buildings and flood control infrastructure.
The DPWH said unskilled workers would comprise 50 percent of the half million new jobs.
While the building of roads and other infrastructure were tried-and-tested pump priming methods, ILO officials and labor experts urged governments to ensure that the stimulus packages do not create imbalances in the labor pool.
In its report, the ILO expressed fear that women, the majority workers in the vulnerable sectors of garments, textiles, and semiconductor and electronics, would be left out in the economic recovery plans.
Jobs in infrastructure sectors under the stimulus package “may be appropriated” by men because the construction workforce is mostly male and few women have the skills required in the industry, according to the ILO.
Sachiko Yamamoto, ILO Asia-Pacific regional director, said contract workers, migrants, young jobseekers, women and children would feel the brunt of the crisis.
“Contract workers and international migrants … are often the first to face job cuts or wage reductions during the crisis and lack the same protections as regular employees,” she said.
Out of school
In a speech at a regional forum convened by the ILO, Yamamoto said young jobseekers were likely to find opportunities increasingly scarce.
“Already in 2008, young people in Asia were more than three times as likely as adults to be unemployed,” she said.
Yamamoto said women in export and manufacturing sectors were being especially hard hit, making them especially vulnerable to the downturn.
“Children of poor families may be pulled from school and pushed into child labor in the face of falling household incomes and rising poverty,” she added.
Governments in the region have come up with stimulus packages that promise to create jobs in response to the economic downturn.
“There is an urgent need to focus on how this crisis is affecting ordinary people. If policies are to be effective, then job creation and protection must be at the core of national crisis response plans, and the potential rise in working poverty must be addressed,” Yamamoto said.
Women comprise half of unemployed
Governments should include women in the stimulus packages, as they comprise half of the unemployed and their incomes go directly to household spending, Yamamoto and other labor experts said.
She noted that women were instrumental in keeping children in school and in fueling private consumption.
Funds should also be allotted for “investments in health and education, and pension systems” to support other vulnerable sectors and spur domestic demand to keep the economy going, the ILO official said.
“Social transfers serve the dual purpose of stimulating domestic spending while also protecting the poor and the vulnerable from the worst effects of the crisis,” Yamamoto added.
Nieves Confesor, a former labor secretary, said the Philippine government’s current stimulus package was excluding women and other vulnerable sectors from employment.
“They have not put it in their heads [to include women]. It’s so macho, isn’t it?” she said of the DPWH’s infrastructure spending. With reports from Associated Press and Gil Cabacungan Jr.