UNITED NATIONS, May 1 2019 (IPS) – The United Nations has estimated a hefty $466 billion as remittances from migrant workers worldwide in 2017—and perhaps even higher last year.
These remittances, primarily from the US, Western Europe and Gulf nations, go largely to low and middle-income countries, “helping to lift millions of families out of poverty,” says UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
But most of these migrant workers are known to pay a heavy price, toiling mostly under conditions of slave labour: earning low wages, with no pensions or social security, and minimum health care.
As the United Nations commemorated Labour Day on May 1, the plight of migrant workers is one of the issues being pursued by the Geneva-based International Labour Organization (ILO), a UN agency which celebrates its centenary this year promoting social justice worldwide.
In a December 2018 report, the ILO said: “If the right policies are in place, labour migration can help countries respond to shifts in labour supply and demand, stimulate innovation and sustainable development, and transfer and update skills”.
However, a lack of international standards regarding concepts, definitions and methodologies for measuring labour migration data still needs to be addressed, it warned.
But much more daunting is the current state of the migrant labour market which has been riddled with blatant violations of all the norms of an ideal workplace.
Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam, a member of the UN Committee on Migrant Workers, told IPS rising populist nationalism world over is giving rise to rhetoric with unfounded allegations and irrational assessments of the worth of migrant workers to economies of many migrant receiving countries in the world.
Since migrant workers remain voiceless without voting or political rights in many such receiving countries, they are unable to mobilize political opinion to counter assertions against them, he said.
“And migrant workers are now being treated in some countries as commodities for import and export at will, not as humans with rights and responsibilities,” said Ambassador Kariyawasam, a former Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations.
Unless these trends are reversed soon, he warned, not only human worth as a whole will diminish, but it can also lead to unexpected social upheavals affecting economic and social well-being of some communities in both sending and receiving countries of migrant workers.
At a UN press conference April 10, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said the ILO Centenary is a time to affirm with conviction that the mandate and standards set by the Organization remain of extraordinary importance and relevance to people everywhere.
He called for a future where labour is not a commodity, where decent work and the contribution of each person are valued, where all benefit from fair, safe and respectful workplaces free from violence and harassment, and in which wealth and prosperity benefit all.
Tara Carey, Senior Content & Media Relations Manager at Equality Now told IPS poverty and poor employment opportunities are a push factor for sex trafficking.
There are many cases in which women and girls in African countries are promised legitimate work and are then trafficked into prostitution. This happens within countries, across borders, and from Africa to places in Europe and the Middle East, she pointed out.
And recently, the police in Nigeria estimated 20,000 women and girls had been sold into sexual slavery in Mali:
“The new trend is that they told them they were taking them to Malaysia and they found themselves in Mali. They told them they would be working in five-star restaurants where they would be paid $700 per month.”
The number of migrants is estimated at over 240 million worldwide. And an increasingly large number of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), are home to most migrant workers from Asia.
In a background briefing during a high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly in April, the ILO said conditions of work need to be improved for the roughly 300 million working poor – outside of migrant labour — who live on $1.90 a day.
Millions of men, women and children are victims of modern slavery. Too many still work excessively long hours and millions still die of work-related accidents every year.
“Wage growth has not kept pace with productivity growth and the share of national income going to workers has declined. Inequalities remain persistent around the world. Women continue to earn around 20 per cent less than men.”
“Even as growth has lessened inequality between countries, many of our societies are becoming more unequal. Millions of workers remain disenfranchised, deprived of fundamental rights and unable to make their voices heard”, according to the background briefing.
In its 2018 review of Human Rights in the Middle East & North Africa, the London-based Amnesty International (AI) said there were some positive developments at a legislative level in Morocco, Qatar and the UAE with respect to migrant labour and/or domestic workers.
But still migrant workers continued to face exploitation in these and other countries, including Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman and Saudi Arabia, in large part due to kafala (sponsorship) systems, which limited their ability to escape abusive working conditions.
In Morocco, the parliament passed a new law on domestic workers, entitling domestic workers to written contracts, maximum working hours, guaranteed days off, paid vacations and a specified minimum wage.
Despite these gains, the new law still offered less protection to domestic workers than the Moroccan Labour Code, which does not refer to domestic workers, AI said.
