Address by Ruba Jaradat, ILO Regional Director for Arab States, at the ministerial meeting of the Asia Pacific Group of the ILO (ASPAG,) 105th session of the International Labour Conference, June 2016

Statement | Geneva - Switzerland | 10 June 2016
Director General, Excellencies, esteemed colleagues,

It gives me great pleasure to address you all, the leaders and decision makers of the Asia and Pacific region, from the perspective of the ILO in Arab States. We are an integral part of the Asia-Pacific region, but we nonetheless have our own particular set of challenges in realising a future of decent work.

The region continues to reel under social unrest, civil war, political and sectarian violence, as well as economic stagnation.

The region has the highest rate of unemployment in the world; youth and women are particularly disadvantaged, with one in four being out of work.

Most new jobs are in the expanding informal economy. Most also require low skills, even though Arab workers are becoming increasingly educated. And while public sector jobs have become scarcer, there is inadequate pro-market reform and investment in the private sector.

The Middle East is one of the world’s biggest migrant receiving regions. The GCC countries alone hosted over 25 million migrants in 2015, a substantial increase on the 20.5 million they hosted in 2010. Migrant workers make up the majority of the population in Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the UAE – indeed, in Qatar and the UAE, they make up more than 80 percent of the population. Migrant workers in GCC countries remitted over 103 billion US dollars in 2014, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE ranking second and third globally in terms of remittance outflow after the USA.

The protracted war in Syria has caused millions of refugees to flee their homes, putting significant strain on jobs and livelihoods in neighbouring countries. The Mashreq countries of Lebanon and Jordan hosted a combined 5 million migrants in 2015, including an unprecedented numbers of refugees.

In the occupied Palestinian territory, the peace process has come to a complete standstill. Unemployment remains critically high, and in Gaza it is the highest in the world. The situation of Palestinian workers is increasingly precarious.

Civil strife and violent conflict also impede economic development elsewhere in the region – particularly in Iraq and Yemen.

Unfair recruitment systems mean migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

These are long-standing realities, but they will continue to impact the future of work in the Arab region. There are other evolving world of work trends that will significantly impact the labour market over the next few years – and many of these are shared across the Asia-Pacific region.

The region is undergoing major demographic shifts. The youth labour force will witness the fastest average annual growth in the Arab States, where youth will account for 25 per cent of the workforce by 2030.

The current sharp decline in oil prices has significant repercussions in oil-exporting countries, particularly the Arab States, which rely heavily on oil revenues for national budgets and aggregate demand, with potential spill over effects to other countries in the region. But it also presents an entirely new fiscal dynamic for Arab states. 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.

Asia and the Pacific are becoming more integrated – as a region, as well as with the global economy. Regional integration initiatives (such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and ASEAN integration) will reduce trade barriers and could help accelerate growth and create new jobs, including as part of global supply chains. Regional agreements can also facilitate labour mobility.

A good example of intra-regional cooperation on world-of-work issues is the Abu Dhabi dialogue. Hosted by the United Arab Emirates, it is a regional consultation process between the 11 Colombo Process countries, the 6 GCC countries, and Yemen, Malaysia and Singapore. It is aimed at improving temporary contractual labour mobility throughout Asia.

Better cooperation and coordination amongst countries and social partners is needed to build migration regimes that are fair to countries of origin and destination – and to migrant workers, employers and nationals

The Arab States is an integral part of the discussion on employment generation for inclusive growth in the Asia Pacific region.

As our sub-regions within the larger Asia Pacific region become more integrated, and our economic, social and environmental circumstances become further intertwined, we approach the APRM meeting with high hopes of working together to find solutions to the existing and new challenges to realising Decent Work.

Thank you.