Speech of Dr. Ruba Jaradat, ILO Regional Director for Arab States at the 47th Arab Labour Conference

The speech highlights the need for a multi-pronged strategy in the Arab States region to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Statement | 05 September 2021
Speech of Dr. Ruba Jaradat, ILO Regional Director for Arab States
47th Arab Labour Conference
Cairo – September 5, 2021

Your Excellency Mr. Mohamed Saafan, Minister of Manpower in the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Conference Chairperson
Your Excellency Mr. Fayez Al-Mutairi, the Director General of the ALO
Your Excellencies the Ministers of Labour
Your Excellencies the representatives of workers and employers
Dear colleagues,


It is my privilege to join you at the 47th session of the Arab Labor Conference. It is an excellent opportunity to meet you all in person, after many months of being forced to distance ourselves and communicate through virtual platforms.

This pandemic has raised challenges that have drastically affected the region’s economies and labour markets. In this context, the valuable report presented by his Excellency the Director-General, Mr. Fayez Al-Mutairi, offers a realistic vision of how Arab labour markets can not only recover from the pandemic’s impact, but also come back stronger and truly move forward.

Without doubt, such a strategy will complement the region’s ongoing efforts and add to the achievements countries have made over the past two years in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to the multiple crises.

Here I would like to thank the Arab Labor Organization and the Arab League for their valuable participation in the very first virtual International Labour Conference, which was held in July 2021. That meeting included extensive discussions on the pandemic’s impact on the world of work, as well as ways to ensure recovery that is inclusive and human-centered.

One of the most important outcomes from the International Labour Conference was the adoption of the Global Call to Action for a Human-Centered Recovery from COVID-19, which prioritizes creating decent jobs for all and addressing inequalities caused by the crisis.

Labour Market Dynamics and Trends at Global and Arab Region Levels

The latest ILO estimates indicate that the COVID-19 crisis has decreased global working hours by about 9%, which is equivalent to a loss of 255 million full-time jobs. This is four times the loss of working hours that resulted from the 2008 global financial crisis.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, unemployment rates in the Arab region were the highest in the world, especially among women and youth. The number of unemployed individuals stood at 14.3 million in 2019.
Amidst this harsh reality, the pandemic only exacerbated existing problems in Arab labour markets. According to the ILO Nowcasting Model, working hours in the Arab region decreased by about 9.6 percent in 2020 (equivalent to 11 million full-time jobs), compared to the pre-crisis situation – or the fourth quarter of 2019.
Estimates indicate that more than 39 million people in the region were employed in sectors that the ILO has identified as severely affected by the pandemic. As such, these workers are at risk of losing their jobs, or suffering reduced wages and/or working hours.
Unfortunately, our region in general has been among the least prepared for the pandemic, with many countries already experiencing severe vulnerabilities and multiplying crises. The pandemic has exposed significant gaps in social protection systems across the region. According to the ILO World Social Protection Report, which was issued just a few days ago, only four out of 10 people in the MENA region are effectively covered by at least one social protection benefit. This is far below the global average.

Required Policies

In facing these escalating challenges, Arab countries need a set of measures, policies, and interventions, which should aim not only to respond to the current crisis, but also to address the pre-existing flaws in Arab labour markets.
Consequently, what we really need is a two-pronged approach. Our response needs to address the current challenges posed by COVID-19 through various emergency interventions. At the same time, we must increase our efforts to develop economic, social, and labour market policies that are effective in the medium to long term.
This objective can be achieved by developing policies drawn from the ILO policy framework for responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
The Arab states should also work together to achieve an equitable economic recovery across the region by providing assistance to the countries that lack sufficient financial resources.
In addition, the ILO calls on all Arab countries to make determined efforts to respond to the Global Call to Action for a Human-centred Recovery from the pandemic, leaving no one behind.

ILO Achievements and Improvements in our Region over Past Two Years

Over the past two years, the ILO has continued to work on realising its mandate. It has adapted its programmes and projects to support governments and social partners in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the various other crises affecting the Arab region. I would like to outline some of the results achieved in 2020 and 2021, which have contributed to the development of Arab labour markets since our meeting in 2019. As these cannot be comprehensively mentioned here, I would like to highlight only some of the most important achievements.

