10:27 AM Mar 5, 1996


Geneva 5 Mar (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- The Committee of Experts of the International Labour Organization have underlined the ineffectiveness so far of employment promotion objectives and measures of industrialized countries to deal with the massive unemployment problems around the world.

The Committee of Experts on the Application of ILO conventions and recommendations have made these comments in their General Report this year which focuses on Application of the Employment Policy Convention of 1964.

Separately, according to an ILO press release on the unemployment data in the latest supplement of the Bulletin on Labour Statistics, official unemployment figures are stabilizing at high rates or improving very slowly in a number of countries.

A strong exception to the generally lacklustre labour market trends, the ILO said, prevailed in a small number of countries and territories of the South -- notably the Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.

While in 1994-95, in most Western European countries general rates of joblessness remained steady or came down slightly, double-digit unemployment continued to prevail across most of the continent.

But by January 1996, when newest data were available, some of the gains had been lost -- with unemployment increasing to nine percent in Austria, and 12% each in Germany and France.

Japan continued to show lowest overall unemployment, but this edged up to 3.2% in December 1995 - up from the 1994 figures of 2.7%. US unemployment similarly went up from 5.1% in December 1994 to 5.3% in December 1995 and jumped to 5.8% in January 1995.

In Hong Kong unemployment remained low, but crept upward from 1.6 to 2.9 percent. Singapore's unemployment also increased slightly, from previously low levels.

The number of registered unemployed in India rose by about half a million, while Malaysia recorded declines from already low levels of unemployment.

In Latin America, unemployment increased in Brazil from 4.5 to 5.1 percent and Colombia from 7.6 to 8.7 percent. It decreased slightly in Chile from 6.7 to 5.7 percent.

The ILO statisticians say that paucity of labour-market data in Africa makes it difficult to quantify unemployment, but in the few cases where numbers are available, they show rising levels. Underemployment and unemployment, the ILO comments, are acute across Africa.

In taking these data into account, and basing themselves on information provided by ratifying countries on how they are implementing the Employment Policy Convention (No. 122), the ILO Committee of Experts note that in the industrialized countries (Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand), massive unemployment has a strong structural component and a highly inequitable nature, even despite a slight improvement in employment at the end of the period, in slow and weak response to a resumption of economic growth.

What is most worrisome, the experts say, is the "persistent and seemingly irreversible long-term unemployment" -- for e.g. in several states of the EU over 40% of unemployment is of one year or more. the long-term unemployment is also no longer limited to older or marginalized workers but also hits many younger people -- as in Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain.

The unemployment rate also fails adequately to describe the changing employment market. "This is not only because 'statistical treatment' (presumably a polite way of saying dressing up of statistics) of unemployment is fairly frequent, but also because a more precise assessment of the scale of the problem calls for consideration of lower participation rates -- the phenomenon of 'discouraged workers' who withdraw from the active population or youngsters who extend their schooling or training -- high rates of part-time work, mostly involuntary, increase in casual employment, and recourse to partial or subsidized unemployment.

In Eastern and Central Europe, the Experts Committee points out, new problems of widespread unemployment have largely been responsible for bringing social questions to the fore of the process of an "uneven and incomplete" transition to market economies.

The unemployment situation in developing countries was varying, and on the whole rather difficult to define or map out, the Experts Committee Report says.

Given the sectoral distribution of employment (most of which is rural or in the informal sector), data on unemployment covers only the modern urban sector.

While the countries of Latin America have recently seen "positive results" from their global development policies in terms of economic growth and control of inflation, unemployment has been reduced and real wages have increased only when growth has been over five percent -- as in Brazil and Chile.

Recent reports from ILO specialists in the field, the Experts say, show that in the first half of 1995 economies "are fragile and unemployment and wage growth arrested, particularly by the result of new Structural Adjustment policies".

In Africa, though government reports do not conceal shortcomings in statistical machinery that would enable employment levels and trends to be determined, "it is clear that rapid demographic increase, sluggish economic growth and the short-term effects of structural adjustment programmes combine to worsen an employment and income profile already weakened by the unacceptable trend towards 'marginalisation of Africa', and which has been all the more alarming since in most cases per capital growth has been "hardly even been positive".

