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Beirut, Lebanon 19-21 October 2009

Arab Employment Forum to address impact of the global financial crisis on employment

A three-day Arab Employment Forum opens in Beirut with the participation of high-level delegates from 22 countries in the region to examine the consequences of the global economic crisis on Arab states and consider ways of sustaining jobs and extending social protection for its citizens.

Press release | 18 October 2009

BEIRUT (ILO News) – A three-day Arab Employment Forum opens Monday 19 October in Beirut with the participation of high-level delegates from 22 countries in the region (Note 1) to examine the consequences of the global economic crisis on Arab states and consider ways of sustaining jobs and extending social protection for its citizens.

“Previous indications that the Arab economies would be relatively immune to the contagious effects of the crisis have proven wrong,” said Juan Somavia, Director-General of the International Labour Organization which is jointly organizing the Forum with the Arab Labour Organization (ALO). “As in other regions, many ordinary working men and women in the Arab world have lost their jobs, as enterprises face falling demand and investment is postponed. The outlook remains uncertain.”

“This Forum is an opportunity to address the short-term challenges of the current crisis and to tackle prevailing structural weaknesses, such as the lack of social protection, so as to forge together a balanced and sustainable future for growth and decent work”, Mr. Somavia said.

The Employment Forum will review the application in the region of the Global Jobs Pact adopted by the International Labour Conference last June. The Forum will also seek to build on the momentum created by the 36th ALO Conference in April this year, which called for greater regional cooperation and coordination with the ILO to address the impact of the economic and jobs crisis. Representatives of governments, workers and employers from some 22 countries are expected to discuss the impact of the crisis, and explore new policy options for addressing its consequences.

The Director General of the Arab Labour Organization, Mr. Ahmed Mohamed Luqman said that, “in January 2009, the Arab Economic Summit was held in Kuwait and adopted the “Arab Employment Decade”, which runs from 2010-2020. This included a commitment to launching Arab regional programmes to alleviate unemployment rates in the Arab countries and to reduce by half the percentage of working poor by the end of the decade” .

The Arab Employment Forum comes amid signs that the global economic crisis is impacting the region’s countries in different ways through different channels. An ILO report (Nota 2) prepared for the summit says that overall, economic growth in the region is likely to fall to around 2 per cent in 2009, from around 4.5 per cent in 2008.

The report also offers scenarios regarding unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa regions. In the worst case scenario the unemployment rate is forecast to reach 11 percent in both sub-regions by end 2009.

At the same time, the report also says that due to the large number of migrant workers in the region, it is likely that there will be more than four times as many workers in vulnerable employment as in unemployment in 2009.

The report cautions against any attempt to treat the Arab economies as a homogenous group. The impact of the crisis is likely to see variations “within” regional economies probably as important as “between” the Arab world and the rest of the world. However, certain overall characteristics are shared.

For example, the report says that the crisis hit the Arab economies at a time when unemployment was already high and social protection coverage was insufficient to effectively cushion against the newly created pressures. It also points to the weaknesses in regional economies to generate jobs, especially for young women and men.

Mr. Luqman said that, “unemployment is a common burden, which threatens all Arab countries with no exceptions. Unemployment rates have increased as the economic crisis has developed. It is necessary to have an active Arab cooperation to avoid its destructive impact especially on youth, social stability and Arab security.”

According to the report, many Arab countries are applying measures to overcome the adverse effects of the crisis, often relying on the extension of existing policies, to protect incomes of the most vulnerable, support small businesses, and labour intensive investments and enterprises.

“The crisis has exposed and at times accentuated a number of structural problems in the Arab world. Employment and social protection policies tend to be fragmented and weakly integrated into national policy debates. The same can be said for the promotion of fundamental principles and rights at work, and for social dialogue. In this respect, the Global Jobs Pact provides a useful framework that countries can adapt to national conditions”, said Mr Somavia.

Mr Somavia emphasized however that, “positive steps have been taken in the region. Some countries are considering expanding and reforming their social security systems. Labour Ministries are also creating additional capacity to deal in a more focused way with employment and social protection issues. Other countries have taken measures to institutionalize social dialogue. We need to build on these measures, to ensure protection for workers throughout the region as we weather this storm”.

Mr Luqman said that, “The priority for the Arab region during the crisis, should be creation of new job opportunities, as well as protecting existing jobs. Efforts should also be focused on facilitating Arab Labour mobility and strengthening inter Arab investments.”

Government, workers and employers representatives are expected to discuss a variety of policy recommendations during the three-day meeting, including:

- Making employment an explicit target of economic policies that can range from fiscal and investment stimulus at the macro level to enhancing employability through active labour market policies;

- Introducing or expanding unemployment insurance and creating a social protection floor providing access to basic health care, pensions for the elderly and benefits for families with children and for disabled persons; and

- Adopting policies that respect both the right of nationals to employment and the rights of migrant workers, while maximizing the benefits and minimizing the risks of work-based migration.

- Giving priorities to anti-crisis negotiated solutions. Social dialogue and collective bargaining have a special importance at this time and should be promoted as tools not only for handling the social consequences of the crisis but also for addressing – through improved governance – its causes and re-establishing inclusive job-rich growth and stability.

“The crisis adds to the urgency of making employment and social protection a central objective of national and global policies. The ILO is promoting a comprehensive approach, through the Decent Work Agenda. This is the sense of the Global Jobs Pact. More balanced and sustainable growth, in the Arab region, depends on national applications of decent work paths,” concluded Mr. Somavia.

Note for the media:

For more information or to request interviews please contact:

ILO Media and Communication Unit
Ms. Reham Rached
Tel.: +961-1-752400 (ext 108)
Mobile: +961-3292722

You may also visit the Arab Employment Forum website on which includes background documentation prepared for the Forum.

Note 1 - Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Comoros, Djibouti, Iraq, Jordan, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Note 2 - The global financial, economic and social crisis and the Arab countries, p.29