Asia-Pacific labour markets recorded a partial rebound from COVID-19 impact but full recovery remains elusive with conditions expected to remain difficult into 2023, according to the latest report from the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Though employment numbers in the Asia-Pacific region in 2022 were 2.0 per cent above the pre-crisis level of 2019, recovering from the loss of over 57 million jobs in 2020, the recovery is not yet complete, said the report “Asia–Pacific Employment and Social Outlook 2022: Rethinking sectoral strategies for a human-centred future of work.
The ILO report points out that the region still lacks 22 million jobs in 2022, a jobs gap of 1.1 per cent compared to if the pandemic had not occurred. “This number is projected to increase to 26 million (1.4 per cent) in 2023 given the headwinds to growth in the current geopolitical global and regional context,”it said.
It also said that total working hours in the region remained below those of 2019 while the regional unemployment rate in 2022 was 5.2 per cent, an increase of 0.5 percentage points from 2019.
By 2022, all subregions had regained the employment losses of 2020 and were showing positive employment growth over 2019. However, employment growth did not keep pace with population growth. Only in the Pacific was the employment-to-population ratio in 2022 above that of 2019.
“Although Asia-Pacific employment trends look positive, the region’s labour market is not yet back on its pre-crisis track with numerous additional challenges casting shadows on future growth prospects. It is vital that we bring inclusive and human-centred growth back to the region and not settle for a ‘quasi’ recovery based on informal and poor-quality jobs,” said Chihoko Asada Miyakawa, ILO Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.
The report makes a first-time assessment of regional sectoral estimates over a three-decade period from 1991-2021 to highlight which sectors are growing as sources of jobs, which are shrinking and which harbour opportunities for “decent work”.
As per the report, the three largest sectors in terms of employment in the Asia–Pacific region are agriculture, forestry and fishing; manufacturing; and wholesale and retail trade. These sectors together accounted for 1.1 billion workers in 2021, or 60 per cent of the region’s 1.9 billion workforce.
“These sectors are where the majority of men and women workers earn their labour income (plus the construction sector for men). But they are also sectors in which labour productivity 2 often remains low and that typically do not offer decent wages, good working conditions or job and income security,” the report said.
The report also stated that IT and information services remained the region’s fastest growing sector in terms of employment growth.
Noting that gender inequality remained rife with all sectors, the report said that accommodation and food service activities bucked this trend with 55 per cent of added jobs between 1991 and 2021 going to women.
“Despite half a century of economic growth the fact remains that most workers in Asia and the Pacific are employed in sectors that the ‘Asian miracle’ has passed by. While IT and modern sectors may receive the lion’s share of attention, the greatest potential to drive growth and decent work in the region lies in far less glamorous areas. The challenge moving forward is to increase and sustain policy attention and public investment to achieve decent work and inclusion in all sectors, especially those where the majority of people work,” said Sara Elder, ILO Senior Economist and lead author of the report.
The report stated that experience of the COVID-19 crisis raised the red flag on many of the lingering deficiencies and shifted certain world-of-work issues towards the top of government priority lists for accelerated action. “Because consumers in all countries will need continuing fiscal support to offset the blow to their cost of living, the hope is that governments will continue to engage in targeted economic stimulus and fiscal supports,” the ILO said.