Against this background, the Convention's goal of full, productive employment "is still a long way off", though the Committee "discerns some positive signs" of government's attitudes to their obligations under the Convention, which have been reaffirmed or regained, inside and outside the ILO.

Many governments, the Experts Committee says, "now say in their reports that they give high priority to employment; some have recently even gone so far as to insert the right to work or full employment objective in their constitutions or legislation."

But "information on the implementation of such aims is less convincing," the Experts Committee report comments.

Reports from governments are most often drafted by labour ministries and tend to concentrate on labour market policies, while the Employment Promotion convention clearly envisions the extension and integration of employment policy -- even if this is not exactly defined -- into a more general economic and social policy.

This approach, reflected in the report form adopted by the Governing Body,. is the basis for the Committee's frequent queries as to macroeconomic policies and their employment consequences and the link between employment and other economic and social objectives.

The detailed information on labour market policy measures supplied regularly by governments, especially of industrialized governments, show their willingness to give greater stress to 'active' measures -- those intended to have a positive effect on level of employment -- as compared to 'passive' measures -- such as income support through unemployment benefit or reduction of the active population.

The Committee of Experts comment: "It is very hard for the Committee to obtain information enabling it to evaluate such measures, in spite of the requests it has been addressing to governments for many years. In the absence of details, it notes that the effectiveness of such measures is more and more questioned, including by the OECD."

The report stresses that the usefulness of dealing with unemployment at social level should not be under-estimated, particularly in the economies in transition -- which had no previous experience and hence ill-prepared -- and more generally in developing countries "which are so vulnerable to the high social cost of rigorous stabilization and structural adjustment policies".

The Committee, the report added, is aware of difficulties facing the developing countries which have to translate the Convention's principles into reality and have been hence interested in the technical cooperation activities carried out in many countries in multi-disciplinary teams to help in formulation and development of such policies.

The report welcomes the endorsement of the cardinal principles of the convention at the Copenhagen Social Summit and the followup role assigned to the ILO which it hopes would enable the supervisory mechanism to be used to make the link with the reexamination of employment policies and promote the ratification of the Convention.

Referring to the Convention on Social Security, the Committee notes that according to information supplied by governments, the principal concern in recent years has been management and rationalization of social security resources. The various reform measures often go along with a direct decline of the level of allowances, and has enabled certain immediate reductions in social security expenditure.

But this process of reform is expanding and tending to have greater consequences. Countries are seeking solutions viable in the long-term, and are experimenting with new forms of social security system management, including privatization, which "raise serious problems".

The reform process, the Committee of Experts say, demands renewed attention to international standards. These reforms have an effect on the well-being of the greater part of the population and have become a social and political issue of the first order in many countries.

"It (the Committee) considers it essential that the interests of the people protected, and especially the level of social protection, should be taken fully into consideration and that the representatives of those protected continue to be involved as far as possible in the reform process. Substantial reforms should not be undertaken hastily to respond to financial pressures and such changes should, in any case, take duly into account the international standards on the subject".

On the Convention on safety and health, the Committee of Experts note that while large enterprises seem generally well organized on occupational safety and health, but have certain deficiencies, "the situation is far more worrying in small enterprises which, because of the need for flexibility, have their services subcontracted in almost any branch of the economy, particularly in construction, the service sector or domestic service."

Frequently, persons working in such small enterprises are unprotected in dangerous places with many health risks. And generally national legislations giving effect to the Convention do not cover small enterprises, found both in the formal and informal sectors.

Referring to the 1960 Radiation Protection Convention, the Committee of Experts recalled their general observation of 1992, requesting governments to review their systems of protection of workers against ionizing radiation, in the light of the recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection. This last, the Experts Committee noted, had called for substantially lower maximum permissible doses of ionizing radiation than those applying before. The new limits referred not only to workers directly engaged in radiation work, but also to workers exposed to radiation, but not directly engaged in such work, to dose limits for the public and for pregnant workers.

The Committee says that the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster and its after effects have clearly shown the necessity of genuine international cooperation and has drawn attention to the situation of workers in the plant and those who participated in the cleanup work.

Since the general observation in 1992, governments have in their reports expressed willingness to lower the limits, but not much information is contained in reports on provision for exposure in emergency situations or on provisions of alternative employment, the Committee comments.