In Jordan

The number of beneficiaries of our projects in the Kingdom has reached nearly 40,000.
Here, I would like to commend Jordan's adoption of Law 90/2009 on domestic workers, and Law 63/2020 on recruitment agencies. These positive reforms come in addition to new laws on maternity entitlements and providing working mothers with cash allowances.

In the United Arab Emirates

We continue to work with the UAE within the framework of the Abu Dhabi Dialogue to develop employment policies and support studies, while also supporting the cooperative sector.

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

We commend the Kingdom's adoption of the "National Policy for the Elimination and Prevention of Child Labor." The Kingdom is the first country in the Arab region to ratify Protocol No. 29 of the Forced Labour Convention.
We also commend the development of a national model and policy on occupational safety and health, the draft policy on national equality, the ratification of the Hygiene (Commerce and Offices) Convention (No. 120), and the ratification of the Protection of Wages Convention (No. 95).
Finally, we commend the launch of the Contractual Relationship Improvement Initiative, which aims to reform the kafala system.

In Syria

The ILO's work has focused on supporting the national labour inspection system and the rehabilitation and reintegration of children involved in the worst forms of child labour. More than 900 children were reached across four targeted governorates.

In Iraq

We opened our first office in Baghdad in 2020, coinciding with the launch of the Decent Work Country Programme. Within a year, we have successfully increased our budget for development cooperation from zero to $40 million.
We commend Iraq's ratification of two ILO Conventions: No Safety and Health in Agriculture Convention (No. 184) and the Seafarers’ Identity Documents Convention (No. 185).

In Oman

We continue to work with the Public Authority for Social Insurance to formulate a comprehensive policy strategy to reform and strengthen national social security. We congratulate the Sultanate on introducing its unemployment insurance plan.

In the Occupied Palestinian Territory

The ILO supports the Occupied Palestinian Territory by delivering the Decent Work Programme. In this context, the first Palestinian National Employment Strategy for 2021-2025 was approved and launched.
Responding to the wishes of Palestine and the Arab League, and as stated by H.E. Dr. Nasri Abu Jaish, the ILO Regional Office for Arab States intends to hold a donors’ meeting in Geneva in March 2022. The meeting will focus on developing a strategy and securing the resources required for the National Employment Strategy’s implementation.

In Qatar

We congratulate the State of Qatar for ending the kafala system. This reform has comprised of removing the need for worker exit visas and adopting a law that allows workers to change employers without requiring their employers’ consent.
We also commend new legislation on protecting workers from heat stress, a non-discriminatory minimum wage scheme, and strengthening the wage protection system. Finally, we commend Qatar’s adoption of policies for labour inspection and occupational safety and health.

In Kuwait

In Kuwait, along with our partners, we celebrated the achievements of the first Decent Work Country Programme. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the State of Kuwait for its continued support to Palestine, in the form of annual allocations to support implementation of Decent Work Programme projects  in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

In Lebanon

For nearly 18 months, as stated by H.E. Minister of Labour Ms. Lamia Yammine, Lebanon has been witnessing escalating crises, starting with the severe economic and financial crisis and followed by the Beirut port explosion.
The ILO has stood with other UN agencies to provide a rapid response to the situation.
The ILO has also provided short-term job opportunities for 5,600 beneficiaries through its Employment Intensive Investment Programme. However, the Lebanese people need further support to help them emerge from their worsening crisis.

In Yemen

The ILO has supported the development of the strategic framework for Technical and Vocational Training.
The ILO has also worked to improve stakeholders’ capacity to reintegrate child soldiers and prevent their recruitment. More than 1,800 children and young people have been trained so far.

In conclusion, I would like to laud the Arab Labor Conference’s for its leadership and support to governments and social partners in the region during the COVID-19 pandemic and the multiple crises affecting the region. The ILO will continue to engage with the Arab Labor Organization to promote the  decent work agenda in the region.

I wish you fruitful discussions throughout this conference, and thank you for your kind attention.