Together we can build a brighter future of work for the Arab region – ILO

The Tripartite Arab Meeting on the Future of Work brought together government, worker and employer representatives, along with youth and private sector leaders, to explore the forces transforming the world of work in Arab States, and to discuss the best policies and actions needed to create a better future of work.

Press release | 26 April 2017
Beirut, Lebanon (ILO News) - An ILO meeting on the future of work in Arab states brought together key world-of-work actors to discuss major labour and employment issues the region is expected to face over the coming years.

Held in Beirut under the Patronage of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Al Hariri, the event gathered ILO member state representatives to exchange views around the fast-changing nature of work. They highlighted some of the challenges and opportunities coming to the fore, and their implications for the future of work in the region.

The meeting was part of ILO’s global “Future of Work Initiative" which invites government, worker and employer representatives from member states to undertake dialogue structured around work and society, decent jobs, the organization of work and production, and the governance of work.

The event was launched by ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, Lebanon’s Minister of Labour Mohammad Kabbara, Director-General of the Arab Labour Organization Fayez Al Mutairi, Chairman of the Jordan Chamber of Industry Adnan Abu Al Ragheb, and Secretary-General of the Palestinian Federation of Trade Unions Shaher Saad.

“Our meeting today is truly historic as it gives us the opportunity to discuss an issue of extreme importance to the Arab region," Minister Kabbara said in his opening speech on behalf of the patron of the event Prime Minister Saad Al Hariri. “The events unfolding in the Arab region compel us to adopt sound policies developed through cooperative efforts, in order to create a common ground which will lead us to strengthened social dialogue for the benefit of all in the region,” he said.

“The world of work globally is undergoing extraordinary and transformative change,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “Change of a speed, a scale and a profundity that we have never seen in the long history of the International Labour Organization,” he continued.

“Let none of us believe that the future is determined or imposed upon us. The future of work will be the future that we decide it to be,” Ryder said.

He said the ILO must be “in listening mode” in order to better understand the transformations that are taking place in the world of work, and be able to better serve its constituents in promoting decent work and social justice.

ILO Regional Director for Arab States Ruba Jaradat stressed the “importance of effective and participatory tripartite dialogue as a crucial mechanism to understanding the challenges facing us, and how we can work together to ensure a more prosperous future for the region through social justice and decent work for all.”

Fayez Al Mutairi of the Arab Labour Organization said the future of work is of grave concern to his Organization, “in light of the political, social and economic changes taking place in the region, and which have caused the deterioration of decades of progress in development.”

Shaher Saad of the Palestinian Federation of Trade Unions spoke on behalf of the region’s trade unions. “We confirm that we will support, with all our efforts, a responsible tripartite discussion, along with experts, civil society organizations, the youth and women,” he said.

Adnan Abu Al Ragheb of the Jordan Chamber of Industry spoke on behalf of employers at the opening of the event. “Despite efforts by Arab nations to increase work opportunities and decrease unemployment, this goal has not been achieved,” he said.

The Future of Work Initiative is one of seven Centenary Initiatives - a package of activities aimed at equipping the Organization to take up successfully the challenges of its social justice mandate in the future - launched by ILO Director Guy Ryder in the run up to 100 years since the Organization’s foundation in 1919.

A high-level panel, moderated by Ragheda Dergham, Al Hayat newspaper New York Bureau Chief and Beirut Institute Executive Chairman, explored the importance of developing knowledge capacities and skills for workers through reforming educational systems to adapt to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and at the importance of incorporating technology in the labour market. The panel also stressed the continued pertinence of trade unions and the need for true social dialogue.

The event included a debate by youth leaders, moderated by Raneem Hannoush, an editor and journalist at the Asharq Al Awsat newspaper, on how they envision the future of work in the region taking shape. Some of their concerns were the impact of technology, and the need for better education and skills development to qualify for the jobs of the future.

Attendees also participated in four panels on key thematic areas affecting the future of work in the region.

The first panel debated achieving social justice through a demographic-driven initiative and responding to the unique needs of youth, women and refugees. Panellists stressed that the region’s countries need to emphasize redistribution of wealth in all policies, and focus on achieving justice and equality.

The second panel looked at how to develop robust economies that are able to take advantage of global trends and technological changes for improved employment outcomes. Panellists found that generating decent work opportunities for the youth is the main challenge facing the region, given the mismatch between the output of the educational system and the demands of the labour market.

The panel maintained that current educational systems need to focus on developing relevant skills for students so as to ensure that they can secure job opportunities when they graduate. The panel also discussed the relevance and efficiency of today’s social contract in the region which emphasizes the employment role of the public sector, and further discussed the need to emphasize the role of the private sector.

The third panel explored achieving gender equality and boosting women’s employment prospects amidst the changing world of work. It found that despite the progress achieved in the region, through increased educational attainment and an increase in labour force participation rates, challenges still remain. The region needs to address the digital gender gap as well as exploring facilitating factors such as policies that accommodate the needs of men and women with family responsibilities. In the Arab region, the effect of technological change will take some time before it is realized fully. The panel maintained that this constitutes an opportunity to ensure that women have access to education and work opportunities that can empower them in the world of work.

The fourth panel which explored strengthening social security in Arab States found that despite improvements in many social security policies in the region, social protection remains fragmented and does not include all workers in the public and private sectors. The panel highlighted the efforts made towards improving social protection systems in the region, with many countries adopting policies and procedures that have adapted to the changes occurring globally and throughout the region.