From Algeria

Statement of the ILO's Director-General at the 40th Arab Labour Conference

Statement | Algiers | 15 April 2013
Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General
H.E. Mr. Abdelmalek Sellal, Prime Minister of The People's Democratic Republic of Algeria,
Dear Director-General of the ALO,
Honourable Ministers,
Dear Representatives of Governments, Employers’ and Workers’ organizations,
Distinguished Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to be in Algeria again on the occasion of the 40th session of the Arab Labour Conference. I would like to express my gratitude to the Government of Algeria for its kind invitation for my first official visit as Director-General of the ILO and to the Arab Labour Organization for giving me an opportunity to address you today.

Distinguished participants, the world of work has been passing through difficult times. The global crisis of unemployment triggered by the financial crisis is still with us – very much so in many countries around the world as well as in the Arab region.

There are 200 million unemployed around the world. Youth unemployment has reached particularly alarming proportions. Your own report, Mr. Luqman provides important information on the employment challenge in the Arab region in, particularly for women and youth.

To meet today’s challenges, I am leading, with the support of the ILO’s Governing Body, a reform process that will make the ILO the centre of excellence that will provide highest quality services to its constituents. Last month the GB endorsed the Programme and Budget for the next two years including eight areas of critical importance around which we will refocus our energy on Youth Employment, the informal economy, the rural economy, Social Protection, SME, labour inspection, unacceptable forms of work, and growth for jobs. I strongly believe this will help us to extend our support to our constituents including there represented in the region.

My visits to Algeria this week and Tunisia in January as well as the discussions I had with many of you before give me a clear indication of the relevance of these priorities to the challenges we are facing together in the Arab region. The Algerian Social and Economic Pact and the Tunisian Social Contract are promising examples of consolidating social progress plus stability through social dialogue between independent tripartite actors. I want to assure you that the ILO will be present to achieve our common goals. We will continue listen and positively respond to your needs.

I wish to mention here that the ILO entered the Arab Decade for Employment (2010-2020) with a regional agenda for action agreed by representatives of governments and workers and employers’ organizations for all 22 Arab countries and the ILO has mobilized globally and regionally its technical and financial resources to contribute to a transition towards decent work for all in the Middle East and North Africa.

Let me emphasize the special responsibility that the ILO has to working people in the occupied Palestinian territory; the Arab Summit last month reaffirmed the centrality of the Palestinian issue and this year my annual Report will continue to make the case for justice, decent work and dignity for Palestinians.

I do realize how complex the process of change taking place in many Arab countries is. Evidence points to an irreversible transformation in the region. Several governments in the Arab region have adopted labour market and social protection measures following the uprisings – however, these measures must not simply be reactive. What is needed is a comprehensive vision for sustainable economic and social development.

We must seize the opportunity for reform through strengthening social dialogue and the independent representation of workers and employers. Reforms need to reach beyond political structures into the social and economic spheres.

Sustainable job creation will depend upon the stimulation of a viable private sector capable of opening decent work opportunities for Arab youth and operating in conformity with ILO standards. This will require social dialogue.

Social dialogue creates avenues for the expression of grievances and provides mechanisms for peaceful conflict resolution. For example, it can establishes the right balance between employment protection and enterprise adaptability. A stable system of labour relations gives predictable outcomes and encourages investment. You recognized this in December 2010 in the first Arab Social Dialogue Conference held in Morocco that met just weeks ahead of the Tunisian Revolution and mandated the ILO and ALO to move to institutionalise mechanisms of Dialogue and build the capacity of Governments and Social Partners in this critical area.

Our advocacy should underscore the need for markets that are better regulated. An inclusive model benefits from the synergies arising from the cooperation of the public and private sectors and a cooperative dialogue between the social partners. Only strong labour market institutions can guarantee equality of treatment and enable sharing of productivity gains.

We must tap into the region’s youth potential: Arab youth are increasingly more and better educated. Promoting decent work opportunities for young people requires smart education and skills policies in line with market needs. Young women must be at target -despite unprecedented achievements in education, this region still has the lowest female participation rates in the labour market.

The establishment of a social protection floor is also essential in a region where many categories of workers, particularly those in the informal economy, lack basic social security guarantees including healthcare and income security. Coherent and responsive social security systems that address both long and short-term needs can significantly reduce poverty and contribute to social, economic and political stability.

I firmly believe that strengthened collaboration between the ILO and the ALO along the lines of these common principles can help achieve these goals. We hope that this partnership will expand and consolidate efforts between the two organizations and build processes that allow governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations to effectively engage in the promotion of Decent Work and Social Justice for all.

I hope this Conference will open a window of opportunity by creating space for a policy debate on building an inclusive model of development. The ALO DG’s report contributes to this debate; it emphasizes the limits of economic growth without social justice, quality job creation, and inclusiveness of all components of society. It also underlines the need for a new growth model that promotes stronger job creation for young people, more transparency and accountability, and improved social dialogue.

To conclude, let me reaffirm that we need to develop strategies appropriate to each national context to secure the expansion of opportunities for decent and productive employment in a sustainable framework. At all levels of development the focus must be on quality work that gives dignity in the present and hope for the future; serving the interests of people, enterprises, the economy and the environment, with full respect of the roles of government, employers’ and workers.

We are witnessing an important change in the global policy discourse. There is a renewed commitment to jobs and the social dimensions of development but a lot more work needs to be done to put these at the heart of the global agenda. Our aim is to put in place a lasting partnership based on shared values anchored in the international standards which we uphold.

The ILO stands ready to support your on-going efforts to meet the aspirations of your citizens.