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ILO surveys the 1993 labour scene.

According to an ILO Survey, Asia remains the most dynamic region of the developing world, so much so that newly industrializing Economies, like the Republic of Korea and Singapore now face severe labour shortages. And other fast-growing economies like Malaysia and Thailand are also moving in the same direction. Labour shortages in the region are met in part by flows of migrant workers from the labour surplus countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Philippines. The Philippines has unemployment officially estimated at 15 per cent and is now one of the world's major source of migrant workers with 2 million people overseas.

Persistently high unemployment. The grim reality of modern-day slavery. Trade unions under pressure. The struggle for social protection in developing countries. A worldwide epidemic of stress. The World Labour Report from the International Labour Organization offers a vivid and often disturbing review of working life in 1993. This year's Report finds the overall employment picture still depressed. The industrial market economies are slow to emerge from recession, and unemployment averages around 8 per cent - 33 million people in total. Most of the job losses continue to be in construction as well as in manufacturing where employment in 1991 fell on average by 1.5 per cent. But recently there has been a much greater shakeout of jobs across a wide range of services and white-collar occupations.

Easter European countries have seen unemployment rise steeply as they move to market economies. Most of the unemployment - around 80 per cent - has come from the shrinking of state enterprises, and here, too, the majority of the job losses occurred in industry, though there were also substantial declines in agriculture and services.

Latin America, says the Report, has made significant economic progress since the mid-1980s. But in 1990, 46 per cent - or 192 million people - lived under the poverty line, 5 per cent higher than at the beginning of the 1980s. Unemployment remains stubbornly high in the urban areas, having stabilized at around 8 per cent. And wages have fallen steeply: between 1980 and 1991 the average industrial wage fell by 17.5 per cent, and the average minimum wage by 35 per cent.

In Sub-Saharan Africa the outlook is still gloomy. Urban unemployment is between 15 and 20 per cent and affects some 14 million people - a total which increases by about 10 per cent per year. Particularly disturbing here, says the Report, is unemployment amongst the young: people aged between 15 and 24 make up only one-third of the region's labour force, but they are between two-thirds of three-quarters of the unemployed. Most of the new workers move into the informal sector which now employs over 60 per cent of the urban labour force.

Asia remains the most dynamic region of the developing world, so much so that Newly Industrializing Economies, like the Republic of Korea and Singapore now face severe labour shortages. And other fast-growing economies like Malaysia and Thailand are also moving in the same direction. Labour shortages in the region are met in part by flows of migrant workers from the labour surplus countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Philippines. The Philippines has unemployment officially estimated at 15 per cent and is now one of the world's major source of migrant workers with 2 million people overseas.

The World Labour Report this year includes a disturbing survey of forced labour around the world. Slavery, it says, is still a serious problem in a number of African countries including Mauritania and Sudan. In Sudan the practice may even be increasing as a consequence of that country's civil war - destitute parents are selling their children for around US $ 70 each. The Repot also looks at the practice of bonded labour - a form of forced labour still widespread in Asia, in such countries as India and Pakistan. In Pakistan, for example, according to some estimates, 20 million people would be working as bonded labourers, of whom 7.5 million are children. In Latin America the Report refers to cases of "white slavery". Brazilian workers are being recruited under false pretences to work on large estates, but if they try to leave they are recaptured by gunmen and beaten or whipped. Many of the world's children are working as forced labour - including millions who work "unseen" in domestic service.

The World Labour Report also includes a global survey of trade unions. In the OECD countries, for which it gives the latest membership figures, the Report finds that unions are under pressure from a number in different directions - including unemployment, tighter legislation, changing patterns of work and aggressive action from employers. In Latin America the unions now work in a much more democratic atmosphere but find that this brings new problems as well as opportunities. In Africa, the Report points out, union members may not represent more than a few per cent of the workforce but they have had a disproportionate influence on the wave of democracy sweeping across the continent. In Asia, governments in many countries, particularly those who wish to attract foreign investment, still exercise tight control over union activities.

Social security is something workers in industrial countries take for granted. But, as the Report explains, people in developing countries are nothing like as well protected. When they are in difficulty poor people have to rely primarily on their own families or communities. State support, where available, is most likely to come through food security, such as subsidies, or through guaranteed employment in public works programmes. Formal social security, in the sense of adequate pensions, for example, or regular unemployment benefit, plays only a small part. Latin America has some of the best coverage but here, as elsewhere, it tends to be pyramidal" - concentrated on a few privileged workers at the top, while the majority may receive little or nothing.

The World Labour Report concludes with a review of stress at work. Stress has become a twentieth century epidemic, costing each year up to 10 per cent of national GNP - through sickness, reduced productivity, staff turnover, and premature death. Work may not be the only source of stress but it is one of the most significant. The Report looks both the causes of stress at work and at what individuals and employers can do to combat it, illustrating the main issues with a number of case studies - from coal mines in India to manufacturing plants in Mexico. Says ILO Director-General Michel Hansenne: "The kind of tense and stressful working environment which seems to have become accepted as natural will have to be addressed urgently if the changes through which the world is moving are not to become overwhelming".
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Title Annotation:International Labor Organization
Publication:Economic Review
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:1107
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