HIV/AIDS has cut the creation of jobs by a million annually in the worst hit countries, said an International Labour Organisation (ILO) report published on Friday.
The lack of access to treatment would also see mortality losses to the global labour market triple from 28 million estimated for 2005 to 86 million projected for 2020.
Improved access to antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) was urgently needed to prevent the forecast becoming a reality.
According to the report, which studied 43 countries, an estimated 36.3 million people of working age were either infected or living with the virus worldwide.
The death and illness of workers was "jeopardising the ability of the worst affected countries to lift themselves out of poverty", said the report. It was costing them dear in terms of lost economic growth and employment opportunities.
There were worrying implications for the future labour market, too, with an increasing number of children, whose parents had died or were sick from AIDS, being propelled into work too early, exposing them to risk and robbing them of education.