October 14, 2011
Africa has the youngest population in the world: Young women and men represent the continent’s best hope for getting on a sustainable development path. However, youth unemployment rates are double adult unemployment rates for Africa as a whole – for North Africa they are even four times higher. ILO Online reports from Egypt where the ILO supports a pioneering project helping youth to find decent employment after leaving school.
BORG EL ARAB, Egypt (ILO Online) – Baher Mahmoud Hatem is a teacher in Borg el Arab, home to the airport of Alexandria, the second largest city of Egypt.
Baher tells us what work used to be for him before he joined an ILO training course: “I went to work every day. We gave routine classes: It did not matter what we were teaching, or what the students wanted.”
One day, Baher and some of his colleagues were asked to participate in a two-day training organized by the ILO in cooperation with the public employment services office in Borg el Arab.
The training revolved around team work, capacity building and how to use career guidance for youth employment. In the beginning, Baher was not very interested, but the more he listened, he realized that he had an important role to play towards his students as a teacher.
“I realized how important the role of a teacher is in changing lives, as well as our responsibility to society. The next day, I was eager to learn more and to know what career guidance is and what would be my role. It made a difference to me to be able to help the students choose their careers, to be satisfied with their studies and with their work afterwards”, he explains.
Finally, Baher joined the project task force and participated in all project activities during the year. He even decided to obtain a Master’s Degree, to acquire more knowledge and be able to give even better guidance.
“This allowed me to organize career guidance activities for the students. I also adopted these approaches at home, with my wife and kids”, he says.
“90 per cent of the unemployed in Egypt are below 30. The unemployment rate for young people is six times higher than for adults. And the few young people that find a job are disadvantaged in terms of wages and working conditions compared to adults”, explains Dorothea Schmidt, a senior ILO employment expert in the ILO office in Cairo.
Ms. Schmidt also sees, “a mismatch between young people’s job expectations and the jobs available in the labour market, together with a mismatch between employers’ expectations in terms of skills and those obtained by university graduates and graduates of vocational training centres and technical schools”.
Failure to find decent employment after leaving school can have lasting effects on occupational patterns and incomes over the lifespan of an individual. Guiding youth to the right vocational choice as well as improving school-to-work transition may help overcome the common difficulties that youth, and particularly young women, face in terms of limited access to reliable labour market information, advice and support”, explains Luca Azzoni, a Senior Skills and Employability Specialist in the ILO office in Cairo.
The aim of the ILO project is therefore to make it easier for young people to enter the world of work by modernizing Egypt’s employment offices. The project builds up capacities in public employment services offices (PES) to offer job counselling and career guidance, identifying employers’ needs and job matching. To support PES in their activities, the project establishes linkages between PES and government ministries, educational institutions, social partners (employers, trade unions), youth associations and civil society.
The selection of the governorates to be covered by the project was undertaken carefully to cover key segments of the Egyptian economy: Fayoum with its agricultural and tourism potential; Alexandria and 6 October City for their new industrial sites promising to absorb more workers; and Luxor and Aswan as top destinations for tourists.
“The focus on the employment counselling in career guidance is a relatively new area in Egypt and this is the first ILO project addressing this issue at the national level. The achievements of the Public Employment Services Offices in the five project sites include providing career guidance to a total of 12,000 young people and employing 9,000 young persons in various enterprises with variable qualifications“, explains Mr. Azzoni.
This project is closely tied to meeting Egypt’s agreed targets under the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) for 2007-2011, and supports the implementation of the road map for recovery that was agreed between the ILO and the Ministry of Manpower in the wake of the revolution of early 2011.
“The interim government and several donors have shown great interest in the approach and are willing to extend the project to other governorates in Egypt”, says Nagwa Ismail, the ILO National Project Coordinator. “The approach not only increases the chances of youth to find a job – young people also learn skills that will be essential in the post revolutionary democratization process”.
Charles Dan, ILO Regional Director for Africa sees a great potential for upscaling and replication of the pilot project. “Youth employment promotion is the foremost country priority identified in the ILO’s Decent Work Country Programmes in Africa. There is indeed great potential in this project for expansion at the national level. More Egyptian youth would thus benefit from career guidance and be better equipped to join the labour market”, he concludes.
While African economies have bounced back from the economic crisis, daunting challenges for the continent remain, including poverty, unemployment and underemployment. Faced with these and other major challenges, the Republic of South Africa is one of the 27 African ILO Member States that are implementing Decent Work Country Programmes (DWCPs) aimed at promoting decent work as a key component of their national development. ILO Online reports from Johannesburg, South Africa.
JOHANNESBURG, Republic of South Africa (ILO Online) – “If you don’t address the issue of unemployment you’re sitting on a time bomb,” the then Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana told reporters at the launch of the DWCP in Johannesburg. Referring to the country’s efforts to tackle unemployment and poverty by creating jobs, the Minister warned of a “disillusioned and disgruntled” youth.
A member of the Group of Twenty (G20) States, South Africa is the largest economy on the African continent. However, the country faces major challenges such as high unemployment and HIV/AIDS. In October 2008, the South African economy sunk into its first official recession since the advent of democracy. That same year, the unemployment rate among youth reached an unprecedented 26 per cent.
What’s more, 8.7 per cent of the population is affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, according to the South African National HIV Survey.
“There is a clear link between unemployment and HIV/AIDS in South Africa. The pandemic depresses labour demand by declining the rate of overall economic growth. With the result that key sectors of the economy and employment shrink, particularly in the construction and equipment industries”, explains Vic van Vuuren, Director of the ILO office in Pretoria.
