Working hours shrank globally by 70.4 percent in the second quarter of 2020, while 90.5 percent of working hours were lost in the Arab region in the same quarter due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Guy Ryder revealed.
Ryder made the comments during a high-level panel held on Wednesday organised by the G20 Group and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on enhancing access to opportunities in Arab countries.
Ryder also revealed that income levels in Arab countries declined by 11 percent, which is a significant decline compared to the global levels, adding that the labour gap in developing countries is worth $1 billion.
He asserted that the situation in the Arab region can be addressed by adopting policies targeting formalisation of the informal sector and applying structural transformation in the Arab labour market.
Meanwhile, Economic Counsellor at the IMF Gita Gopinath said the global economy lost $4 trillion because of the pandemic, adding that the effects of the virus are expected to be long-lasting.
On the other hand, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Ghada Waly said that the crisis encouraged the region’s governments to invest more in health, education, social protection, and to support the private sector to play its role in the development process, especially with the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that actually support the government’s efforts in return.
Waly also pointed out that the region is facing a financial gap and corruption, which are two main issues that are in dire need to be addressed. In addition, the economic stimulus packages need to be bolstered while more investments should be allocated for infrastructure and establishing social protection nets.
The IMF’s Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said that decisions made now will affect the lives of more than 420 million Arabs for years and decades to come, adding that preparing them for a rapidly changing global economy is the work of today and must not be delayed.
“Improving health, education and social safety nets can be paid for by progressive taxation of both income, and property and goods. Better prioritisation of spending and increased efficiency will also help,” she illustrated.
Georgieva added that despite the progress in health and education in the Arab region, there is an efficiency gap, "but, if the region’s countries get greater value for the money they are already spending, the IMF estimates the Arab world could close a third of the health and education gap without any new spending."
She also said that increasing employment for young people and women is needed, in addition to providing more access to the internet, health, education, commerce, and financial and government services and benefits, and that access to the internet is access to opportunity.
The panellists called for creating good-quality education in the region, expanding in financial inclusion, empowering women and integrating them in economic activity, formalising the informal sectors, putting a long-term vision for more resilience, and setting direct measures for boosting entrepreneurship and young employment.