Political transitions in several Arab countries need to be followed by labour market reforms to create jobs and give greater social justice to workers, the International Labour Organization says.
The call comes as Egypt – the region’s most populous country – remains in political upheaval, and Tunisia and Libya have both ushered in post-revolution regimes.
“Transition always comes with an economic price but it also provides an opportunity to enact long-needed reforms, improve labour market dynamics and provide social protection that leads to more equitable societies,” said Frank Hagemann, the ILO’s deputy regional director for the Arab states.
“We must work hand-in-hand to enact reforms that see jobs created and retained and to achieve a minimum level of social protection guarantees for everyone.”
Egypt’s interim government is struggling to stave off a fiscal crisis and map out a plan to spur the economy and find jobs for the 13.2 per cent of the population out of work.
“People have risen up as part of the Arab Spring calling for dignity and work. People have not risen up to enable one party or another or to spread the ideas of one group,” said Kamal Abu Aita, the Egyptian minister of manpower and immigration.
“This is a lesson to learn; we must pay attention to the labour market in order to increase production, productivity, and investment, as well as contribute to social development and social justice.”
Labour organisations met Arab labour ministers at an ILO-organised conference in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh to discuss plans to cut rising unemployment and deteriorating livelihoods for some citizens.
Population growth rates rising faster than economic expansion, a retrenchment of investment, the skewed structure of Arab labour markets and high youth unemployment were among the problems blighting Arab labour markets, said Ahmad Luqman, director-general of the Arab Labour Organization.
“There is a realisation today among all those concerned with seeing the Mena labour markets create sustainable jobs that social protection must be achieved through polices crafted for the region and not imposed from abroad,” said Mr Luqman.
“We have to recognise that we have deep problems and we should develop a culture of dialogue to find solutions that absorb a large workforce and widen the scope of the labour market.”