Ruba Jaradat, ILO Regional Director for the Arab States, at the 43rd Arab Labour Conference

Statement | Cairo - Egypt | 10 April 2016
Mr President

Delegates, observers, guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure and honour that I address this distinguished gathering today – the decision takers and policy makers of the Arab world of work – at this critical juncture for our region, a time of unprecedented challenges, but also of great opportunity.

Because the world of work is undeniably undergoing a major process of change. The global figures are indeed daunting. The ILO predicts that joblessness around the world will surpass 200 million by end of 2017 for the first time on record. In addition, with 40 million young people joining the labour market each year, realizing the UN sustainable development goal (SDG) of full employment and decent work for all by the year 2030 will require the creation of 600 million jobs.

Youth unemployment is moreover affecting young women more than young men in almost all regions of the world. In developing countries, the female youth unemployment rate is almost double that for young men.

Poverty among workers is increasing, and adequate social protection is available to only 27 per cent of the world’s population.

Each year, some 2.3 million workers lose their lives, and there is a heavy burden in terms of occupational diseases.

There are still 168 million child labourers and 21 million victims of forced labour.

Globally, half of the labour force is working and producing in the informal economy.

The internationalisation of labour markets is evident in the increasing number of workers who are migrating between countries in search of work, representing total growth of over 50 per cent since 1990.

Rising technological unemployment is another challenge, and five million jobs in the world's leading economies could disappear over the next five years because of technological advances. Around 65 per cent of children starting primary school today will end up working in jobs that do not yet exist.

We are also faced with an unprecedented opportunity to shape the Future We Want. Here I refer to:

• the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals – and the recognition that decent work is key to their achievement
• the new global climate agreement at COP21 in Paris which recognizes the key role of the world of work in the transition towards a green economy
• the foresighted decision of the ILO to launch seven Centenary Initiatives – including one to ensure that we get a Future that Works for All.

This is the global big picture. But what does the future of work hold for the Arab region?

The ILO predicts that the Arab Region is amongst the regions that will bear the brunt of increased joblessness.

The current sharp decline in oil prices presents an entirely new fiscal dynamic for the countries of this region. This may serve as an opportunity for oil-exporting countries to accelerate the pace of industrial policy and labour market development. For non-oil exporting countries, low oil prices should constitute a relief for their expensive subsidy systems and provide an opportunity to implement subsidy reform.

In the Arab countries, chronic vulnerable employment still deeply affects the world of work. Continuing high rates of unemployment – currently estimated at around 17 per cent – are a key source of potential instability in the region.
This is the time for us in this region to address the social injustices associated with inequality that have posed serious impediments to economic growth and have spurred political instability.

The gender gap is a major issue in our region. Women are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than men. A recent ILO study on Women in Business and Management reports women’s labour force participation rate in the region is as low as 27 per cent versus men at 77 per cent in 2015. We will need to change our cultural views of women at work, in order to reap the socio-economic gains of reducing the gender gap at all levels.

The age gap is another challenge. At over 28 per cent in 2015, the youth unemployment rate in the region is almost five times higher than the rate for older adults.

We need to turn challenges into opportunities in the Arab region

At the ILO we have almost 100 years of experience in addressing some of the most challenging issues of our time. And we know what the best method is to bring about the world of work we want in the future.
The method is called social dialogue.

The most peaceful and productive way of generating the inclusive and greener growth that we need is to bring employers and workers together to discuss and agree how we can create new jobs and achieve our goal of decent work and sustainable development.

We look at the Arab Governments, employers and workers as agents of change, who are able to develop new policies and build stronger institutions that make the world of work in this Region a better place for present and future generations.

Sound industrial relations and effective social dialogue are a means to promote fair wages and decent working conditions as well as peace and social justice, but they are still hugely under developed and even non-existent in some countries in our region. In this regard, the ILO commends the strong bipartite partnership in Morocco and in Tunisia where social partners have taken a leadership role. We also once again congratulate the Tunisian National Quartet, which includes Tunisian social partners, on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work during the transition process, which we hope can be a model aspired to by all social partners in the Arab World. We also point with satisfaction to the recent adoption of the Tunis Declaration, which will contribute to creating and maintaining decent jobs.

In order to implement the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we must expand social protection and develop the social and solidarity economy.

Here I point to the case of Egypt, where the ILO has supported important steps by the government to reform the pension system by developing legal provisions, capacity building and social protection system management. In addition, the ILO and its partners in Egypt are working together on an initiative to extend social protection floors towards providing income security for all Egyptians.

I also here congratulate the Palestinian Authority on recently instituting the occupied Palestinian territory’s first social security system for private sector workers and their families.

The ILO strongly supports inclusive societies where “decent work for all” is not just a motto. A number of negative factors and attitudes in our environment prevent persons with disabilities from full labour market participation, at great human resource cost to the region.

The mobility of workers will be a key feature of the future of work in the Arab Region. We already have large numbers of economic migrants and refugees and the trend continues to grow. Moreover, we are currently witnessing unprecedented numbers of people who are displaced and on the move. Millions are leaving their homes with their families for reasons that have no connection with work, but that will inevitably have major labour market implications. Refugees will need to work for a living, but not at the expense of the communities that host them. We must therefore address the issue of Syria refugees’ access to work, while also guaranteeing that host communities have jobs and receive the support they need to deal with the consequences of hosting refugees.

We thank the Arab countries hosting Refugees, in particular Jordan and Lebanon. We are working with the UN Community and Governments as well as social partners to increase access of Syrian refugees to the labour market without increasing socio-economic burdens on host communities. In parallel, we are also in the process of re-activating our programme in Syria to support employment creation and social protection, with the aim of enabling Syrians to remain in their homes, and encouraging Syrian refugees to return to Syria when the situation in the country allows it.

The Gulf countries host nearly 18 million migrant workers, and here we must manage labour migration in an orderly way that fully respects the rights of the workers concerned, and meets the legitimate needs of origin and destination countries. There are hopeful signs of change, and I would like to take this opportunity to commend the UAE for its legal reform through steps including the Three Decrees, which were issued by the Ministry of Labour and which allow for unilateral contract termination by migrant workers, thus increasing their labour market mobility.

Furthermore, I encourage all Gulf states and all Arab states to extend the scope of such labour law reforms to include migrant domestic workers, as they remain particularly vulnerable to abuse. The ILO stands ready to work with Arab member states towards a fair migration agenda that will benefit all workers, including migrant workers.

I was pleased to read the report of the Arab Labour Organization’s Director General on the “Development Challenges and prospects of ALO,” and I would like to congratulate Mr Al Metairie on the excellent analysis contained in the report. Many of the issues raised address the future of work, such as new forms of employment and work, the relationship between new professions, the economy of knowledge, the effect of technological change on the labour market, and other timely issues.

The economic, social and political turbulences of our times make the achievement of social justice very much an agenda for today. The ILO and ALO have a long history of cooperation, and now is the time, more than ever before, for our two agencies, and all stakeholders in the world of work, to join forces, take corrective action and ensure a future of decent work for the coming generations. It is in the interests of each one of us to work towards realising labour rights, fair minimum wages, better social protection, greater fiscal redistribution, and reinforced collective bargaining – in short, an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable future of work, which leaves no one behind.

I wish to close by wishing you success in this conference. There can be no doubt as to the vital importance of the work that lies before us.

I thank you for your kind attention.