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ILO: 23 Million Asians Could Lose Jobs

As many as 23 million people in Asia could lose their jobs, this year, because of the global economic downturn. The International Labor Organization made the projection in a new study released Wednesday.

Visak Srisuk lost his job at a Canadian-owned oil company in Thailand, a month ago. He is among 200 laid off workers camped outside Government House in Bangkok, seeking help.

"Normally, at the end of the year, workers in Thailand get a bonus from the company, social welfare, salary increase," said Visak. "During negotiation, the company owner terminated some of us. That is not right. So we come down here asking for the government to solve our problem."

As governments across Asia come under pressure to address rising unemployment, the International Labor Organization says between seven to 23 million more people in the region could lose their jobs this year, as a result of the global economic crisis.

"Twenty-three million is really the worst case scenario. It's a huge number," said Economist Gyorgy Sziraczki, one of the authors of the ILO study. "Already some of the countries [in the region] have high unemployment. Indonesia and the Philippines are among these countries."

The job cuts are being deeply felt in the region's manufacturing sector, once busy rolling out cheap exports, from toys to television sets, now struggling to stay financially afloat because of falling global demand.

From this year through 2010, an estimated 51 million additional jobs will be needed in Asia, with jobs most needed in the region's largest economies - China, India and Indonesia. The ILO says there is "very little chance" that enough new jobs will be created to cover the expected growth in the labor force. Pakistan, Cambodia and the Philippines are expected to experience the highest rates of labor force increases.

Sziracski says massive unemployment would have dire consequences in Asia, where a quarter of the population lives on about a dollar a day.

"If more and more people are losing their jobs and the government doesn't provide social protection and support, there would be massive poverty problem in the region," said Sziracski.

The ILO says job creation should be a central goal in government economic stimulus plans. Sziracski adds that job creation programs must be spread out across all sectors and worker categories for maximum economic gains.

Labor officials from the Asia-Pacific are meeting in Manila, this week, to discuss responses to the economic crisis.