Labour Commissioner Hesketh Williams says a recent report from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) should have all in Antigua & Barbuda concerned.

In a grim analysis issued last week, the ILO said the global economy is on the verge of a new and deeper jobs recession that will further delay the global economic recovery and might ignite more social unrest in scores of countries.

“We have reached the moment of truth. We have a brief window of opportunity to avoid a major double-dip in employment,” said Raymond Torres, director of the ILO International Institute for Labour Studies which issued the report.

Williams said if the prediction is accurate that unemployment levels would rise, Antigua & Barbuda is up for a major economic struggle.

“Unemployment is at its highest ever and the fact that it’s going to get worse is really cause for concern for us here in Antigua & Barbuda and the region,” the labour commissioner said.

“The fact is for any economic recovery to take place; there has to be a situation where jobs are maintained and jobs are created and that is one of the things we are not seeing now.

“We are still seeing people losing their jobs. We are not seeing at this time any jobs being created in any significant way and therefore it means that we have to be very much concerned about what is likely to happen as we go forward, sad to say, deeper into an economic crisis,” Williams added.

The labour commissioner said only foreign direct investment could pull Antigua & Barbuda out of its economic woes but warned that the country is unlikely to receive such investment, given the global economic situation.

However the labour commissioner said there is still hope for the country.

“Hopeless? I wouldn’t want to go as far as to say it’s hopeless. We just have to hope that somewhere, somehow, there might be some turnaround in some way that we are not able to perceive now that will certainly blunt the damage that this blunt forecast is predicting for us,” Williams said.

Meanwhile President of the Employers’ Federation Acres Stowe sounded more upbeat saying he believes there is hope for a turnaround yet but the country needs to be more proactive in effecting a positive change.

“There is hope and there is always hope. I think what it is, …we have to look at the critical nature of where we are and start thinking ahead and that is thinking proactively,” Stowe said. “And the proactive thinking has to come from every quarter.

“We also have to look at our comfort and move away from our comfort zones and try new ideas that maybe while they are different, they would bring in that sort of level of investment,” Stowe added.

He argued that the government should not worsen the economic situation by signing international agreements that could have dire consequences.

He referred to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) which was signed in 2008.

That signalled a new era of trade relations between the European Union, the Caribbean Forum of African, Caribbean and Pacific States.

But Stowe cautions that the EPA will not generate much benefit here.

“The government needs to be careful and pay close attention to international agreements that they sign, for example the EPA so we don’t get ourselves in a situation where we have very limited resources swamped in by those who already have it made and those who can wrestle us to the ground and win,” Stowe said.

The recent “World of Work Report 2011: Making markets work for jobs” says a stalled global economic recovery has begun to dramatically affect labour markets. On current trends, it will take at least five years to return employment in advanced economies to pre-crisis levels, one year later than projected in last year’s report.

Noting that the current labour market is already within the confines of the usual six-month lag between an economic slowdown and its impact on employment, the report indicates that 80 million jobs need to be created over the next two years to return to pre-crisis employment rates. However, the recent slowdown in growth suggests that the world economy is likely to create only half of the jobs needed.

The report cites three reasons why the ongoing economic slowdown may have a particularly strong impact on the employment panorama: first, compared to the start of the crisis, enterprises are now in a weaker position to retain workers; second, as pressure to adopt fiscal austerity measures mount, governments are less inclined to maintain or adopt new jobs and income-support programmes; and third, countries are left to act in isolation due to lack of international policy co-ordination.