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ILO warns of rise in social unrest and migration as inequality widens


UN agency records rising discontent in all regions and calls on policymakers to tackle unemployment and inequality urgently


ublic servants protest against austerity in Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

Rising unemployment, inequality and a lack of decent jobs have helped fuel a rise in social unrest that threatens to intensify unless policymakers take swift action, the UN’s labour agency has warned.

The International Labour Organization said its measure of protest activities around the world had ticked higher in the last year against a backdrop of economic and political uncertainty. In a downbeat report into global labour market prospects, the agency also predicted migration could rise over the next decade as frustrated jobseekers leave their countries in search of better prospects.

After a year which involved anti-austerity protests in Brazil, demonstrations against the election of Donald Trump in the US and industrial action in the UK, the ILO said its tracking of global events showed the risk of social unrest or discontent had “heightened across almost all regions”.

“There is growing uncertainty everywhere it would seem, whether it’s economic or political. This is something we seem to be living with and they are reinforcing one another,” said Steven Tobin, ILO senior economist and lead author of the report.

He drew links between that febrile climate and the rise in protests. “The ability to protest is a good thing ... we should take some solace in the fact that people are able to demonstrate but it speaks to the notion that something is broken,” said Tobin.

“It speaks to discontent with the socioeconomic situation, with finding a quality job and being able to share in the gains of whatever limited prosperity there is.”

The warning comes a day after the World Economic Forum said income inequality and the polarisation of societies posed a risk to the global economy in 2017. Before its annual meeting in Davos next week, the WEF said the gap between wealthy and poor had been behind the UK’s Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election victory in the US.

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Advisory Committee: Yves Berthelot (France),  PV Rajagopal (India), Vandana Shiva (India), Oliver de Schutter (Belgium), Mazide N’Diaye (Senegal), Gabriela Monteiro (Brazil), Irakli Kakabadze (Georgia), Anne Pearson (Canada), Liz Theoharis (USA), Sulak Sivaraksa (Thailand), Jagat Basnet (Nepal), Miloon Kothari (India),  Irene Santiago (Philippines), Arsen Kharatyan (Armenia), Margrit Hugentobler (Switzerland), Jill Carr-Harris (Canada/India), Reva Joshee (Canada), Sonia Deotto (Mexico/Italy),Benjamin Joyeux (Geneva/France), Aneesh Thillenkery, Ramesh Sharma, Ran Singh (India)