BEIRUT (ILO News) – Government, employer and worker representatives opened a three-day Arab Employment Forum amid growing concerns over the impact of the global economic crisis on jobs and enterprises in the region, and an urgent call for action based on the ILO Global Jobs Pact
“The crisis calls for the building of a new model of sustainable and productive growth with sustainable enterprises and decent work, with dynamic markets operating within a framework of shared public policy objectives, not oblivious of the environment, concerned with the most vulnerable,” said International Labour Organization (ILO) Director-General Juan Somavia in his opening address to the Forum.
Citing increases in unemployment, informal and precarious work, as well as reduced enterprise capacities, postponed investments and youth unemployment, Mr. Somavia warned of “an understandable social backlash. Workers feel they had no responsibility in the financial management of the world economy and yet they and their families are paying the cost. Many enterprises, particularly small and medium ones, feel the same.”
Mr. Ahmed Mohamed Luqman, Director-General of the Arab Labour Organization (ALO), emphasized that “our duty at this Forum is to identify the role of the Arab region in implementing the contents of the Global Jobs Pact, within the framework of close cooperation and coordination, as well as to identify the priorities and plan of action at the Arab level”.
The Forum, jointly organized by the ILO and ALO brings together representatives from 22 Arab states (Note 1) to consider ways of sustaining jobs and extending social protection for its citizens.
Despite the impact the economic crisis is having on the Arab world, Mr. Somavia referred to a number of positive developments in various countries, including the growth of entrepreneurship and private initiative by youth, the increasing role of women in business, civil society and the labour market, the growth of private investment and enterprise development and the expansion of social protection.
“We have an immediate task, to forge an action agenda to apply the Global Jobs Pact throughout the region,” he said. “A national, regional, tripartite action agenda to respond to the crisis through measures for employment and social protection, with social dialogue and respect for workers’ rights. By doing that, we can at the same time address some of the structural imbalances that have constrained development in this region.”
According to Mr. Luqman, “the Global Jobs Pact continues the spirit of the Doha Statement, issued by the Arab Forum for Development and Employment, organized by the ALO and the government of Qatar in Doha and adopted by the Arab Economic, Development and Social Summit, held in Kuwait at the beginning of this year, which declared the period 2010-2020 as the Arab Employment Decade. The summit committed to reducing unemployment rates and the number of working poor by half by the end of the decade.”
Mr. Luqman identified in particular “the fifth theme of the pact, which contains an inclusive cooperation programme to be executed by both the ILO and ALO organizations. It begins with consolidating new job opportunities and ends with securing labour mobility, social dialogue and supporting gender equality.”
Speaking on behalf of the employers, Imad Chehab, General Secretary of the General Union of Chambers and Commerce, Industry and Agriculture for Arab Countries, said “the Arab region needs to be especially vigilant in relation to unemployment rates, which were the highest worldwide even before the crisis. The need to create 50 million job opportunities by 2020 in order to absorb the approximately 4 million new labour market entrants each year is one of the biggest challenges the region is facing. These numbers call for joint efforts in finding solutions, particularly to youth unemployment, which in some countries has reached very high levels. Mr. Chehab also recognized the Global Jobs Pact and emphasized the “role of the private sector in the recovery and a need to lower the barriers that the real economy faces to re-launch working opportunities.”
Hasan Djeman, General Secretary of the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions referred to “the importance of social dialogue between independent and free social partners to coordinate efforts to deliver social justice, which is the basis for social and political stability.” He added that “democracy and development are inseparable. Respect for basic freedoms and individual rights in addition to good governance, freedom of association, equality between the sexes and deterrence of hegemony by the state on the society are all necessary for social peace and stability and for paving the way for each Arab citizen to be creative, so that our nations can follow path of the developed countries.”
His Excellency Khaled Qabbani, Representative of the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Minister of State said “stability is the cornerstone of development and the success of socio-economic policy. The labour force in any given country is a powerful tool for sustainable development, and it is through workers that countries are built. What is important is to provide the legislation that secures social justice for the working class and the respect for worker’s rights and international and Arab labour standards. In addition, we must encourage economic development through which job opportunities are created.”
The Forum is expected to discuss a variety of policy recommendations, 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.
Mr Somavia said now was the time for leadership and for consensus building, and urged participants to the meeting “to rally widely around a common vision” and to “lead the policy debates on responding to the crisis, on forging a new path towards balanced and sustainable growth, and a strong social dimension for a fair globalization”.
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)
You may also visit the Arab Employment Forum website on www.ilo.org/arabstates/aef 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.