The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has about 15 ongoing programmes in the Egyptian market, said its Director Peter Van Rooij, adding, “youth employment is one of the key pillars. Over the last years we have been focusing on supporting young Egyptians to get decent jobs in different ways.”
Rooij mentioned that the ILO is very active in supporting Egyptian exports in various ways and quite active in the social protection field to help people who are unemployed.
What are the key projects that the ILO is currently implementing in Egypt?
We have an important programme, which is gender employment. It covers a number of countries including Egypt. It is a sub-regional programme in North Africa
We also have many other smaller activities, but no less important, including, for example, this year’s theme for development in Egypt announced by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is on disability. We have been working on that and we are happy to continue on that.
We are also working on the green jobs field, looking at the link between jobs and the environment, how the environment can be a source of opportunities which offers a number of openings in waste recycling. Those are the main highlights of our activities in Egypt.
What is the budget of the ongoing projects?
The annual budget for 2017 is $15m for Egypt, but our global budget is $500m for the same year. Maybe it is interesting to mention that our office here is a special one because it also has a number of international experts of the ILO’s key topics. We provide technical support for 12 countries in North Africa, so this office is not only for Egypt but has its regional functions.
Tell me more about the regional activities.
We are in a pilot phase for a new sub-regional programme called Adwaa (Lights) where we want to strengthen the connections between data and information knowledge and policymaking, including with parliament and others.
There is a lot of research but when policies are made they are not always accessible and not always used.
We want to make sure that policymakers use the available knowledge, so we are discussing the Adwaa project with a number of countries in North Africa, including Egypt. We are in the pilot phase now and things are going well.
I want to add that last year we organised a conference on youth employment in North Africa with the member states of the ILO. We discussed what happened in the past years regarding youth employment.
Youth employment is a global challenge, but it is also important to look back and see what we can learn. For example, we have looked at what has been done in Egypt for the last several years and we found that there were 250 projects implemented in the field of employment, with good results, but at the same time, it is important that these projects are built based on the experiences of other projects.
Tunisia is a special case of unemployment challenges, which led to major protests in 2011; how do you assess the employment situation there now?
We have been working on many similar projects in Tunisia, where there are some challenges of employment. What is important is to not only look at the unemployment figures, but also to offer decent jobs that can earn people enough money.
Tunisia still faces the challenge of creating enough decent jobs. I think that population growth is a very important element in this issue because it affects addressing the problem according to a specific timing and keeping up with the needs of young people, so this is one of the challenges that we are working on with countries where the ILO operates.
We are working hard with Tunisia on that. It is one of the countries that gets a lot of support from the ILO and other international development partners and so it is a working progress and we look forward to seeing Tunisian youth have more, better jobs in the future.
Back to Egypt, how many projects are you going to begin in the coming period?
We are working a lot to implement new projects. Some were approved by different donors in the last couple of months, but we cannot expect the upcoming projects because donors have approved some projects and others are not yet approved.
If I look at the bigger picture, we were able to mobilise resources for a number of good projects because we have fine relations with the donors, and also, we have a quality relationship with Egypt and we are looking forward to building on what has already been done.
We care so much about the quality, not only the quantity, even if the ILO doubled its budget, it does not make a difference. In terms of reducing unemployment in Egypt, we try to equip the concerned institutions.
It is not the role of the ILO to solve unemployment in any specific country, we should not do that.
What about the details of the new requests?
We have about five requests for new projects, but it is not the number of requests that matters, but the projects themselves and by whom they will be implemented. But I would like to emphasise our quality relations. For example, our general director meets senior officials of the government.
How do the reform procedures reflect on the employment situation?
I think that the country has made a number of important decisions, including a clear programme of reform that has been well-designed and is being implemented. The country is coming out of a transition process, unemployment is going down, and direct investments are increasing.
What about the ILO’s activities in gender employment?
Gender employment is an important topic. Women’s participation in the workforces of North African countries is fairly low, so I think that this issue requires more attention in terms of practice. SMEs, for women and for men, is a very important sector because it helps create jobs.
We are working with the Federation of Egyptian Industries (FEI) on that important topic.