A total of 81 million jobs are estimated to have been lost in Asia-Pacific countries this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, says the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
In its “Asia-Pacific Employment and Social Outlook 2020: Navigating the crisis towards a human-centred future of work” report released on December 15, the organisation said the pandemic hit workers in various ways, with many forced into shorter working hours amid a shrinking job growth market.
In the report, it said it was “estimated that employment in the Asia and the Pacific region in 2020 will drop by 4.2 per cent to 1.839 billion persons from the pre-crisis estimate of 1.920 billion employed”.
By extrapolation, this would imply “an expected jobs gap of 81 million across the region”.
“The impact of the crisis has been far-reaching, with underemployment surging as millions of workers are asked to work reduced hours or no hours at all,” it said.
Working hours in the Asia-Pacific were reduced by an estimated 15.2 per cent in the second quarter of this year, and by 10.7 per cent in the third quarter, compared to before the pandemic, said ILO.
“Working-hour losses are also influenced by the millions of persons moving outside the labour force or into unemployment as job creation in the region collapsed,” it said, noting that the regional unemployment rate could increase to 5.2-5.7 per cent this year, compared to 4.4 per cent last year.
ILO assistant director-general and regional director for the Asia-Pacific, Chihoko Asada Miyakawa, said inadequate social security coverage and institutional capacity in many countries had become a challenge to companies and workers needing to bounce back.
She said: “The situation [is] also exacerbated when a large number of workers remains in the informal economy.
“These pre-crisis weaknesses have left far too many exposed to the pain of economic insecurity when the pandemic hit and inflicted its toll on working hours and jobs.”
The report revealed that the crisis also saw a larger impact in the decline of working hours and employment on female workers.
“Young people have also been especially affected by working-hour and job losses. The youth share in the overall employment loss was three to 18 times higher than their share in total employment,” it said.
Senior economist at the ILO Regional Office for the Asia-Pacific and lead author of the report, Sara Elder, said that young workers are likely to find it difficult to compete for new jobs as unemployment increases.
“When they do find work, it may well be a job that does not match their aspirations.
“Millions of women have also paid a high price and it could take years for those who have exited the labour force to return to full employment,” she said.
With fewer paid hours of work, the report revealed that median incomes are shrinking and working poverty levels increasing.
It said: “Labour income is estimated to have dipped by as much as 10 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region in the first three quarters of 2020, equivalent to a three per cent loss in gross domestic product [GDP].
“In absolute numbers, preliminary estimates in the report find an additional 22 to 25 million persons could fall into working poverty, which would push up the total number of working poor [those living on less than $1.90 a day] in the Asia-Pacific region to between 94 and 98 million in 2020.”
However, Elder added that government efforts had helped companies retain workers, albeit with reduced hours, which had prevented wider job losses.
She said: “Given the mounting evidence that social protection and employment policies save jobs and incomes, the hope is that the crisis brings about a more permanent and increased investment in elements needed to boost resilience and promote a more people-centred future of work.”
THE STAR (MALAYSIA)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK