7 striking facts about the state of work in Eurasia

UNDP Eurasia
May 1, 2019 · 4 min read

by Vesna Dzuteska-Bisheva

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Globally more than 192 million people are deprived of the right to work. 42 percent of workers have jobs without stability and over 430 million workers don’t make enough to rise out of poverty.

These global challenges are reflected in the Europe and Central Asia region as well. The countries here are impacted by the legacies of transition from their socialist past: bankruptcies of massive industries leaving millions of people unemployed; large-scale privatization; land and agricultural reforms; conflicts and post-war reconstruction periods.

The Western Balkans as a sub-region has alarming labour market indicators, with roughly half of the working age population inactive, mainly attributable to discouraged workers and the low level of women in employment.

Though unemployment rates are lower in Eurasia than in other regions, over one third of the workforce are engaged in precarious work and five percent live in extreme working poverty (i.e. on incomes below US$3.10 per day).

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Here are 7 things research tells us about the current state of work across the Eurasia region.

1. As of 2018, women’s labour force participation rate (50.6 percent) lags behind men’s (66.5 percent) in the region. The unequal distribution of unpaid care-taking duties, lack of soft-skills, job-specific skills and sectoral employment segregation are some of the factors that perpetuate the gender gap.

2. Lack of access to quality jobs has been the main “push-factor” for the labour migration flows from the Western Balkans and Central Asia countries to EU and Russia respectively. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have the highest rate of remittance contribution to GDP in the world, 48.8 and 31.5 percent respectively (Migration Policy Center, 2015).

3. In the last decade, Moldova experienced an eight percent drop in the labour force participation due to large scale migration. Now, the economic slowdown and the stricter rules on accepting labour migrants means less opportunities abroad and more difficulties for those returning home.

4. Labour markets do not work equally for all. Inequalities in opportunities and outcomes cut across social and demographic groups.

5. Finding a job after graduation remains a major challenge for young people. Schools are not providing students with the skills that apply to modern jobs or creating links with relevant industries. As of 2017, youth unemployment rates in Armenia and Georgia are around 30 percent. In the Western Balkans, 27 percent of 15–29 years olds aren’t employed or in higher education or training (compared to the EU average of 17 percent). It takes an average of two years for youth to transition from school to work.

6. For those who cannot find a job, the situation worsens with time. The longer the unemployment spell, the lower the chances of a job-seeker to find a job suitable to their aspirations and skills. For example, in the Western Balkans, 70 percent of the unemployed have been without a job for more than a year.

7. The support systems necessary for vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities or ethnic minorities to be employed remain inadequate. Subsidized workplaces and quotas have not succeeded so far.

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In Kyrgyzstan, the Bus of Solidarity brings city lawyers and legal aid to remote outposts, delivering justice on wheels.

These alarming figures explain why the “full and good employment” concept has returned to the center of public policy agendas across developed and developing countries.

Unemployment, under-employment, informality and inactivity are not novel issues challenging our modern societies. Yet these are evolving complex social problems for which we must engineer new solutions.

There is a huge transformation in the world of work. We at UNDP recognize that we need to ensure that digital and AI technologies, globalization of labour markets, and online and platform work deliver economic security, equal opportunities and social justice.

Generating new jobs isn’t enough: we have to ensure creation of equal opportunities through which people can compete in fairly and justly.

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Editor’s Note: In Eurasia, not everyone can claim long-term career plans. When unemployment rates aren’t excessively high, it’s the job security that’s lacking. Still, many infuse extraordinary meaning and pride in their diverse professions.

Experience the new issue of Voyages now, which takes an intimate look at stories of work across Eurasia.

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