Last year, South Africa took the decisive step to promote decent work by signing an agreement with the ILO on the launch of a DWCP. The programme is aimed at strengthening fundamental principles and rights at work, promoting employment creation, strengthening and broadening social protection coverage and strengthening tripartism and social dialogue between government, employers and workers in the country.
The country is also actively being assisted by the ILO in implementing the ILO Global Jobs Pact through a national jobs pact, which aligns its policies with the main priorities of the DWCP. The Pact addresses the social and employment impact of the global financial and economic crisis and promotes a productive recovery centred on investments, employment and social protection.
The DWCP for South Africa will be carried out between 2010 and 2014 and has nine concrete outcomes. The programme makes sure that up-to-date international labour standards are ratified, complied with, reported on and enforced through labour administrations. The Programme promotes the creation of productive and decent jobs especially among women, youth and persons with disabilities by sustainable and competitive enterprises, including cooperatives.
The DWCP also encourages skills development, access to better managed and more gender equitable social security and health benefits as well as improved safety and health conditions at work. The programme aims to respond effectively to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and also works to strengthen labour market institutions and increase the capacity of social partners to contribute to effective social dialogue and sound industrial relations.
“Social dialogue has guided South Africa’s efforts towards meaningful recovery through decent and productive jobs. At the onset of the global financial and economic crisis, the government and social partners, under the auspices of the National Economic Development and Labour Advisory Committee (NEDLAC), adopted the ‘Framework for South Africa’s response to the international financial crisis’ in February 2009. This national framework agreement has been the vehicle through which anti-crisis measures have been adopted and implemented”, Mr. van Vuuren said.
South Africa joined the ILO in 1919 but left the organization in 1966 because of the ILO position concerning the government’s apartheid policy. It wasn’t until the “New South Africa” emerged in 1994 that it resumed its membership. South Africa has since ratified 21 ILO Conventions and 18 of them are in force for the country, including the eight fundamental conventions regarding freedom of association and collective bargaining, forced and child labour and discrimination in the workplace.
The 27 African ILO Member States are Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The objective of providing universal health coverage is high on the agenda of countries in the broader European region, yet vulnerable groups often do not have full access to health services, according to Dr. Xenia Scheil-Adlung, Health Policy Coordinator at the ILO’s Social Security Department. ILO Online spoke to Dr. Scheil-Adlung, who has published a study looking at the situation in the region, which includes the European Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States and Central and Eastern Europe.
Who are the vulnerable people you refer to?
Xenia Scheil-Adlung: These groups are mainly the people living in poverty, particularly rural women, Roma and Sinti people, and the elderly. Policies have not paid enough attention to the needs of these groups, who face significant gaps in access to health care because of deficits in social health protection.
You write that gaps in legal health coverage are among the factors contributing to the inequities. Could you explain?
Xenia Scheil-Adlung: Eligibility criteria for social health protection including maternity coverage often include employment contracts based on full-time work or residency. Women, Roma and migrant populations, who often face difficulties in accessing the labour market, are particularly disadvantaged. In Bulgaria, for example, 46 per cent of Roma do not have health insurance because they do not meet the criteria. In Britain an estimated 47 per cent of all migrants are not covered by standard employment-based social health protection.
You also mention gaps in financial protection? What are they?
Xenia Scheil-Adlung: The lack of financial protection against out-of-pocket payments can substantially limit the ability to access care for vulnerable groups. In Georgia for example, out-of-pocket payments account for as much as 74.7 per cent of total health expenditure. Such inequities in financial protection can lead to catastrophic health expenditure – out-of-pocket expenditure that exceeds 40 per cent of the household income. In the European region, such effects are particularly relevant for female-headed households, in case of complicated deliveries and for the elderly.
There are presumably also vast differences from one country to another?
Xenia Scheil-Adlung: Yes, and in many cases there are also geographical inequalities within a given country. Within the region, the availability of practicing physicians ranges from 459 per 100,000 population in Austria to 216 in Poland. Annual expenditure for maternity protection per baby varies from US$ 31,109 in Norway and US$ 24 in Armenia. There is also a strong urban-rural divide. In France, for example, there are 458 physicians per 100,000 people in urban areas, and only 122 per 100,000 people in rural areas.
So inequities in access to health care are found across the region, including the wealthier countries?
Xenia Scheil-Adlung: Indeed. Even in countries like Germany there are inequities. Some rural areas suffer from a critical shortage of doctors, while there are many in cities like Munich or Frankfurt. Gaps in access to health care may also result from a limited scope of benefits. In Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Iceland, and Portugal, for example, dental care is often excluded from benefit packages. The exclusion of such benefits results in high out-of-pocket payments and hinders effective access to care.
What needs to be done to resolve these issues?
Xenia Scheil-Adlung: First one needs to understand that these inequalities originate from Issues related to gaps in social health protection that need to be closed, as well as the broader contextual environment in which these vulnerable groups live, including poverty, lack of access to employment and deficits in social protection coverage e.g. in case of old age, unemployment, and low or no income. So, addressing the issues requires a comprehensive approach focused on extending coverage and effective access to health care, as well as on addressing socio-economic inequalities through at least a basic set of social rights for all — the social protection floor approach.
Addressing inequities in access to health care for vulnerable groups in countries of the European region, by Xenia Scheil-Adlung and Catharina Kuhl, International Labour Office, Geneva, 2011.