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ILO meeting: Decent work in the chemical industry

Representatives from more than 30 countries meet in Geneva this week to discuss some of the challenges facing an industry that employs nearly 20 million people worldwide, including the shortage of skilled workers.

Press release | 25 November 2013
GENEVA – Governments, employers’ and workers’ delegates from more than 30 countries meet in Geneva from 26-28 November 2013 to discuss a series of issues related to the chemical industry, including ways to promote employment and training, occupational safety and health, and corporate social responsibility.

“The global economic crisis has led to job losses in the chemical industry, which employs nearly 20 million people worldwide. But at the same time the economic slowdown has given the industry opportunities to introduce new initiatives that are resulting in more and better jobs,” said Alette van Leur, Director of the ILO’s Sectoral Activities Department.

“This meeting will provide an excellent platform to discuss some of these ideas as well as the challenges ahead,” she added.

An ILO paper prepared for the meeting highlights the strategic importance of the chemical industry for national economies. It identifies the shortage of skilled workers and scientists as one of the most pressing challenges but it also shows that several countries have already taken measures to address them.

Chemical industry: Facts and figures
Global chemicals sales (2011): About €2,744 billion (about US$3,600 billion)
Global chemical industry employment: About 20 million people
Employment growth: Asia, particularly China generated nearly 130,000 jobs between 2009 and 2010
Women in the workforce (2010): Varies from country to country but seems to be low – i.e. between 4.0 per cent in Kuwait and 50.3per cent in Cyprus
Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs): 96 per cent of all chemical companies are in the EU. SMEs provided 37 per cent of all jobs and generated 30 per cent of sales
Death due to exposure to dangerous substance (2008): 651,279 people

For example, the ILO and the Russian Federation have developed a partnership to implement innovative skills development programmes in Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The Educate to Innovate campaign in the United States – launched in 2009 – aims to improve education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), while countries from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – which also face a shortage of skilled workers in the oil, gas and chemical industries – have poured millions of funds into training.

At the same time, some countries are stepping up efforts to increase decent and productive work in the chemical industry by reducing health, safety and environmental risks. In the European Union, over half of all small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the sector currently offer green products or services, while countries in South America are investing heavily in greener technologies.

The three-day conference follows a decision adopted by the March 2011 session of the ILO Governing Body to hold a global meeting on decent and productive work in the chemical industry.

For more information, please contact ILO spokesperson Hans von Rohland at +4179/593-1321.