Oil engineers spray water to cool off oil wells in northern Iraq ©ILO

Iraq has been a member of the ILO since 1932 and has ratified 66 ILO Conventions, including seven of the eight fundamental Conventions. Despite various reforms and strategies designed to support the labour force following the 2003 Iraq War, the country still faces a host of labour market challenges which are linked to the country’s political, social, economic, and security situation. Poverty rates hover at around 30 per cent and are significantly higher in rural areas. The displacement of millions of people – both internally displaced Iraqis and refugees from neighbouring Syria – have negatively impacted employment and inflated the informal sector.

Iraq has one of the youngest populations in the world. By 2015, Iraqis under 14 years of age accounted for around 40 per cent of the population, while those aged 15-24 years made up some 19 per cent. The burgeoning youth profile is also reflected in youth unemployment which registers at around 33 per cent. Only around 13 per cent of Iraqi females are active in the labour force, compared to around 72 per cent of Iraqi males.

Iraq and the ILO

The ILO re-launched its Decent Work Agenda in Iraq as part of the reconstruction effort in 2004. The complexity of the political, social and economic situation in Iraq, exacerbated by a lack of safety and security, impedes the creation of a Decent Work Country Programme. Nevertheless, the ILO’s work in Iraq is aligned with the National Development Plan for 2013-2017, the Poverty Reduction Strategy 2010-14, the National Employment Policy (which was technically and financially supported by the ILO) and the UN Development Assistance Framework for 2015-2019 (UNDAF).

A technical assistance framework agreed upon between the ILO and the the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of Iraq focuses on job creation through private sector development, broadening social security coverage, freedom of association, social dialogue, the implementation of the National Employment Policy, actuarial studies, international labour standards, and reform of legislation.

Institutional Support

At the institutional level, the ILO has worked with its tripartite partners in government as well as workers’ and employers’ organizations to formulate detailed policies and build institutional capacity to implement Decent Work programmes. The ILO has also supported the process of drafting the Iraqi Labour Code which was adopted at the national level in 2015. Tripartite constituents in Iraq also receive support from the ILO to implement the 2011 National Employment Policy.

At the regional level, the ILO works closely with the Kurdistan Regional Government to develop employment policy, review the labour code, and develop an unemployment benefit scheme tailored to the local context in the Autonomous Kurdish Region of Iraq. The ILO also works with disadvantaged youth in Iraqi Kurdistan to empower some 750 disadvantaged young women and men through accelerated vocational training, provision of a public employment scheme, entrepreneurship training, and soft loans for enterprise development. In order to introduce life and employability skills, the ILO assists the government of Iraq to develop a national youth strategy.

Enterprise Development

In response to relatively high youth unemployment in Iraq, the ILO continues to work with young people to encourage enterprise development in the country. As part of this effort, the ILO launched the Know About Business (KAB) entrepreneurship programme in the Autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which works with relevant line ministries as well as government and non-governmental organizations located in three governorates of the Kurdish region.

Employers’ Organizations

Iraqi employers’ organizations currently maintain low institutional capacity relative to many of their regional counterparts. To help increase their effectiveness, the ILO has provided several rounds of technical consultations to employers’ organizations, including a capacity assessment of the Iraqi Federation Industries (IFI). The ILO is currently reviewing the IFI’s by-laws to enable the organization to develop governance systems and institutional structures. The ILO is also works to formalize informal labour by reviewing a draft of the small and medium enterprise law, originally drafted by the ILO as part of a private sector development programme.

Social Protection

The ILO has worked with its tripartite partners in Iraq to develop a new unemployment insurance scheme and extend social security to specific categories of workers, including construction workers. The ILO has also begun to work with the Kurdistan Regional Government to roll out the scheme in Iraqi Kurdistan for all private sector employees. Furthermore, by employing international labour standards and best practice, the ILO has also worked with the Ministry of Labour and the Iraqi cabinet to facilitate the adoption of amended social security regulations for casual workers.