New tech threatens global labour market improvements

Grab Food drivers in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
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Emerging tech-driven business models are partly to blame for millions of people worldwide being forced to accept inadequate working conditions, according to research from the International Labour Organisation.

Progress in reducing unemployment globally is not being matched by improvements in the quality of work, according to the UN agency’s World Employment and Social Outlook 2019.

New data gathered by the ILO shows that the majority of the 3.3 billion people employed globally in 2018 had inadequate economic security, material wellbeing and equality of opportunity.

The report cautions that some new business models, including those enabled by new technologies, threaten to undermine existing labour market achievements – in areas such as improving employment formality and security, social protection and labour standards – unless policymakers meet the challenge.

700 million people are living in extreme or moderate poverty despite having employment” – Damian Grimshaw, International Labour Organisation

The ILO cites the “persistence of a number of major deficits in decent work” and warns that, at the current rate of progress, attaining the goal of decent work for all, seems unrealistic for many countries.

“Being in employment does not always guarantee a decent living,” said Damian Grimshaw, ILO director of research. “For instance, 700 million people are living in extreme or moderate poverty despite having employment.”

While the gender pay gap is the focus in some regions, the report highlights that in many countries there exists a gender participation gap in employment. Less than half (48%) of women worldwide are in the labour force, compared with 75% of men.

In 2015, the UN General Assembly set 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). Goal 8 promotes “sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”.

Deborah Greenfield, ILO deputy director-general for policy, said: “SDG 8 is not just about full employment but the quality of that employment. Equality and decent work are two of the pillars underpinning sustainable development.”

“Informal” employment persists worldwide, with a staggering two billion workers – 61% of the global workforce – categorised as such by the ILO, which also found that more than one in five people aged under 25 were not in employment, education or training.

But the ILO study suggested that, if the world economy could avoid any significant downturn, unemployment should decline further in many countries. And there was a decrease in workplace poverty in the past 30 years, especially in middle-income countries.

ILO World Employment and Social Outlook 2019 – regional findings

In northern, southern and western Europe, unemployment is at its lowest in a decade and is set to continue falling until 2020. In eastern Europe the number of people in employment is expected to shrink by 0.7% in both 2019 and 2020, but a shrinking labour force means the unemployment rate will still fall.

In the Middle East, unemployment is projected to remain stable at 7.3%. Migrant workers account for 41% of employment. In Africa, only 4.5% of the working age population is unemployed, although, rather than indicating a well-functioning labour market, the ILO says this is because many workers have no choice but to take poor quality work, lacking security, decent pay and social protection.

In North America, unemployment is expected to reach its lowest level, 4.1%, this year, although employment growth is projected to decline from 2020.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, despite rebounding economic growth, employment is expected to rise by only 1.4% this year and next. Informality and poor job quality remain pervasive in all types of employment.

Finally, in Asia and the Pacific, economic growth is slowing, but regional unemployment rate is projected to remain at around 3.6% until 2020, below the global average. Structural transformation has moved workers out of agriculture, but this has not created significant improvements in job quality; a large proportion of workers lack job security, written contracts and income stability.

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