In Qatar, a new law partially removed the exit permit requirement, allowing the vast majority of migrant workers covered by the Labour Law to leave the country without seeking their employers’ permission.
However, the law retained some exceptions, including the ability of employers to request exit permits for up to 5% of their workforce. Exit permits were still required for employees who fell outside the remit of the Labour Law, including over 174,000 domestic workers in Qatar and all those working in government entities.
In the UAE, the authorities introduced several labour reforms likely to be of particular benefit to migrant workers, including a decision to allow some workers to work for multiple employers, tighter regulation of recruitment processes for domestic workers and a new low-cost insurance policy that protected private sector employees’ workplace benefits in the event of job loss, redundancy or an employer’s bankruptcy, according to AI.
Meanwhile, as the ILO pointed out in a report in May 2017, current sponsorship regimes in the Middle East have been criticized for creating an asymmetrical power relationship between employers and migrant workers – which can make workers vulnerable to forced labour.
Essential to the vulnerability of migrant workers in the Middle East is that their sponsor controls a number of aspects related to their internal labour market mobility – including their entry, renewal of stay, termination of employment, transfer of employment, and, in some cases, exit from the country, the report noted.
Such arrangements place a high responsibility – and often a burden – on employers. To address these concerns, alternative modalities can be pursued which place the role of regulation and protection more clearly with the government.
This report demonstrates that reform to the current sponsorship arrangements that govern temporary labour migration in the Middle East will have wide-ranging benefits – from improving working conditions and better meeting the needs of employers, to boosting the economy and labour market productivity.
Meanwhile, in its ”Century Ratification Campaign”, ILO has invited its 187 member States to ratify at least one international labour Convention in the course of 2019, with a commitment to apply a set of standards governing one aspect of decent work to all men and women, along with one political commitment supporting sustainable development for all.
Growth in Saudi Arabia’s economy will slow slightly this year, creating a challenge in terms of generating enough jobs for its citizens, an economist has told Zawya.
A new Economic Insight: Middle East Q1 2019 report published by accountancy body ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) and Oxford Economics said that it expects economic growth in the Kingdom to slow marginally in 2019 to 2 percent, down from 2.2 percent in 2019 as oil revenue falls due to Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries-mandated production cuts and “only a modest acceleration in non-oil activity” due to the challenging business environment.
The report said that although it expects growth in Saudi Arabia’s non-oil sector to grow by 2.6 percent this year, supported both by an expansionary fiscal policy and reforms aimed at boosting the private sector, hiring activity remains “subdued”.
Mohamed Bardastani, ICAEW economic advisor and Middle East senior economist at Oxford Economics, told Zawya in a telephone interview that the jobs market in Saudi Arabia has been “extremely challenging, and we don’t see it changing any time this year”.
He explained that that in the two years between the end of 2016 and the end of last year, the country’s Labour Force Survey showed that more than 1.5 million jobs were lost among expats – a result of “the economic slowdown, various fiscal consolidation measures, but most importantly the measures that the government took in terms of applying expat levies and expat dependent fees on private sector companies”, Bardastani said.
“The private sector, historically speaking, has been relying on expat workers. Around 80 percent of the private sector is made up of expat workers. So obviously, this will have ramifications on growth,” he said.
Moreover, unemployment among Saudi nationals remains stubbornly high at 12.7 percent, considerably above the 7 percent target set under the kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals.
“Historically speaking, the public sector most of the time absorbed the new job entrants. This is one of the main challenges in Saudi right now. I think it is the most pressing challenge, where you have around a 12-7-12.8 (percent) unemployment rate and you have around 400,000 graduates (each year), and then job creation is relatively weak,” he said.
Bardastani said that the government faces a difficult choice, “between either absorbing those new job market entrants and increasing its spending, which will lead to higher budget deficits” or continuing to push through reforms in the expectation that they create enough opportunities for private sector companies to generate jobs.
“I think, for sure, that’s going to take some time,” he said.
The survey also stated that it expects faster non-oil growth in the United Arab Emirates, but again a limited increase in employment opportunities.
Growth in the non-oil economy is set to increase to 2.1 percent this year, up from 1.3 percent in 2018, on the back of expansionary budgets and “pro-growth government initiatives”, such as the 50 billion dirham ($13.6 billion) ‘Ghadan 21’ initiative in Abu Dhabi, but job creation has slowed in key sectors, including services and manufacturing.
