Call on Asia to Beef Up Social Safety Nets

Call on Asia to Beef Up Social Safety Nets
Call on Asia to Beef Up Social Safety Nets

Asia-Pacific countries should see the pandemic as a wake-up call to bolster their meagre social safety nets, the head of the UN labor agency has said.

In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, International Labour Organization (ILO) Director-General Guy Ryder said Covid-19 had revealed the need for “much more robust” social protection in the region, where border restrictions and business closures continue to inflict damage to livelihoods two years into the pandemic.

“The failure of some to do that or not to do so adequately, I think, has been part of the problem of dealing and having the necessary resilience to deal with the Covid pandemic,” Ryder said, the news outlet reported Friday.

Ryder added that while it was not his place to judge whether the public health responses of some countries were better than others, he believed the Asia-Pacific needed to better prepare itself for “future shocks” that could come from public health or other crises.

“Where you have restrictions in place, where you have situations in which people cannot get to work, cannot do their jobs, at all or in the normal way, then clearly you have to have compensatory measures in place to support the income of working people, to support enterprises,” the UN labor agency chief said.

Many Asia-Pacific countries spend less than 2% of GDP on social protection, excluding healthcare, according to a 2020 report by the ILO, far below the global average of 11%. 

Many Asia-Pacific countries have reported fewer deaths than their western counterparts during the pandemic, but the region’s ongoing border controls and business restrictions have inflicted heavy social and economic costs.

While the emergence of the Omicron variant has accelerated moves by some western countries towards living with the virus – due to the variant’s higher transmissibility and milder severity than previous strains – many Asia-Pacific economies have reversed or delayed steps towards reopening.

Despite high vaccination coverage, the Asia-Pacific was largely closed to travel even before the emergence of the new variant.

Ryder said he did believe the pandemic would not lead to a permanent unravelling of connectivity and globalization in the Asia-Pacific.

“My view is we’re not on the verge of stepping back from globalization, we are not on a road to deglobalization, nor would I wish to see these things, nor do I think they would be of benefit to any of the populations that I think we might consider,” he said.

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