Asia-Pacific labour markets have recorded a partial rebound from the impact of COVID-19, yet full recovery in the region remains elusive with conditions expected to remain difficult into 2023, claimed a report titled, Asia-Pacific Employment and Social Outlook 2022: Rethinking sectoral strategies for a human-centered future of work, released by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on Monday. The report will create a framework for discussions at the Asia Pacific Regional Meeting (APRM) of the ILO scheduled to begin on December 5 in Singapore.
The report talked about employment numbers in the Asia-Pacific region in 2022, which were 2% above the pre-crisis level of 2019, recovered from the loss of over 57 million jobs in 2020. However, it said labour market recovery in the region lags behind global levels. It revealed job growth did occur in 2021 and 2022, recovering from the 3.1% drop in employment in 2020.
“On the surface, the employment trends look positive. Digging deeper, there remain numerous signs that the region’s labour market is not yet back on its pre-crisis track. First, while employment growth is again positive, the employment-to-population ratio in 2022 remains still slightly below pre-crisis trend, at 56.2% in 2022 from 56.9% in 2019. Second, compared to where job numbers would be in Asia and the Pacific, had the disruption of the COVID-19 crisis never happened, there is a continued jobs gap of 22 million (1.1%) in 2022. The jobs gap is projected to increase again to 26 million (1.4%) in 2023 given the headwinds to growth foreseen in current geopolitical global and regional context,” the report read .
The report revealed that while IT and information services is the region’s fastest-growing sector in terms of employment growth, only 9.4 million persons worked in the sector in 2021, corresponding to just 0.5% of total employment. “By contrast, the three largest sectors in terms of employment in the Asia-Pacific region: agriculture, forestry and fishing; manufacturing; and wholesale and retail trade, together accounted for 1.1 billion workers in 2021 or 60 per cent of the region’s 1.9 billion workforce,” the report observed.
Men preferred over women in key market sectors
Raising concern over the changing composition of sectoral employment that favours men over women in terms of decent work opportunities, it said like the IT sector, most of the other sectors of high employment growth also benefited men workers over women workers. “Only one of the top ten sectors of employment growth in the Asia-Pacific region favoured employment of women, the accommodation and food service activities, where 55% of added jobs between 1991 and 2021 went to women,” the report noted.
It added that the aggregate hours of work in the region were not yet back to pre-crisis levels. “The working hour losses in the first three quarters of 2022 compared to the fourth quarter of 2019 amounted to an estimated 1.5% (1.9% for men and 0.5% for women),” the report said. Along with that, nearly 105 million, the regional unemployment number, was still 12% higher in 2022 than in 2019 and the regional unemployment rate was still 0.5% points above the 2019 rate, at 5.2%.
Commenting on the adjustment of the data source for India, the ILO said had an impact on employment estimates for South Asia and Asia-Pacific as a whole. “It is, to a large extent, responsible for the 2018–19 jump in regional employment and the employment-to-population ratio. These data may look like ‘good news’, showcasing a positive trend in employment creation in that year, but the reality is that the trend reflects a sharp increase in female self-employment in rural areas of India, as captured in the Periodic Labour Force Survey of 2019-20,” it said adding that such “good news” should be carefully qualified with an understanding of the lower tiers of employment quality that the employment gains reflect.