IRAQ: Unemployment caused by insecurity and vice-versa

BAGHDAD, 29 November 2004 (IRIN) - It's catch-22 in Iraq - a huge increase in danger means less employment; more unemployment could mean more potential recruits for insurgents as people become increasingly tired of the situation.

It's one of the country's most serious problems, government sources say. Officially, unemployment stands at more than 60 percent, according to unverified statistics from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MLSA).

Iraqi officials and US-led forces alike feel if more people were working, the country would become more stable, living standards would rise and all Iraqis would have more opportunities.

"It is difficult to get new statistics on unemployment after the war because of the security situation," Mohamed al-Aubaydi, an official at the MLSA’s employment centre, told IRIN.

Unemployment has increased for a number of reasons since the US-led war in Iraq last spring, al-Aubaydi said. Some Iraqis who have returned home from other countries don't have jobs yet, for example. And life is so dangerous in Iraq that many businesses and public offices don't work regular schedules and haven't taken on any new workers in months.

When US-led forces came into Iraq, people were optimistic there would be change, including more employment. New politicians have promised to raise living standards and give equal opportunities to all Iraqis.

The only jobs at the moment are in government ministries, in the country's state-run oil industry, the new Iraqi army or are security-related.

In addition, those who used to do good jobs were connected to the former regime. They were left without work when the former regime was ousted last spring. Others took over the jobs, but not in the same numbers - Saddam Hussein's government was notoriously bloated, corrupt, inefficient and over-manned.

"We were released from our jobs after the fall of Baghdad and I've been out of work until now. I have a big family and I have to feed them, therefore I will have to start using my savings," Omer Saad, a former media ministry worker, told IRIN in Baghdad.

A lecturer at al-Nahrrain University who lost her job in 2001 because she was not part of the regime, complained she has not been given a new job since US-led forces came in.

"I lost my job at a university because I was not part of the Baath party, and I'm still out of work," Ban Salem told IRIN.

Newly graduated students now complain that the job market is virtually non-existent.

And poor security in Iraq is having a direct impact on employment opportunities. Most foreign companies have packed up and left the country, following a rash of more than 170 kidnappings of foreign staff in recent months.

A Kuwaiti electrical company closed its offices after being threatened by kidnappers, Hassin Ahmed, an employee at the company, told IRIN. The company had employed 2,000 workers in Baghdad and Basra, all of whom lost their jobs.

To ease the situation, the MLSA is establishing job centres. They are intended to send skilled and qualified staff to ministries that need them.

In addition, the centres promise vacancies for former members of the Iraqi army, disabled people and women. The centres are now starting to get information about private institution vacancies as well.

More than 150,000 job opportunities have gone through the centres, al-Aubaydi said. More than 549,000 people registered themselves as looking for work between September 2003 and October 2004, he said. Of that number, the ministry was able to find jobs for more than 186,000 people.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) plans to spend more than US $1 billion to train workers for jobs, according to media reports. They expect close to 46,000 more people will be employed once training is finished.

But with Iraq's population standing at more than 22 million, those numbers may still just be a drop in the ocean. Desperate workers often protest on the streets across the country calling for more jobs.

Some Iraqi aid agencies are also trying to help by offering training and new skills. The Iraqi Centre for Women's Rehabilitation and Employment helps women learn to make crafts, for example.

"We are encouraging them to start making small items such as accessories, so they can sell them," Jenan Mubark, manager of the aid agency, told IRIN.

Local aid agencies are trying to find more way to cooperate with the labour ministry to create more jobs, Mubark said. "Fifty of our trainees visited the job centre and were able to find work," Mubark said. "We hope to raise this number to 100."

Theme (s): Conflict, Economy, Governance,


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