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“ILO decent work response to the situation in North Africa and the Horn of Africa”, briefing by Mr Jürgen Schwettmann, ILO Deputy Director for Africa, 19 April 2011, UNRIC-Brussels

BRUSSELS, 19 April 2011 - While images from protests in the Maghreb region go around the world, ILO-Brussels organized a briefing on “the ILO decent work response to the situation in North Africa and Arab States” on 19 April, to look at the reasons that brought these mostly young people on to the streets and to present ILO’s policy recommendations for the region. Mr Jürgen Schwettmann, ILO Deputy Regional Director for Africa, gave a presentation on Youth Employment and Social Dialogue in the Maghreb region. Additionally Mr Schwettmann presented the Regional Strategy for the Horn of Africa - developed by the African Union Commission, the ILO and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

Mr Schwettmann explained that, according to ILO analysis, there are three root causes for the upheaval in North Africa:

  • The high incidence of youth unemployment, compounded by the rapid growth of the labour force and worsened by the skills mismatch between offer and demand on the labour market;
  • The lack of democratic governance and change, unchallenged by a civil society which is often weak and dispersed, and by social partners that were not fully independent from government;
  • The lack of social justice in the distribution of wealth and income between the ruling elite and ordinary citizens, leading to growing inequality and the disfranchisement of socio-economic and/or ethnic minorities; spatial inequalities as well.

These root causes have to be addressed by both short-term measures and longer term reforms that can produce better outcomes in terms of jobs, social protection, addressing inequalities, rights and governance. On the short term (up to six months) emergency employment programs can be set up to integrate job-less youths, carry out public works and rehabilitate affected enterprises. On the medium term (six to 24 months) local economic recovery and development programmes with a focus on disadvantaged regions and/or target groups can address these problems while on a longer term (up to five years) macro policies to enhance the employment intensity of economic growth and the employment elasticity of private and public investment can help to tackle these root causes.

Measures to strengthen social dialogue, both in the formal and informal economy, can also be taken. For the formal economy support to newly formed trade unions and reformed employers’ organization, together with the organization of national social dialogue fora and workers education outside the capital city, are crucial. For the improvement of social dialogue in the informal economy education of youths in citizenship and the strengthening of civil society organizations (CSOs) and community based organizations (CBO); including those formed by the youths, together with support to the formation of CSO/CBO federations and unions are essential.

The Regional Strategy for the Horn of Africa - developed by the African Union Commission, the ILO and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and entitled “Employment for Peace, Stability and Development” - was discussed at the ILO-IGAD-African Union Conference on 'Employment for Peace, Stability and Development' on 11-12 April 2011 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Regional Strategy is built upon a “virtuous triangle” consisting of three parts: the creation of employment opportunities, social protection for the most vulnerable and empowerment for people and communities.

Firstly, opportunities have to be created. This can be done through local economic recovery and development, through labour-intensive investments (such as road construction and maintenance, social infrastructure and environmental protection), as well as through skills development, including vocational training.

Secondly, protection has to be enhanced. Therefore the concept of the “Social Protection Floor” has to be adapted to the situation in the Horn of Africa, social assistance should be provided and community based protection schemes have to be organized.

Thirdly, people and communities have to be empowered through a strengthened social dialogue, including capacity building for emerging social partners and South-South cooperation between social partners in the Horn of Africa, as well as through organizational development at the local and community levels by supporting social economy organizations and delivering of economic and social services through community-based organizations.

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