BANGKOK, Thailand, September 5 (IPS) – Most of the 2.1 billion strong workforce in Asia and the Pacific are denied access to decent jobs, healthcare and protection society, but there are a range of policies and tools that governments can use to remedy these shortfalls and ensure that the rights and aspirations of these workers and their families are upheld and that they remains the driving force behind economic growth in the region.
While 243 million people have been newly pushed into poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic, half of the people in our region have survived without cash, a third without the necessary medicine or treatment, and a quarter did not have enough food to eat. This could reduce productivity, which has already fallen below the global average, but also affect tax revenue and future economic output.
With two-thirds of all workers in the informal sector working, often for low wages, in hazardous working conditions and without contracts, half of our workforce is at the brink. poor. People in our region are also more at risk of being pushed into poverty due to higher spending on health than anywhere else in the world, increasing inequality. With more than half of people out of social protection, pandemics, economic downturns, or normal life events, such as illness, pregnancy, or aging often have an adverse impact on happiness and life prospects of households.
Reality is harsh: our workers are generally ill-equipped to open up new opportunities, fulfill their living aspirations for themselves and their families, but also face ongoing challenges due to the trend of climate change, aging society and digitalization.
Climate-induced disasters cause businesses to relocate and jobs disappear, affecting rural communities. Digital technology is bringing disruptive change to the world of work and the digital divide is increasing inequality of opportunity, income and wealth. Population aging means that the number of elderly people will double by 2050, making policies to support active and healthy aging more urgent than ever.
None of these vulnerabilities are inevitable. With the right policies in place, our region’s workforce can become more productive, healthier and protected.
First, active labor market policies, through lifelong learning and skills development, can support a green transition and both into decent work and improve access to opportunities. basic opportunities and an adequate standard of living. Harnessing the synergies between positive labor market policies and social protection can help workers improve their skills and transition into decent work while reducing consumption and avoiding strategies deal negatively during unemployment or other shocks.
Second, extending social health protection to all can significantly improve worker health, income security, and productivity. COVID-19 has exposed the weakness of the status quo where 60% of our workers self-finance their healthcare and do not receive sickness benefits. The focus should be on primary health care as well as the protection of curative health, as well as to support active and healthy aging. People with chronic illnesses or living with a disability must be included in health care strategies. Given the region’s vast informal economy, expanding social health protection is an important policy tool for achieving universal health coverage in our region.
Third, build on ESCAP social protection simulator, a basic package of universal social protection programs for children, the elderly and people with disabilities, set at the global average benefit, will reduce poverty in our region half. Our analysis also shows that social protection increases access to opportunities, especially for the most lagged groups. This income guarantee will improve the resilience of the workforce. Extending social protection to all means increasing public spending by 2 to 6% of GDP, an investment worth its cost. The Action Plan to Enhance Regional Cooperation on Social Protection in Asia and the Pacific can guide action towards broadening the scope of social protection.
With this information in hand, long overdue action is required. The policy recommendations outlined in the Social Outlook are a priority for most countries in the region. These require bold but necessary reforms. For most countries, these reforms are affordable but may require a reorientation of existing spending and taxes, aided by tax reform. Decent work for all and the expansion of social protection and health care must form the basis of a strong social contract between the State and its citizens. A place where the roles and responsibilities of all parties are clear and where our workforce is guaranteed to reach their full potential and be the force to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sustainable in Asia and the Pacific.
IPS UN Office
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