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March 21, 11

NEWS / Changes under way in Arab nations must lead to decent work, stresses UN agency

21 March 2011 – As senior Arab officials met today to discuss ways to ensure a more equitable future in their region, the United Nations labour agency stressed that the changes currently under way must meet the concerns of governments, employers and workers for achieving decent work.

Widespread unemployment, poverty and lack of freedoms have been cited as some of the reasons for the popular protests that have erupted recently across North Africa and the Middle East in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Addressing the high-level discussion on “Challenges and Change in the Arab World,” Juan Somavia, Director-General of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), stressed the value of social dialogue.

“The recent turn of events is extremely worrying… if people are shot and killed, dialogue is rejected. No short- or medium-term economic or social benefits can come out of such confrontation,” he told the gathering in Geneva, referring to the deadly violence against mass protesters seen in some countries.

Mr. Somavia called for strategies to, among other elements, reduce youth unemployment, reinforce democratic governance and social change, establish a universal social protection floor and empower trade unions and civil society actors.

The overall aim, according to ILO, is to promote employment and rights through robust social dialogue structures and institutions.

Ahmed El-Borai, Minister of Manpower and Migration of Egypt, described the recent Egyptian upheaval as a model for “peaceful and rational changes in the region and the whole world,” adding that it is the start of a process that will lead to a better future based on freedom, dignity and social justice.

He said that his Government is determined “to continue along the path of democracy and human rights,” including the establishment of independent trade unions, with full respect for the freedom of association.

During an official visit to Egypt earlier this month, Mr. Somavia voiced the ILO’s strong support for the establishment of freedom of association and other labour market and economic reforms in the country and the rest of the Arab world.

The President of the General Confederation of Algerian Enterprises, Habib Yousfi, welcomed the Director-General’s strategic initiatives in several Arab countries, insisting on values and rights, as an example of political courage.

“You were at the right place at the right time, encouraging young people to seek a greater degree of freedom,” said Mr. Yousfi.

The head of the Tunisian General Labour Union, Abdessalem Jerad, thanked ILO for its early support of the protests that led to the ouster of the country’s president in January. He also asked that it be “at the forefront of support” for his country, noting that the success of Tunisia and Egypt can serve as an example to others.




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