Global labour market presents uncertain future for many, new UN study shows

2 June 2006

The current global labour market is marked by a widening gap between unprecedented opportunity for some and growing uncertainty for many, with “working poverty” affecting nearly half of all workers in the world, according to a new United Nations report.

“Technological progress, if applied in ways that promote inclusion rather than exclusion, could increase productivity and make material poverty history within a generation,” according to the study – Changing patterns in the world of work – presented to the 95th International Labour Conference of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) currently underway in Geneva.

“The main means for ensuring an inclusive character to the growth of the global economy is the way in which work and labour markets are organized and governed. Recent history is however disturbing. The employment intensity of growth has slipped back globally,” it says.

The report points out that the global workforce is growing rapidly. Today, over 3 billion people are either working or looking for work, a number expected to swell by over 430 million by 2015. Almost all these new entrants will come from developing countries.

Hundreds of millions of new jobs will be needed over the next decade. Economies will have to create on average more than 43 million new jobs each year to reduce global unemployment, which reached 192 million people in 2005 – its highest level ever – up from 157 million in 1995, according to the report.

The authors caution that the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which hits people of working age hardest, is expected to cause an estimated total loss of some $270 billion by the year 2020 in some 41 countries hardest hit by the disease.

“A major effort is needed to improve productivity, earnings and working conditions in order to reduce working poverty that affects nearly half of all the workers in the world,” ILO Director-General Juan Somavia says in a preface to the report.

“We live in a time of opportunity and uncertainty in which some of the barriers that have prevented women and men from fully realizing their capabilities are coming down, but in which good jobs that provide the foundation of security to build better lives are increasingly difficult to find.”


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