Bardastani said firms that have seen input costs rising have been unable to increase selling prices due to competitive pressures.
“So you have this squeeze in profitability margins. Many firms are becoming more efficient in terms of producing the output – they have to do more with less resources. That’s why job creation has been weak.”
A jobs survey also published on Wednesday by recruitment firm Michael Page was more upbeat on the prospects for Saudi jobseekers, stating that 64 percent of respondents were positive about the current job market in the kingdom. It also said 86 percent of respondents said that they expect the jobs market in Saudi Arabia to improve over the next six months.
In a press release announcing the survey results, Michael Page Saudi Arabia’s operating director, Domenic Falzarano, said: “Given the kingdom’s commitment to its Vision 2030, the bulk of the hiring is taking place in the financial services, infrastructure, entertainment, tourism and healthcare sectors.”
(Reporting by Michael Fahy; Editing by Mily Chakrabarty)
EY research says the largest event to be held in the Arab World is predicted to add the equivalent of 1.5% to UAE GDP
Expo 2020 Dubai will boost the UAE economy by AED122.6 billion ($33.4 billion) and support 905,200 job-years between 2013 and 2031, according to an independent report published by global consultancy EY.
During the peak six-month period of the World Expo, the largest event to be held in the Arab World is predicted to add the equivalent of 1.5 percent to UAE gross domestic product.
The scale of investment pouring in to construct and host an event of this ambition, as well as goods and services consumed by the millions expected to visit and the businesses that will occupy the Expo site in the legacy phase, will result in an economic dividend that will benefit businesses large and small across a range of sectors for years to come, according to the report.
From November 2013 – when Dubai won the bid to host the Expo – until its opening in October 2020, the economic impetus will be driven by the construction sector as work continues on building the site and supporting infrastructure such as roads, bridges and the Dubai Metro Route 2020 line, EY noted.
Najeeb Mohammed Al-Ali, executive director of the Dubai Expo 2020 Bureau, said: “This independent report demonstrates that Expo 2020 Dubai is a critical long-term investment in the future of the UAE, which will contribute more than 120 billion dirhams to the economy between 2013 and 2031.
“Not only will the event encourage millions around the world to visit the UAE in 2020, it will also stimulate travel and tourism and support economic diversification for years after the Expo, leaving a sustainable economic legacy that will help to ensure the UAE remains a leading destination for business, leisure and investment.”
The report added that small and medium enterprises, a core component of the UAE economy, will receive AED4.7 billion in investment during the pre-Expo phase, supporting 12,600 job-years.
Job-years is defined as full-time employment for one person for one year and describes the employment impact over the life or phase of a project.
During the peak six months of Expo 2020, visitor spending on tickets, merchandise, food and beverage, hotels, flights and local transport will propel economic activity.
Expo 2020 expects 25 million visits, with 70 per cent of visitors coming from outside the UAE, providing the hospitality industry with an unmissable opportunity to show the world what the UAE has to offer.
The EY report added that the positive thrust will continue in the decade after Expo closes its doors in April 2021, thanks largely to the transformation of the site into District 2020, an integrated urban development that will house the Dubai Exhibition Centre.
Matthew Benson, partner, Transaction Advisory Services, MENA, EY, said: “Expo 2020 is an exciting long-term investment for the UAE, and is expected to have a significant impact on the economy and how jobs are created directly and indirectly.
“As the host, Dubai aims to use the event to further enhance its international profile and reputation. The event will celebrate innovation, promote progress and foster cooperation, and entertain and educate global audiences.
Egypt is working on formulating a strategy for artificial intelligence (AI) which will include the establishment of the country’s first faculty of artificial intelligence and artificial intelligence academy in the coming academic year, in a bid to produce the scientific workforces needed to develop a sustainable knowledge-based economy.
The FAI will start student enrolment in the next academic year, 2019-20, as a centre of excellence for artificial intelligence research, education, teaching and training.
Besides establishing an artificial intelligence academy specialising in innovation and new thinking in artificial intelligence, several AI departments will also be set up at higher education institutions to develop capacity and boost innovations.
