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Economic crisis to cause massive job losses, unrest in Asia

December 9, 1997

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ Asia’s economic crisis will lead to massive job losses without adequate safeguards for workers, a top official of the International Labor Organization said Tuesday.

The collapse of once-booming Asian financial markets has sent jitters around the world in recent months, but the head of the ILO said the worst will come when unemployment rises.

``The problem is not just how many jobs are going to be lost, but how many are not going to be created,″ ILO director-general Michel Hansenne told reporters at the start of a regional meeting.

``Globalization, which has brought so much to this part of the world, will not be politically viable if it leads to deterioration of social justice,″ he said.

He urged governments preoccupied with meeting conditions for international bailout packages to also turn their attention to creating means to deal with mass joblessness.

The ILO deals with global labor issues at the behest of the United Nations. The three-day conference brings together participants from 36 countries.

In Thailand, where a currency devaluation last July triggered the regional economic meltdown, an estimated 1 million people could be thrown out of work, ILO officials said.

Countries such as Vietnam, which are struggling to shift from communism to a market-oriented economy, are unlikely to see the high growth rates that would create large numbers of new jobs.

The boom that transformed parts of Asia over the past decade from agrarian to newly industrialized societies greatly reduce poverty levels. But it also weakened the informal safety net whereby family members who lost city jobs could return to their villages and expect support.

In most countries, no government social protections, such as unemployment benefits or retraining programs, have been created to replace the old safety net.

A sharp increase in unemployment could be ``catastrophic,″ Hansenne said. ``Even a deceleration of growth would generate social tensions.″

The workers likely to suffer most will be women, children and migrants, he said.

Roger Boehning, head of the ILO technical team for Southeast Asia, said the current crisis could lead to the dismissal of ``large numbers″ of migrant workers in South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand.

The ranks of child laborers is likely to rise, Boehning said. If women who work at unskilled jobs in, say, the garment industry, lose their jobs, they will probably send their children out to work to supplement income.

Even before the downturn, about 60 percent of the world’s working children lived in Asia and one Asian child in five was estimated to be working.

Update hourly