ILO and UNDP “Rethink Economic Growth” for Arab social justice

05 Feb 2013

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The Arab uprisings have exposed skewed development policies, social justice deficits and over two decades of poorly managed economic liberalization, according to a joint report by the International Labour Organization and the UN Development Programme released on Tuesday (February 5).

Policies pursued during the 1990s and 2000s enabled countries in the region to tackle debt and inflation, spur economic growth and create jobs.

But, growth lagged behind the rest of the world, new jobs were concentrated in low productivity sectors, and governments paid little attention to the social consequences of their economic policies.

At the same time, the private sector has remained among the least competitive globally due to low rates of investment, a poor regulatory environment, and widespread nepotism and corruption.

The report, titled “Rethinking Economic Growth: Towards Inclusive and Productive Arab Societies”, says the region’s greatest deficits have been in the areas of social protection and social dialogue.

Not just any job

Over the past two decades, Arabs have combined some of the lowest levels of per capital income growth globally, with very low levels of government accountability and democratic participation.

Between 2000 and 2010, the Arab region had the lowest productivity growth rate of any world region except Latin America—1.5 per cent for North Africa and 1.2 per cent for the Middle East against a world average of 1.8 per cent.

“In 2010, Arabs were more likely to find work than they were two decades ago,” said Zafiris Tzannatos, lead author of the report.

“But the question is what type of work? Workers were increasingly educated but the jobs being created were low--‐skilled and low--‐paid. In most countries, workers could not make their voices heard through trade unions or the ballot box.”

Mohammad Pournik, Poverty Practice Leader at the UNDP Regional Centre in Cairo, noted that one of the demands of Arab youth was having jobs without the need for intermediaries or “Wasta”.

“The real issue is the need for jobs with social dignity rather than jobs that come at the expense of dignity,” said Pournik.

Challenges ahead

According to the report, economic growth in the next decade hinges on good governance – which must improve to attract higher rates of investment and enable structural and institutional reforms.

Coupled with negative projections of growth and employment, the region faces additional challenges: social unrest, a surge in commodity and energy prices, recessionary impacts on private and public sector workers, heightened uncertainty for investors, and greater demands on government spending.

This makes the case for a new development model all the more compelling.

New development model

“Arabs need an inclusive development model that is grounded in social justice,” said Nada al--‐Nashif, Regional Director for the Arab States, International Labour Organization.

“This requires macro--‐policy coherence that can enhance productivity and wages, reformed labour relations to enable workers and employers to participate effectively in decision--‐making, and expanded social protection systems that provide employment and livelihoods security.”

More specific policy areas requiring attention include migration management, employment policies and active labour market programmes, greater access to quality education and training that is relevant to labour market needs, and improved labour market data gathering and information management systems.

Contact Information


Farah Dakhlallah, Regional Communication Officer
International Labour Organization Regional Office for the Arab States
Tel: +9611752400 ext 117
Mob: +96171505958
Email: dakhlallah@ilo.org

Noeman AlSayyad, Regional Communication Advisor
United Nations Development Programme, Regional Centre in Cairo
Tel: +20224564942
Mob: +201001811876
Email: noeman.alsayyad@undp.org