AI is the science of developing computer systems capable of carrying out human tasks.
According to a 2017 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report entitled The Potential Impact of AI in the Middle East, it is estimated that 7.7% of Egypt’s gross domestic product could come from the AI sector by 2030.
“We estimate that the Middle East is expected to accrue 2% of the total global benefits of AI in 2030. This is equivalent to US$320 billion,” the report stated.
“In the wake of the fourth industrial revolution, governments and businesses across the Middle East are beginning to realise the shift globally towards AI and advanced technologies.
“They are faced with a choice between being a part of the technological disruption, or being left behind. When we look at the economic impact for the region, being left behind is not an option.”
The biggest opportunity for AI in the Middle East and Africa region is in the financial sector where it is estimated that 25% of all AI investment in the region predicted for 2021, or US$28.3 million, will be spent on developing AI solutions. This is followed by the public services, including education among other sectors, according to the PwC report.
Samir Khalaf Abd-El-Aal, a science expert at the National Research Centre in Cairo, welcomed news of the FAI as a “pioneering initiative” that will have an impact on Egypt as well as North Africa.
“It is a good step forward for raising awareness of the potential of AI for sustainable development as well as contributing in facing regional challenges to fully harness the deployment of AI, including infrastructure, skills, knowledge gaps, research capacities and availability of local data,” Abd-El-Aal told University World News.
“The FAI is an important initiative in training students in AI, which will become one of the tools of future jobs, as well as building AI applications in Arabic, which can easily go to all Arabic-speaking countries including North African states.”
“The FAI could also act as a regional focal point for carrying out mapping for local artificial intelligence start-ups, research centres and civil society organisations as well as serving as an incubator for skills development and promoting AI entrepreneurship oriented towards solving North African problems,” Abd-El-Aal said.
Virtual science hub
The Egypt government also announced the launch of a virtual science hub at the Forum. The hub, affiliated to the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, aims to enable integration, management and planning of Egyptian technological resources, work on the international information network, and includes an integrated database for all Egyptian technological resources.
It also includes all scientific and technical resources as well as material assets and academic research contributions, which will make it possible to measure the degree of technological readiness of all Egyptian academic and research institutions. The general objective of the system is to provide the necessary information to support decision-makers in research projects and to facilitate the follow-up of research activities.
As per the World Bank in its latest announcement, “Growth has picked up across the region and is projected to strengthen over the next few years. And almost all MENA countries have moved to reduce or eliminate energy subsidies, identify new sources of non-oil revenues, and expand social safety nets to shield the poor from adverse effects of change.”
Meanwhile the World Economic Forum informs that the MENA region hosts the world’s elite today and tomorrow by the Dead Sea shore, to try and debate some of the region’s current issues. Jordan has already held the WEF’S gathering in the recent past; refer to MENA-Forum.
ByMirek Dusek, Deputy Head of the Centre for Geopolitical and Regional Affairs, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
For thousands of years, the Dead Sea has attracted visitors from far and wide, drawn by legends of its power to heal and rejuvenate. On 6-7 April, 1,000 key leaders from government, business and civil society will gather on its shores for the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Over two days they will confront the issues facing more than 400 million people.
A region of two opposing systems
The Arab world is a region of two contrasting systems. One system features a dynamic private sector, digitally native youth and open economies. The other has a bloated public sector and closed, controlled economies.
Most people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) interact with both systems, facing a mixed reality. Wealth sits side-by-side with poverty; an exciting entrepreneurial culture struggles with leaden bureaucracy; and an insatiable appetite for the new is balanced with a reverence for tradition.
How these two systems interact – and whether the dynamic, forward-looking system can thrive while respecting the traditions of the Arab world – is among the most important issues the region is facing today.
Five key questions
The following five areas will determine whether the Arab world can successfully move towards the system of innovation and competitiveness.
1. Can the Arab world develop a new, sustainable economic and social framework?
The social contract in much of the Arab world has relied on state-provided employment. This is unsustainable. Nearly half the population is under 25, and a quarter of those are unemployed. Add the biggest gender gap in the world, and it’s clear a new framework is needed.
