Decent work

From conflict to recovery: Promoting decent employment in Iraq

The ILO established its first country coordination office in Baghdad a year ago. Maha Kattaa reflects on her first year in Iraq as country coordinator, and sheds light on how the ILO is working with its partners to promote employment opportunities and decent work in the country.

Analysis | 16 March 2021
Maha Kattaa, ILO Iraq Country Coordinator
What are the main challenges and opportunities you’ve encountered since arriving in Baghdad?

I arrived in Baghdad as the ILO country coordinator a year ago, when our office was established. The main challenges were related to issues of security and mobility, which quickly worsened with the outbreak of COVID-19. 

But despite the challenges, there were many opportunities to build our country team, to establish new relations with partners, constituents and other UN agencies, to mobilise resources and build new projects, and to leverage our experience from the region to address the labour market needs of Iraq and its people.

Iraq is one of the biggest Arab States countries the ILO is operating in, with a population of nearly 40 million. It is vast, known for its ancient civilisation and heritage, its natural resources and endless potential.

Yet, due to decades of conflict and the mass displacement of people, Iraq’s need for humanitarian assistance has outweighed that of development for many years. But now, there is an urgent need to work on recovery and development as part of the country’s post-conflict reconstruction.

And this is where the ILO comes in.

Our Decent Work Country Programme focuses on three main areas of support; ensuring that private sector development supports the creation of new jobs; extending and strengthening social protection and addressing child labour; and improving social dialogue to promote rights at work.

How is the ILO working with partners to help promote decent work opportunities for vulnerable communities in Iraq?

Job creation is a key priority, especially in the context of forced displacement, to help vulnerable communities become more self-reliant. Employment is dignity, and people want to be self-sufficient and self-reliant and they want to provide for their families. 

Part of the government’s plan to respond to economic shocks, is to create jobs through public works. The ILO is implementing Employment-Intensive Investment Programme (EIIP) interventions to create much needed employment for vulnerable groups and to support local infrastructure development.

Through these interventions, we are building an integrated approach to EIIP, whereby workers are able to develop demand-driven skills and access private sector jobs in the longer-term through employment services such as job-matching and e-counselling. We are developing Standard Operating Procedures to provide an integrated employment intensive investment system that will aid a shift from emergency cash-based activities towards more productive and sustainable job creation.

We also want to encourage youth and women entrepreneurs to set up their own small businesses. We will help train them on how to establish and manage these businesses, using some of the ILO’s advanced entrepreneurship and financial literacy training programmes, while also linking them with financial services.

Job creation is a key entry point to important issues, such as skills development, social protection, and private sector development.

How has COVID-19 impacted the ILO’s priorities and implementation in Iraq?

The COVID-19 crisis has shown us that all our priorities need to be interlinked through an integrated approach, in order to address current labour market and employment needs, as well as the longer-term decent work priorities of the country.

Despite all the physical restrictions preventing us from carrying out our work in traditional ways, we’ve learned that the sky is still our limit. We must continue to keep our hearts and minds open to innovative ideas that can help us achieve our goals in supporting workers and the institutions that employ them.

View and listen to a recent webinar by Maha Kattaa conducted by the ILO Office in Washington DC: From conflict to recovery: Creating decent jobs in Iraq.