By Mahitab Assran
Unemployment levels are bound to increase across the Middle East and North Africa region through to 2015 which will raise the probabilities of social unrest, according to a report issued by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on Tuesday.
The report, World at Work, found that number of unemployed individuals in the Middle East was 6.4 million in 2007 and has since rose to 8.3 million in 2013, with expectations to increase to 8.8 million by 2015. In North Africa, the number of unemployed rose from 6.2 million in 2007 to 7.6 million this year and is expected to rise to eight million by 2015, the report said.
The report stated that since the global financial crunch of 2008, risk of social unrest has been relatively higher than pre-crisis periods. “The risk of unrest increased by 14% in the MENA region between 2006 and 2008,” the report said, adding that the rise was driven by “limits to political freedom and weak job markets”, which jointly account for 40% of the variation in the social unrest index.
Out of eight global regions, the ILO report placed MENA as the fifth the most vulnerable to social unrest, after Europe, central and south-eastern Europe, South Asia, and European non-members economies.
“While growth prospects have improved in the region since the Arab Spring, political struggles continue in many countries, which tends to manifest in people’s perception of freedom in their lives,” the report said.
In terms of income levels, the study placed Egypt among the “lower-middle-income” countries which witnessed growth for those who surfaced above the poverty-line, otherwise known as the floating group, but who still face the risk of falling back into poverty. In general this is a positive change as it means that more people are emerging from poverty, the analysis said.
Around 10% of Egypt’s population in 2010 were labelled poor, according to ILO standards, as they received less than $2 a day, while the floating group accounted for 80% in the population, with a daily income of $2-6. The middle income group, recipients of no more than $20 a day, were only 10% of the population in 2010, the study showed.
This positive change in Egypt, which is also prevalent across the region, was caused by the implementation of economic reforms that led to improved job conditions, the ILO said. The report however described the situation as “fragile” given that MENA governments are still the main job creators, rather than the private sector.
This ILO report comes a day ahead of a Geneva-based international labour conference in which workers’ unions in Egypt will demand the minimum wage be raised to EGP 1,200 per month, which should help in reducing poverty levels in the country.
“An increase in income means an increase in spending, and an increase in spending will cause firms to supply more and in order to supply more they will need to hire more people and produce more. This will finally lead to a boost in the economy,” said Seoud Omar, a labour adviser for the Egyptian Union of Independent Syndicates.
“An increase in the minimum wage will also act as an incentive for people to join the labour force.”