Regional perspectives on development cooperation: The Arab States

Fatin Liyana Abdul Rahim

Policy Brief: Regional perspectives on development cooperation: The Arab States

At the ILO’s 323rd Governing Body meeting, item 6 on the agenda of the ‘Policy Development Section’ involved a discussion of regional perspectives on development cooperation of the Arab States.


The International Labour Organization (ILO) has previously identified key work and employment-related issues within the Arab region. These include youth employment, women’s empowerment, social dialogue, social protection and migration. The ILO has made substantial efforts to address these issues through, among other things, promoting decent employment, particularly for young people,  enhancing labour market information, encouraging improvements to social protection, developing  international labour standards for migrant workers, combating child labour, promoting social dialogue, and responding to the Syrian crisis. Many of these programmes have been successful. For example, in Jordan, the ILO implemented a pilot project to upgrade informal apprenticeships in small enterprises in Amman’s auto repair sector. Young people benefitted from this programme as many trainees found jobs after becoming officially certified with technical skills. In Lebanon, the ILO is providing technical support to the Central Administration of Statistics to implement a survey of the first Lebanese Labour Force and Households’ Living Conditions Survey. The purpose is to improve the quantity and quality of information relating to living standards and labour market activity, with a specific focus on the impact of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon.

The ILO has also supported improvements in social protection. For example, the ILO has provided technical assistance to help the Saudi government to implement an unemployment insurance scheme. The scheme allows for the employer and employee to contribute 1% of their base salary to finance the unemployment insurance benefit for up to 6 months. An important contribution made by the ILO has been in relation to improvements in labour standards for migrant workers in the Arab region. In Lebanon for example, the ILO has implemented programmes to promote the rights of women migrant domestic workers. The ILO has supported the Lebanese government in formulating policies and handling legal issues related to rights and working conditions of women migrant domestic workers. The ILO also plays a leading role in addressing the issue of child labour. The ILO provided assistance to the Central Statistical Organisation, a Lebanese government institution, in their National Child Labour Survey in 2010, which found that 1.6 million children in Lebanon are in the work force. The ILO aims to support prevention and rehabilitation programmes for these child labourers.

The ILO’s efforts in promoting social dialogue in the Arab region have been significant and accounted for the ILO’s highest expenditure in 2014. To promote social dialogue in the Arab region the ILO has developed several programmes, such as the socio-economic and legal literacy training programme. The aim is to encourage the workers’ organisations to participate in policy debates and to have a stronger representation in order to better protect workers’ rights and interests. The ILO has also been actively responding to the Syrian refugee crisis. For example, in Lebanon, the ILO responded to the crisis by strengthening the resilience of producers and workers that are affected by the crisis in the rural areas in the northern part of Syria. The ILO also supports the creation of better jobs in the agricultural sector.


Although the ILO has given substantial support to the Arab region, these efforts are still insufficient, especially with the present situation in the region. With new issues arising, the instability has heightened. Oil producing countries in the region are facing difficulties due to the recent sharp decline in oil prices. More significantly, as noted by ILO Director General, Mr. Guy Ryder in the 323rd Governing Body meeting, the issues surrounding the Arab States are very complex. Since 2011, the economy in this region has further deteriorated, and there is a high level of political instability and social unrest. He also emphasised that there is a high rate of youth unemployment, gender inequality and underdevelopment, as well as a lack of infrastructure. Mr Ryder further commented that the growing uncertainty in the region has made unemployment a critical issue that needs to be addressed urgently.  The urgent need to abolish the Kafala system that is currently being practiced in various nations in the Arab region was also emphasised as it is a form of abuse.

Other notable remarks include those made by Mr K. Mattar on behalf of the United Arab Emirates Employers’ group. He emphasised that the region is diverse and comprises countries with different levels of development. Furthermore, many of the Arab states are either in crisis or in a state of post-crisis. He stressed that the ILO must provide assistance by responding to the crisis and must urgently provide more technical cooperation. Additionally, Mr. Mattar strongly stressed to the Governing Body that there is a pressing need to adopt practical measures and enhance international efforts to improve the situation in Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Decision held at the 323rd Governing Body meeting

In response to the volatile situation in the Arab region, and with the aim of assisting the region, the Governing Body at the 323rd Governing Body meeting, with the support of the delegates, adopted the decision to expand the ILO’s development cooperation programme in the Arab States and develop a regional resource mobilisation strategy in accordance with the ILO’s Development Cooperation Strategy (2014-2017).


There are certain challenges associated with the situation in the Middle East that may hinder or affect the progress of the development cooperation programme. It is also important to take into account the different challenges that each state faces. Although it is necessary to expand this programme to assist the region, it is first vital to reinstate order in the region in order to achieve any meaningful outcome. Groups such as ISIS are a threat and may undermine the ILO’s efforts in this region. Having spread their tentacles to parts of the Middle East, ISIS appears to be gaining support[1] and the existence of groups like these means that there is limited room for progress. Therefore it is vital for security issues to be addressed before expecting a positive outcome from efforts by the ILO. A consolidated effort from international bodies is necessary in order to bring stability to the Arab region and facilitate the execution of ILO’s development cooperation programme.

[1] P. Bergen, E. Schneider, ‘Why ISIS is spreading across Muslim world’, <> , 2014, (accessed April 2015).


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