GENEVA — Global unemployment is forecast to edge up 1.2 percent to 199.4 million in 2016, largely due to the slowdown in major emerging markets such as China and Brazil, the International Labor Organization predicts in its “World Employment Outlook Trends” report.
The ILO also anticipates unemployment to increase another 0.6 percent to top 200 million people in 2017.
“Against the backdrop of considerable turmoil and slowdown in major emerging economies, the labor outlook has weakened considerably in both quantity and quality,” said Guy Ryder, ILO director-general, during the launch of the report in Geneva.
On a brighter note, Ryder noted that most advanced economies, including the U.S., saw some improvements “with better-than-anticipated job growth.” ILO economists also expect the rate of unemployment to decline this year in the U.S. to 4.9 percent and some other advanced economies, and to also edge downward in India.
The ILO report notes that the slowdown is spurring moves by apparel exporting countries to attract jobs and investments, with Myanmar the new emerging player in the sector.
“Myanmar implemented its first minimum wage in 2015 to improve workers’ incomes, while establishing itself as an alternative garment manufacturing destination in the region,” the report said.
Myanmar’s minimum wage is set at 3,600 kyat per day, which ILO economists estimate translates to a monthly wage of around $85.
According to Myanmar’s Garment Manufacturers Association, the sector has a workforce of 240,000 people and exports for 2015 are estimated to approach close to $2 billion, up from $1.56 billion in 2014. Woven apparel is its strong suit.
The ILO report said Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam “all implemented significant increases in minimum wages in some sectors or regions,” and added “this virtuous trend is expected to continue over the next couple of years.”
In dollar terms, the minimum wage for apparel workers was $297 a month in Shanghai, $68 in Bangladesh, $66 in Sri Lanka, between $100 and $145 in Vietnam, and between $90 and $125 in India.
Research by the ILO has documented that despite the progress, “wages in the sector remain low across the region.” In many countries in the region, from Bangladesh to Cambodia, apparel labor union leaders claim the increases are insufficient and have been engaged in industrial action in pursuit of higher wages.
Ryder told WWD that developments in minimum wages in Southeast Asia in 2015 were mixed.
“Myanmar introduced a new minimum wage, and minimum wage increases outpaced inflation in Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam,” he said. “Meanwhile, minimum wages fell in inflation-adjusted terms in Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines.”
With respect to Myanmar, Ryder said, “it is essential to ensure that the new minimum wage is effectively applied to all workers who are entitled to it.”
Antony Blinken, deputy U.S. secretary of state, during a visit to Myanmar after meeting President Thein Sein and other leaders, said Monday, “The United States will continue to promote responsible investment by our companies in Myanmar, which we believe is strengthening new local businesses and industries and building human capital, not just extracting resources.”