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article imageOp-Ed: Employment problems in Asia and Eastern Europe

By Tim Sandle     Oct 13, 2016 in Politics
A review of employment in Asia and Eastern Europe has shown that a third of the working population are in ‘informal or vulnerable jobs’, a state generally referred to as precarious employment.
The extent of employment vulnerability in some of the fastest growing economic regions of the world encompasses 37 million people (from an assessed population of 230 million people), a report from the United Nations Development Program concludes. This places pressure on government backed social safety nets, especially in Eastern Europe, Turkey and Central Asia.
The report (titled “Progress at Risk”) highlights a growing ‘middle class’ in these regions, with 80 million people placed in this bracket. As to what ‘middle class’ is supposed to represent is uncertain, these are people who need to work and have the same relationship with capital as the 37 million described as vulnerable. The difference being relates to economic stratification, according to pay differentials, and security of employment. These are important differences but they do not represent a separate class in the accepted sense of class being defined as the relationship of a worker to the means of production.
The reason cited for the rise in precarious forms of employment is identified in the report as due to the low commodity prices and slow growth in both the European Union and the Russian Federation. In these areas $65 billion leaves the region in annual illicit financial flows (due to misinvoiced foreign trade transactions); the report argues that if such sums remained in the area then this would stimulate greater economic growth.
Where the report is lacking is identifying the triggers for the rise in inequality. In the book ‘Globalization and Precarious Forms of Production and Employment’, edited by Carole Thornley, Steve Jefferys and Beatrice Appay, there is a reasoned analysis that growing globalization has led to new forms of production and new forms of employment, with these employment patterns being biased towards part-time work on short-term contracts. There is also a lack of detail of how economic form might work and how, for instance, capturing some of the $65 billion haemorrhaging finance can be dispersed throughout society. This would be unlikely to occur without a detailed industrial policy.
This means that secure forms of employment are harder to come by and that, for some sectors of the working population, the access to essential services such as health and education are limited. The report highlights cases of where the more vulnerable workers state they often have to pay bribes in order to receive medical treatment.
Commenting on this, Cihan Sultanoğlu, the Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Europe and the CIS says “Many countries in this region used to enjoy relative job security, free and universal access to social services and smaller gender inequalities. But with vulnerability and exclusion on the rise, they are starting to resemble societies in other parts of the world.”
Breaking down the demographics of the 37 million vulnerable people this indicates a disproportionate cluster of women, migrant workers, youths and those from ethnic minorities. Of the ethnic minorities the group most greatly affected are the Roma. With gender, women are 30 percent less likely to be employed than men or are employed in part-time, unsecure positions.
Solutions put forward in the report include more investment in education and reducing taxation on employment. There are also calls for more taxes on activities that damage the environment. But is this enough? While the report is useful and it highlights a growing problem, and one that could trigger further instability, it falls short by accepting the prevailing economic wisdom of global markets.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Precarious employment, Employment, parttime, Gender, Women