About the ILO in Bosnia and Herzegovina

One of the most challenging labour markets in the region


Although the economy of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been expanding steadily in the past few years, job creation has not kept up and the country shows one of the most challenging labour market situations in the region. Employment rates remain low (46% for age 15-64, 2019). Unemployment is high despite a downward trend in recent years (16% in 2020), especially among youth (34 % in 2019). The country has one of the lowest female employment rates in the Balkans (around 35%, age 15-64, 2019). The share of informal employment in total employment is relatively high (30%). The outward migration coupled with a rapidly aging population put a strain on the social security systems, challenging their sustainability over the long-term.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the labour market challenges in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The ILO’s and EBRD’s joint assessment shows that the decline in working hours caused by the pandemic during the third quarter of 2020 is equivalent to the loss of 170,000 full-time jobs. The losses of working hours are considerably higher than in other Western Balkan economies. The study identifies 14 sectors of the economy in which workers and enterprises are severely affected by the crisis. Over 245,000 jobs are at immediate risk as the health crisis persists.

Because of the political divisions in the country and a rather fragmented government structure the public administration has difficulties in coming up with solid diagnostics, socio economic responses to the pandemic and long term reforms of education, labour markets and social policies. For the same reasons, the administration cannot guarantee sufficient outreach and coverage of related services like employment services or active labour market programmes.

ILO interventions in BiH

Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a member state of the ILO since 1993. The country has ratified 83 ILO International Labour Standards (Conventions), including all eight fundamental conventions. Starting 1996, the ILO has been providing technical assistance in a wide range of areas including employment creation, labour law reform, promotion of social dialogue and collective bargaining, and tackling undeclared work.

The most recent projects aim to support local employment partnerships (tailor made interventions agreed upon by labour market actors in order to come up with local solutions to specific employment challenges of a municipality or district), promote entrepreneurship in export-oriented and innovative sectors, support public employment services in reaching out to vulnerable groups like long term unemployed, and strengthen labour inspectorates as well as peaceful mediation of labour disputes.

The ILO has been active in supporting its constituents since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and contributed to the joint UN socio-economic response in the country in addressing the consequences of the crisis. It produced an assessment jointly with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on the impact of the crisis on the labour market, and assisted in the development of the Employment Strategy of the Federation of BiH. Additionally, it contributed to occupational safety and health (OSH) measures to maintain business continuity. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups receive support to ensure the employment of unemployed persons during the pandemic and beyond. TVET systems received support to enable E-learning/blended learning and a safe return to school.