Employment Promotion in the Arab States

Employment and labour market conditions remain a challenge in the Arab region, even in countries with steady economic growth. The struggle to find decent work in the region, especially among women and youth, is further exacerbated by ongoing armed conflicts, political instabilities, population displacements and migration waves. As a result, unemployment, inequalities, exclusion and vulnerabilities have increased, necessitating the need to immediately rethink the current employment model pursued by Arab economies.

The current Syrian refugee crisis, in particular, represents one of the largest humanitarian crises of modern times. Since 2011, millions of Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Lebanon and Jordan host the largest numbers of registered refugees per capita in the world, and face increased labour market challenges, exacerbating the already difficult pre-crisis employment situations.

Over the past decades, in fact, employment creation has been concentrated either in the public sector or in low-productivity, low skilled, informal private sector jobs, often unattractive to the increasingly educated youth. While the government-led growth and development model succeeded, for a time, in creating job opportunities and increasing employment, this model has proved unsustainable due to increasing demand for jobs and limited public resources. A better approach to structural transformation is therefore required to support the development of a more vibrant, productive and highly diversified private sector.

To address the current and future employment and labour market challenges facing the Arab States, the development of forward-looking national employment policies (NEPs) is required. These policies are powerful tools to plan, coordinate and monitor job creation within national policy frameworks. NEPs operate on both the demand and supply sides of the labour market, and should be developed through consultative tripartite processes involving relevant government ministries and departments, employers’ and workers’ organizations.

Employment and labour market issues and challenges in the region include:

  • Weak policy framework and ineffective labour market institutions;
  • Insufficient demand for labour;
  • Persistent gender disparities and unequal labour market opportunities for women;
  • High unemployment and limited job opportunities for the youth;
  • Serious skills mismatches and large investments in education with little or no impact on employment;
  • High fragility resulting in increased vulnerability, working poverty and informality;
  • Oversized public sector and weak private sector (concentration in low-value added, low productivity jobs); and
  • Lack of data and labour market information to inform policy development

ILO response in the Arab States

To promote employment and address decent work deficits in the region, the ILO works with its constituents in the Arab States to provide support for the formulation and implementation of relevant policies for better employment outcomes. This work is guided by relevant ILO conventions and recommendations, including the Employment Policy Convention, 1964 (No. 122) and its associated recommendation. The ILO’s efforts in the region also fall in line with the ILO Decent Work Agenda which calls for employment promotion, social protection, social dialogue, and rights at work. ILO support for employment promotion contributes to SDG 8: “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all” and is usually included either in the framework of a decent work country programme (DWCP), or a stand-alone Development Cooperation programme (DC programme) agreed upon and signed between the ILO and the country of relevance. Specific advisory services and capacity building activities could also be provided by the ILO based on needs assessment or specific requests from member states.

More particularly, ILO support for the promotion of decent work in the Arab states includes:
  • Advisory services, technical support and capacity building for the formulation, implementation and review of national employment policies and action plans;
  • Technical support to assess policy performance and suggest corrective actions and policy options based on international labour standards and best practices;
  • Employment-related research and analysis, including on structural transformation, wages, gender equality, youth employment and the future of work;
  • Development of Labour Market Information Systems and primary data collection and dissemination on labour market related issues, including informality and vulnerability;
  • Protection of the rights of the most vulnerable groups, including refugees and IDPs and supporting the transition from the informal to the formal economy;
  • Development-focused and employment-driven strategies to support host communities and refugees in Jordan and Lebanon amidst the recent protracted Syrian Refugee Crisis; and
  • Advocacy and partnerships with other UN organizations to expand and scale up knowledge on the employment situation in the region and increase collective efforts for better labour market outcomes and results.

With specific reference to the development of National Employment Policies, technical advisory projects under implementation by the ILO- Regional Office for Arab States include:
  • Supporting the OPT in developing a National Action Plan on Employment.
  • Providing technical advisory services to the Ministry of Labour and Social Development in KSA for the development of the Saudi Labour Market Strategy.
  • Supporting Iraq in conducting a national labour force survey to provide data and information needed for the development of an updated national employment policy.