Middle East

The Quality of Employment in the MENA Region

by Kirsten Sehnbruch

New market work site in Tunisia, 2016. Source: Marcel Crozet, Flickr.

Ten years after the protests of the Arab Spring, the aftereffects of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent economic crisis are likely to exacerbate problems of social cohesion in the MENA region, especially if employment opportunities are more limited as a result of these compounding crises. However, wellbeing and economic sustainability depend not only on the quantity but also the quality of available jobs. In the MENA region, countries with very diverse levels of development will require different sets of policies. However, they all share a common problem, they often lack suitable data sources and indicators for dealing with the combined objective of achieving “full employment with decent jobs”.

Using comparable and harmonised labour market surveys from Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan, our new project ‘Researching the Quality of Employment in the Middle East’ will develop a multidimensional index of quality of employment deprivation and will illustrate how policymakers can target resources and policies to the most vulnerable workers.

In the UAE, this study will identify potential informational gaps. It aims to move the issue of job quality from the domain of personnel management research into the policy-making arena and will use studies from Europe and the MENA region to illustrate how this can be done.

Presenting such studies in the UAE and MENA region will increase awareness about the subject of job quality and help the region as a whole to prepare for future labour market developments and corresponding skill requirements.

Key to this process is raising awareness about the fact that without appropriate data, conceptualisation and measurement, countries may experience deteriorating changes in job quality without policy focus being directed at this issue. Initial research undertaken on Egypt confirms this point: despite high rates of economic growth, the proportion of workers suffering from multiple simultaneous deprivations in the labour market – such as low income and precarious contractual conditions – increased dramatically after 2006. This shift be attributed in part to the labour reform that liberalised contractual relationships as well as to a retrenchment of the public sector, where employment conditions were less precarious.

This project will address these issues by focusing on three key objectives:

Given the lack of publicly available survey data in the UAE, we will undertake an exploratory study of existing aggregated data and information on relevant quality of employment indicators and identify potential gaps in this information.

  1. We will build on our existing collaboration with the AUC to extend our recent study on the quality of employment in Egypt (using data from the Egyptian Labour Market Panel Survey (ELMPS) to two other countries in the MENA region for which comparable panel survey data is available (Tunisia and Jordan). This will allow us to produce an example of a Quality of Employment Index for the region that allows for the comparative monitoring and identification of the most vulnerable groups of workers in the labour market.
  2. This empirical research will be complemented by a series of stakeholder meetings and expert interviews to increase our understanding of labour market developments in these countries, their policy environment and responses. Again, this research will build on progress and relationships already established by our previous collaboration, as well as on the extensive experience and network of contacts in the region available to us through our partner institutions.

Overall, this project will present a policy making tool in the form of a Quality of Employment Index that can be used by policy makers in the Middle East in addition to prevailing unemployment and participation rates to assess how labour markets in the region are functioning.

This blog post is part of the research project Researching the Quality of Employment in the Middle East, conducted in collaboration with the American University in Cairo and the University of Sharjah. It is part of the LSE Middle East Centre Academic Collaboration with Arab Universities Programme. Kirsten Sehnbruch is the principle investigator on this project with Azhar Hussain and Samer Atallah.

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