Transferable and higher skills needed to secure human development progress in Asia and the Pacific

Across Asia and the Pacific in general and in the Philippines in particular Human Development Index values are rising due to years of sustained economic growth and fast technological progress, says the latest Global Human Development Report focused on ‘Work for Human Development.’

The Philippines 2014 HDI of 0.668 is above the average of 0.630 for countries in the medium development group, following Indonesia and ahead of Vietnam.

The report notes that exponential technological growth, deepening globalization, aging societies and environmental challenges are transforming what work means today, presenting opportunities for some but profound challenges for countries in the Asia-Pacific Region. It urges governments to act now to prevent widening inequalities.

The Report ‘Work for Human Development’ argues that for better life outcomes, policies should encapsulate all types of work including care, and creative and voluntary work that are also important for human development and suggests paying particular attention to sustainability.

“The availability and quality of work are key for human development in Asia and the Pacific, a region that is home to two-thirds of the world’s working-age population. In order to ensure that the work-force is capable of adapting to rapidly changing demands, the governments need to make strategic investments into education and health care”, said Haoliang Xu, Assistant Administrator and Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific.

The 2015 report acknowledges the central role of the Asia and the Pacific region in the process of globalization in the 1990s, but notes that trends in outsourcing and offshoring of service jobs are changing, with demand for high skills and proficiency in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).

The report says that youth unemployment in East Asia and the Pacific ranges between 0.5 percent in Cambodia to 54 percent in Kiribati, with Indonesia being at 31.3 percent and the Philippines 15.7 percent. Youth unemployment in South Asia ranges from 3.5 percent in Nepal to 28.7 percent in Iran.

Fostering education, skills and entrepreneurship can facilitate a necessary labour market transformation. It adds access to ICTs can help people develop marketable skills and secure quality work opportunities to narrow inequalities.

Despite extremely rapid technology adoption in recent years, as of 2014, 2.5 billion people in Asia and the Pacific did not have access to the internet (1.1 billion in East Asia and the Pacific region and 1.4 billion people in South Asia). The unconnected are typically among the poorest and most disadvantaged.  Wide access to technology, through South-South cooperation and other technology transfer arrangements, matched with relevant skills, improved financial inclusion and reduction of other barriers would help the region move to sustainable development pathways.

“In a changing world, enhancing human development through work requires holistic policy interventions. Unless action is taken, many people, particularly those already marginalized, might be left behind,” said Selim Jahan, Director of UNDP’s Human Development Report Office and report lead author.

Work conditions impact on human development
The report urges countries and societies to promote decent work opportunities and sustainability both by improving education, and social protection, particularly for vulnerable groups, and by engaging in collective action and protective legislation to eradicate work that exploits and demeans.

The Asia and the Pacific region as a whole has the largest numbers of people trapped in dangerous and demeaning work including forced labour, trafficking and child labour: the second-highest regional incidence of child labour (after Sub-Saharan Africa) and largest absolute number of child labourers– 78 million (5-17 years), with over half in hazardous work. The region also accounts for the largest number of forced labourers in the world – 11.7 million (56 percent) of the global total. The report says that the Sustainable Development Goals, by strengthening health and education outcomes of the population, especially for children, will create incentives to acquire skills to move to a wide range of occupations.

Strengthening rights for informal and vulnerable workers is presented as an area for action in the report. Informal work accounts for more than half of non-agricultural work in the region, the highest share is in South Asia (82 percent), followed by East and South-East Asia (65 percent). The report welcomes the role of unions and offers an example of labour shortages giving workers bargaining power to negotiate decent work and improve social protection in Cambodia, China and Viet Nam.

Informal work also disproportionately affects women. In South Asia, 83.3 percent of employed women in the sub-region are in vulnerable employment while women earn nearly 31 percent less than men, according to existing International Labour Organization estimates. In East Asia and the Pacific, 52 percent of the employed women are in vulnerable employment and women earn nearly 19 percent less than men. Some of these wage discrepancies result from differences in education, skill levels and years of experience, but in most cases the gap is ‘unexplained’- possibly driven by discrimination, the report highlights. The report also outlines gender imbalances in paid and unpaid work, and a growing ‘care gap’ that is disproportionately affecting women. It urges governments and societies to provide an enabling environment and supportive measures to let people and countries flourish.

Tackling inequalities related to education will foster regional progress
Progress in education in the region is central to human development progress as measured by the Human Development Index (HDI). Over the past five years South Asia, and East Asia and the Pacific have had the highest average annual increases in expected years of schooling for children, 1.3 percent and 1.0 percent respectively, compared to the developing countries’ average annual increase of 0.7 percent and global increase of 0.6 percent.

Overall, in East Asia and the Pacific, an HDI value of 0.710 is above average compared to the developing regions’ average of 0.660 and slightly below the world average of 0.711. The region has achieved impressive economic growth – since 1990 Gross National Income per capita the region averaged 7.2 percent average annual growth, compared to a world average of 1.9 percent.

South Asia´s HDI value of 0.607 is below the average value of 0.666 for the developing world. There has been remarkable progress in life expectancy, between 1990 and 2014, which increased at almost double the rate of the world average (0.7 percent vs 0.4 globally), but deprivations persist. 800 million people suffer from multidimensional poverty in the region.

Setting the new agenda for work
While policy responses to the new world of work will differ across countries, three main clusters of policies will be critical if governments and societies are to maximize the benefits and minimize the hardships in the evolving new world of work. Strategies are needed for creating work opportunities and ensuring workers’ well-being. The report therefore proposes a three-pronged action agenda:

A New Social Contract between governments, society, and the private sector, to ensure that all members of society, especially those working outside the formal sector, have their needs taken into account in policy formulation.

A Global Deal among governments to guarantee workers’ rights and benefits around the world.
A Decent Work Agenda, encompassing all workers, that will help promote freedom of association, equity, security, and human dignity in work life.

The report includes a special contribution by H.E. Benigno S. Aquino III, President of The Philippines, which highlights a key principle to tackle all these challenges: inclusiveness. The contribution provides examples of how ‘inclusiveness’ has guided policymaking in areas such as youth unemployment, vulnerable and informal work for women and universal access to education and health. President Aquino writes: “We are centered on our people: They are the end-all and be-all of everything we do. Thus we will exert every effort to empower them, give them the same rights and protections and maximize their opportunities – regardless of social status, welfare and yes even the nature of work.”