UN labour chief urges action to avert job crisis amid global financial turmoil

20 October 2008

The head of the United Nations labour agency has called for bold and innovative action to avert an unemployment crisis resulting from the current global financial turmoil, which could increase the number of jobless people worldwide by 20 million.

Preliminary estimates indicate that the financial crisis could increase the number of unemployed from 190 million in 2007 to 210 million in late 2009, noted Juan Somavia, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

In addition, the number of working poor living on less than a dollar a day could rise by some 40 million – and those at $2 a day by more than 100 million. The sectors hit the hardest would be construction, automotive, tourism, finance, services and real estate.

Mr. Somavia added that the actual number could be even higher than the projections if the global community does not take immediate action to tackle the crisis.

“This is not simply a crisis on Wall Street; this is a crisis on all streets. We need an economic rescue plan for working families and the real economy, with rules and policies that deliver decent jobs. We must link better productivity to salaries and growth to employment,” he stressed.

“Protecting and promoting sustainable enterprises and decent work opportunities must be at the heart of the Summit on the Financial Crisis recently announced by Presidents [George W.] Bush and [Nicolas] Sarkozy,” he said. “We must return to the basic function of finance, which is to promote the real economy. To lend so that entrepreneurs can invest, innovate, produce jobs and goods and services.”

While welcoming the calls for better financial regulation and a global surveillance system of checks and balances, Mr. Somavia emphasized the need to address issues beyond the financial system.

“Long before the current financial crisis, we were already in a crisis of massive global poverty and growing social inequality, rising informality and precarious work – a process of globalization that had brought many benefits but had become unbalanced, unfair, and unsustainable,” he said. “We need to get the balance right and concentrate on rescuing people and production. It’s about saving the real economy.”

In this regard, he said it is important to develop a new multilateral framework for a fair and sustainable globalization. “This is the time to think and act in bold and innovative ways to confront the huge challenges before us, particularly for the United Nations,” said the ILO chief.

The current financial crisis will feature high on the agenda when Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convenes a meeting of his senior Chief Executives Board, which brings together the heads of the world body’s various entities, later this week in New York.

 

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