AMMAN, Jordan (ILO News) - An International Conference on Employment in Iraq adopted a Declaration here today underlining the crucial role of employment in the reconstruction and development of Iraq where some 30 per cent of the adult workforce and 50 per cent of youth are unemployed.
Given Iraq's precarious employment situation with around two million unemployed, the participants issued a Declaration and a Plan of Action at the end of the International Employment Conference: Jobs for the future of Iraq declaring that reducing "this degree of unemployment could certainly make an independent contribution to peace and stability in Iraq."
The meeting, which was held here on 12-13 December, was the first to address employment in Iraq. It was organized by the ILO in response to a call by the Government of Iraq and supported by the international community at the Doha Donors Meeting (May 2004). It brought together more than 60 representatives of government, employers and workers in Iraq, as well as representatives of local authorities, civil society, UN agencies, the World Bank and international donors.
Attended by the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs and the Minister of Planning in Iraq, it examined the current employment and labour market situation in Iraq, which remains "extremely precarious." Recent surveys indicate that some 30 per cent of the Iraqi labour force of around seven million is unemployed, with 50 per cent of youth unemployed.
This situation was referred to by H.E. the Iraqi Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Ms. Leila Abdulatif, as extremely grave and complex. She stressed that this "requires a concerted effort on the part of all Iraqis supported by the international community with a view to finding a viable solution to it or at least to reduce its detrimental effect on the livelihood, security and progress of Iraq."
The participants in their Declaration highlighted that reducing high unemployment rates could make a major contribution to peace and stability that in turn could help generate a recovery in investment and growth. Tackling open unemployment or work in poor conditions should in all circumstances be central goals of economic and social policies, according to Iraqi Minister of Planning H.E. Dr. Mahdi Hafez. He emphasized that employment is a cornerstone for the stability of the country and there is a direct connection between security and unemployment.
The conference, by adopting the Plan of Action, aimed at outlining a set of policy measures needed to tackle the immediate problem of a very high level of unemployment and then to ensure that economic growth leads to sustainable, productive and remunerative employment.
In this respect it emphasized the need to "respect fundamental principles and rights at work including freedom of association and collective bargaining, the elimination of child and forced labour, and of discrimination in employment and occupation."
The adopted Action Plan, with its immediate, medium and long term objectives, set three major action programs, including "maximizing the employment impact of reconstruction efforts, and strengthening the institutional capacities of the concerned government agencies and the social partners."
The participants also stressed the need to push the reconstruction programme to encourage the growth of employment-generating enterprises. Experience in the infrastructure and construction sectors has shown that investment programs using employment-intensive construction techniques were able to create 3 to 5 times more employment per unit of investment without compromising on quality of the end product when compared to conventional equipment-intensive techniques.
The Amman Declaration reaffirmed the commitment of the donors to ensure that their contribution to Iraq's reconstruction take a form which maximizes employment opportunities in the short run and lays the foundations for the creation for decent jobs. It also called for a "commitment of resources by donors to strengthen labour market institutions to provide employment services which facilitate job creation and lead to an equitable and efficient labour market."
In addition to the key employment issues in Iraq, the Conference discussed the role of the private sector and small and medium size enterprises, local economic recovery and development, active labour market policies, employment services and training, integrating employment in Iraq development strategy, vocational training and skill development, social protection and safety nets and industrial relations, tripartism and social dialogue.
In his closing remarks the ILO Regional Director for Arab States, Mr. Taleb Rifai, while stressing that Iraq's development process and strategy should give every priority to the creation of productive and decent jobs, reiterated the ILO's commitment to support the institutional capacities of the key ministries and social partners in Iraq to enable them to integrate employment in economic and social decision making. He echoed the Amman Declaration by calling on other UN specialized agencies and the international donor community to join the ILO in a more coordinated and concerted endeavor to meet the urgent employment needs of Iraq, particularly in the context of tackling massive unemployment.