(STAR) More than 140 million people in Asia could be plunged into poverty, with 7.2 million more jobless people in 2009 than last year due to the fallout from the global economic crisis, raising the region’s jobless rate to 5.1 percent, the International Labor Organization (ILO) said yesterday.

The Geneva-based ILO also said yesterday 23 million people would lose their jobs in Asia this year as the global financial crisis batters the region.

The ILO forecast the ranks of unemployed workers would likely balloon to 97 million in 2009 in Asia, the world economy’s star performer in recent years but where a third of the population still live on a little over $1 a day. Last year, the unemployment rate was 4.8 percent.

In the most pessimistic scenario, the number of unemployed could swell to 113 million, or 22.3 million more than last year, the ILO said in a report on the crisis’ fallout in Asia.

ILO regional director Sachiko Yamamoto said the youth, particularly graduating students and women, face the greater risk of losing their jobs or not finding one.

Migrant workers with short-term contracts as well as women working in small- and medium-sized factories and firms are particularly vulnerable, she said.

Young people in the region, meanwhile, will also find opportunities dwindling, while children of poor families may be forced to quit school as incomes fall, she said.

“Youth are at least three times more likely to become unemployed than adults,” said Yamamoto, who presented the ILO report on the impact of the economic crisis on employment.

In the Philippines, as many as 200,000 Filipino workers here and abroad could lose their jobs this year due to the economic crisis, Labor Secretary Marianito Roque told a House labor committee yesterday.

“That is our worst-case scenario. That is also the projection of the National Economic and Development Authority,” he told the committee hearing chaired by Valenzuela Rep. Magtanggol Gunigundo. “But at the rate we are going, it’s likely that we will not hit that figure.”

Some 30,000 domestic employees and 5,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have lost their jobs since September when the global financial crisis erupted.

He added that an additional 5,000 overseas workers losing their jobs this year “would be on the high side.”

And as unemployment rises, it is imperative for countries in the region to use fiscal stimulus packages for safety nets to prevent widespread social unrest from erupting, officials said.

“A dramatic increase in working poverty of more than 140 million people by 2009 is projected under this scenario, representing regression of the Asia and Pacific region to a working poverty rate of 2004,” the study said.

“These projections are not just numbers, they carry with them a real risk that children may be forced to withdraw from school in order to work and support their families,” it said.

It said the region’s robust growth in the past was not matched by “broad-based gains in real wages,” leading to sharp inequalities in many countries.

Yamamoto noted the situation was quickly evolving “into an employment and social crisis.”

“Its impact is deeply felt in both industrialized and developing countries in Asia,” she told senior policy makers from 11 countries at a meeting in Manila, stressing that the downturn’s “magnitude and speed have been astounding.”

The region too is at the tipping point of seeing social unrest explode into the streets, as the jobless and marginalized demand greater government action.

The report said that as Asia moves to spend about 3.9 percent of its gross domestic product on stimulus packages, there is also a need to protect employment and support household purchasing power.

Governments should also spend on schools, hospitals and healthcare to mitigate the impact of the crisis while also looking at ways to boost worker skills for longer-term productivity, it said.

The Asian Development Bank’s vice president for sustainable development, Ursula Schaefer-Preus, said any stimulus package should include job creation and infrastructure needs that will most benefit the poor.

51 M new jobs needed this year

The ILO also reported that an estimated 51 million new jobs will be needed this year and next to absorb Asia’s growing labor force, with most jobs needed in the region’s giant economies – 20.3 million in India, 10.9 million in China and 3.6 million in Indonesia.

Countries with the highest rates of expected labor force growth through 2010 include Pakistan at 6.1 percent, Cambodia at 4.9 percent, and the Philippines at 4.9 percent.

“There is very little chance that a sufficient number of new jobs will be created in the region this year to keep up with expected labor force growth,” the report added.

As fewer jobs were created at home, remittances from the region’s army of migrant workers began to slow in the third quarter of 2008.

The ILO said the World Bank now forecasts an overall drop in remittances in 2009 – partly due to the deep recession in the US, which accounts for 44 percent of workers’ money sent to East Asia and the Pacific, and 28 percent to South Asia.

“As global demand for workers contracts, the flow of migrant workers from developing Asia will moderate in 2009,” the report said. “For labor-sending countries, this will exacerbate the challenge of mitigating job losses and generating new employment domestically.”

Remittances comprise a third of gross domestic product in Tonga, 17 percent in Nepal, 11 percent in the Philippines, 9.7 percent in Bangladesh and 8.3 percent in Sri Lanka.

It said the number of vulnerable Asian workers, estimated at 1.08 billion in 2008, could rise this year by 21 million, and in an extreme case, by 61 million.

“The poor face a double crisis – high costs for basic necessities on which they spend the majority of their income, along with economic stagnation that threaten their livelihoods,” the ILO said.

Promoting employment and supporting household purchasing power are critical for any stimulus package, as these will drive domestic consumption needed to quickly bolster growth, it added.

Government has funds to help displaced workers

Meanwhile, Roque said the government has billions in funds that could be used to help displaced workers.

Roque told the House labor committee that his department has P300 million for grants and livelihood loans, while the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration has P250 million for loans.

An additional P750 million is available from Land Bank and Development Bank of the Philippines also for loans, he said.

Roque also said the government program Nurses Assigned in Rural Service (NARS) could generate 10,000 “employable” Filipino nurses trained for jobs abroad in one year.

Unemployed registered nurses who are physically and mentally fit and willing to serve in their hometowns may apply online at http// or at the nearest DOLE regional office from Feb. 23 to March 31, 2009. - Mayen Jaymalin, Jess Diaz, AP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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