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Low pay, poor conditions leave North Africans struggling to survive: ILO

High levels of growth and job creation not enough to alleviate misery as 30 per cent of workforce in North Africa lives below poverty line

Marwa Hussein, Thursday 19 Apr 2012
Workers
Egyptian workers wait at the Libyan border following last year's uprising (Photo: Reuters)
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High levels of economic growth in North Africa over the last decade have generated jobs but many of them are low paid, according to an International Labour Organisation (ILO) conference called "Employment for Stability and Socio-Economic progress in North Africa."

ILO studies note that the labour market situation in North Africa faces many structural challenges. The first is low employment-to-population ratios, especially for young people and women. “Out of 100 people that could potentially work, only 40 work in North Africa. For women the ratio is 20 out of 100 and for young people it is 24 out of 100,” according to one of the papers discussed at the conference.

In her speech, Dorothea Schmidt emphasised that high unemployment is common across all income and education levels. Briefly, studying hard to get a university degree does not mean that you will find a decent job and this is partly due to the low quality of education.

High levels of unemployment lead to another challenge, which is a high employment dependency ratio. On average, an employed person in North Africa has to support 2.4 people, which is “a very high level," according to Schmidt.

Another problem is the quality of the jobs created.

Being employed in North Africa does not mean one will escape poverty, with as many as 30 per cent of employed people living below the poverty line, the majority of whom work in the informal sector.

Workers in the region also suffer from very low social protection coverage.

High unemployment rates and low job quality jobs in the region are due to a lack of democracy and social dialogue, plus structural economic problems. A slow structural shift from agricultural to industrial economies has also had a big impact.

“Almost every third person works in agriculture. People often move into the service sector but mainly into low productivity service sector jobs or into the informal economy," noted Schmidt.

Other defects are limited growth in productivity, a high share of public sector employment and an environment that is not conducive to enterprise, especially for small and medium companies.

 

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