Every minister should champion labour: ILO Africa director

Marwa Hussein, Friday 20 Apr 2012

Ahram Online talks to the regional head of the global labour group about a much-needed shake up in employment policies in the wake of the Arab Spring

Logo of the International Labour Organization

In the wake of 2011's Arab world uprisings, which many believe were at least partly spurred by chronic joblessness and economic disenfranchisement, Charles Dan, African regional director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) talks to Ahram Online about employment policies in the continent's northern reaches.

Ahram Online: What is the ILO's idea of a solution to help solve the problem of unemployment in North Africa?
Charles Dan: We believe that employment must be placed at the center of macroeconomic policies as a priority at the same level as inflation or budget deficit reduction. 
For that, we believe that job creation should be at the centre of sectorial policies. We should see how job creation, especially for young people, can be at the heart of industrial, agricultural and even defence policies. 
Every minister should be a minister of manpower in his sector and tackle problems in it when it comes to job creation.
AO: What should be done on a national level?
CD: Countries should develop an environment beneficial for small and medium-size enterprises, as an important reservoir of job creation. Problems of the informal sector should be tackled as well. In that issue, we propose a collective approach because it is difficult to help people in the informal sector individually. 
The concept of social economy and solidarity should be used -- like co-operatives, women and youth association and microcredits -- as a bridge between formal and informal economies. 
Finally, we believe that providing training and professional qualifications for the young -- depending on the reality of each country -- is important.
AO: Are such measures enough to solve the many structural problems of the region's labour markets?
CD: We believe that the problem of youth employment is not only found in the region.  However it is a big challenge and no country can be successful in solving it alone.  We believe the best instruments for stability and progress are social dialogue between governments, employers’ associations and workers associations.
AO: Revolutions and social protests in Arab countries were linked to unemployment and poverty. People need quick results. Is this possible?
CD: Populations are particularly impatient to get concrete results. They tend to be less patient if their problems are not put into discussion and made the centre of public policies. For this, dialogue, freedom of association and collective negotiation are very important -- they are nowadays the most important instruments of progress.
AO: Can there be a positive connection between 'decent work', private sector interests and macroeconomic development?
CD: I think that 'decent work' is a wonderful instrument to develop the private sector and for social progress because we cannot expect more productivity from vulnerable populations. 
Our role is to convince the business community that the respect of workers’ rights and dialogue can accelerate companies' development, productivity and competitiveness.
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