UN chief calls on Asia to strengthen social safety nets Labor rights

Asia-Pacific countries should view the pandemic as a wake-up call to strengthen their scarce social safety nets, said the head of the UN Labor Agency.

In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said COVID-19 revealed the need for “much more stable” social protection in the region, where border restrictions and business closures continue to cause livelihood damage two years after the pandemic.

“The failure of some to do this or not to do it adequately, I think, is part of the problem of dealing with and having the resilience to deal with the COVID pandemic,” Ryder said.

Ryder said that while it is not his place to judge whether some countries’ public health responses are better than others, he believes the Asia-Pacific region needs to be better prepared for “future shocks” that could to come from public health or other crises. .

“When you have limitations, when you have situations where people can’t get to work, can’t do their job, at all or in the normal way, then obviously you have to have compensatory measures to keep the income of working people, to support enterprises, “said the head of the UN labor agency.

According to an ILO report in 2020, according to an ILO report in 2020, many countries in the Asia-Pacific region spend less than 2% of gross domestic product on social protection, with the exception of health, which is far below average. 11% in the world.

Long Hong Kong AirportInternational travel stopped in Asia during the pandemic [File: Chan Long Hei/Bloomberg]

Many countries in the Asia-Pacific region reported fewer deaths than their Western counterparts during the pandemic, but continued border controls in the region and business restrictions have caused severe social and economic costs.

While the advent of the Omicron variant has accelerated the steps of some Western countries to live with the virus – due to the higher transmissibility of the variant and lighter weight than previous strains – many Asia-Pacific economies have reversed or slowed the pace of reopening.

In recent weeks, economies, including mainland China, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore, have tightened their borders. Mainland China, Hong Kong and South Korea have also imposed internal controls, ranging from school closures to blockades and curfews.

Despite the high range of vaccinations, the Asia-Pacific region was largely closed to travel even before the new option emerged.

In October, travel in the region decreased by 92.8% compared to the same period in 2019, while air traffic in Europe and North America decreased by 51% and 57%, respectively.

However, Ryder said he did not believe the pandemic would not lead to a permanent breakdown of connectivity and globalization in the Asia-Pacific region.

“My view is that we are not on the verge of retreating from globalization, we are not on the path to globalization, nor would I like to see these things, nor do I think they would benefit any of the populations that I think we might think “, he said.

“I do not see that we will not be designed, if you will, on a trajectory of deglobalisation or withdrawal, and not by virtue of COVID’s impact on the labor market on the world of work.

‘Right direction’

Ryder said that although the global economy was “moving in the right direction”, he expressed concern that the recovery from the pandemic was both uncertain and uneven.

In its forecast for 2022, published earlier this week, the ILO predicts that global employment will not recover to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2023. The UN agency predicts that the shortage of hours worked this year will be equivalent to 52 million full-time jobs, down from previous forecasts, with major inequalities between countries “exacerbating and prolonging the adverse effects of the crisis”.

“While those in higher-income countries can look forward to living standards, production levels they knew before the pandemic are not the case with developing countries, not so with emerging economies,” Ryder said.

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