ILO to tackle unemployment

Kabul, December 6, 2004 - New centers will be established in Afghanistan to tackle unemployment and provide training opportunities for unqualified job seekers, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) announced on Sunday.

The issue of unemployment is very serious in Afghanistan as many people lack skills due to more than 20 years of conflict. For example, widespread illiteracy, at over 70 percent of the population, is a major cause of high unemployment.

The demand for work is clear to see at the crowded roundabout at Kot-e-Sangi on the outskirts of Kabul - an informal labor market in the area. Hundreds of daily laborers gather around people who occasionally come to pick up workers they need.

While the problem is increasing with the return of hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees from neighboring Pakistan and Iran, the ILO and the Afghan Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MLSA) are expecting to tackle unemployment through the newly initiated Employment Services Centers (ESC) that will be established in nine Afghan cities.

"The project is significant to post-conflict Afghanistan, as unemployment is high. In contributing to the reduction of unemployment, we will be able to contribute to the reduction of poverty, which in turn may be a contribution to the stabilization of Afghanistan," Gregor Schulz, ILO chief technical adviser for the ESC project, told IRIN in Kabul.

Schulz said unemployment in Afghanistan was estimated to be around 30 percent, with another 30 percent working part-time or in jobs they are overqualified for. The main challenge is to build up a proper education and vocational training system that provides the skills demanded on the labor market, he added.

The first ESC centre was established in the capital earlier this year. Nearly 1,000 job seekers and 300-350 vacancies have been referred to the centre in the first three months of establishment. "Out of these we have confirmed about 10 to 15 percent placement which is not so bad in the beginning," the UN agency's chief adviser noted.

The other eight centers will be established in the next 12 months in major cities of the country. ESCs are also expected to create a database on training providers for those out of work.

"So it [ESC] is a mixture of job placement services, referral services to vocational training and a labor market information database that is to be established," Schulz explained.

However, a senior civil servant at MLSA, who declined to be named, told IRIN that the unemployment rate would further rise as the new government was planning to merge several ministries, which would cause thousands of job losses. "This will affect Kabul and the provinces and the government should tackle this in advance," he maintained.

But the ILO is optimistic that the situation for creating and finding jobs in Afghanistan is favorable as the reconstruction process is in full swing and there are jobs available in construction, transport, finance and trade.