2. Can a mechanism for conflict resolution be developed?
Ongoing humanitarian disasters in Syria, Yemen and Iraq require immediate attention, as do the longer-term projects of rebuilding fully functioning states. The region has been home to long-standing tensions, and unless these are mitigated, a thriving, competitive region will be hard to realise.
3. Can an ecosystem of entrepreneurship and innovation be developed?
The stories of individual success in the region are too often ones of thriving despite the economic framework. An ecosystem that nurtures innovation and encourages firms to flourish and grow is needed.
4. Are countries prepared for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Changes in the way we work are happening more quickly than most societies are prepared for. There is a short window for establishing the right regulatory environment, and reskilling people to make sure they – and the larger economies – can capture the opportunities of technology.
5. Will addressing corruption and transparency be a priority?
Governance reform is a “must do” issue in the region and disillusionment caused by perceptions of corruption is particularly strong among young Arabs.
Global questions, Arab answers
While other regions have grappled with similar questions, the Arab world needs Arab solutions, that capitalize on the unique strengths of the area while accounting for its important sensibilities. There are good examples of this starting to happen.
The UAE is playing a leading role in integrating the region into the global economy. The new Emirates Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, run by the Dubai Future Foundation in partnership with the World Economic Forum, is working to shape governance and capacity issues in the MENA, and it could shape data protocols across the world as a whole. Europe is enforcing strict data protections and regulations, while the United States is taking a more liberal approach. The Arab solution being developed may not just be a better fit for the region, but for elsewhere as well.
Saudi Arabia already has an influential voice as part of the G20, and it’s a voice that can grow. In 2020, it will host the Riyadh Summit, presenting an opportunity for greater impact on the regional and global agenda. A forward-looking programme that strengthens the MENA economies and the global economy as a whole will be an important step toward long-term success for the area.
Actions not words
There is a dire need for a new collaborative platform that brings governments together with businesses and other stakeholders in private-public cooperation. This is the aim of the World Economic Forum’s summit in Jordan. By convening members of the public and private sectors, and bringing new voices into the arena, such as the 100 Arab Start-ups, we hope to facilitate forward-leaning dialogue that understands and respects the values and culture of the region.
World trade will continue to face strong headwinds in 2019 and 2020 after growing more slowly than expected in 2018 due to rising trade tensions and increased economic uncertainty, said the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
WTO economists expect merchandise trade volume growth to fall to 2.6 per cent in 2019 — down from 3.0 per cent in 2018. Trade growth could then rebound to 3.0 per cent in 2020; however, this is dependent on an easing of trade tensions.
WTO director-general Roberto Azevêdo said: “With trade tensions running high, no one should be surprised by this outlook. Trade cannot play its full role in driving growth when we see such high levels of uncertainty.”
“It is increasingly urgent that we resolve tensions and focus on charting a positive path forward for global trade which responds to the real challenges in today’s economy – such as the technological revolution and the imperative of creating jobs and boosting development.
“WTO members are working to do this and are discussing ways to strengthen and safeguard the trading system. This is vital. If we forget the fundamental importance of the rules-based trading system we would risk weakening it, which would be an historic mistake with repercussions for jobs, growth and stability around the world,” he added.
Trade growth in 2018 was weighed down by several factors, including new tariffs and retaliatory measures affecting widely-traded goods, weaker global economic growth, volatility in financial markets and tighter monetary conditions in developed countries, among others. Consensus estimates have world GDP growth slowing from 2.9 per cent in 2018 to 2.6 per cent in both 2019 and 2020.
The preliminary estimate of 3.0 per cent for world trade growth in 2018 is below the WTO’s most recent forecast of 3.9 per cent issued last September. The shortfall is mostly explained by a worse-than-expected result in the fourth quarter, when world trade as measured by the average of exports and imports declined by 0.3 per cent. Until then, third quarter trade had been up 3.8 per cent, in line with WTO projections.
Trade expansion in the current year is most likely to fall within a range from 1.3 per cent to 4.0 per cent. It should be noted that trade growth could be below this range if trade tensions continue to build, or above it if they start to ease.
Nominal trade values also rose in 2018 due to a combination of volume and price changes. World merchandise exports totalled $19.48 trillion, up 10 per cent from the previous year. The rise was driven partly by higher oil prices, which increased by roughly 20 per cent between 2017 and 2018. – TradeArabia News Service