The global labor market has deteriorated since the advent of the 2008 economic crisis.  In the Maghreb countries, however, the problems with the labor market are structural rather than just the result of a financial crisis. 

In a two-day seminar hosted by the Carnegie Middle East Center in Rabat, Morocco, a distinguished panel of experts examined the status of labor markets in the Maghreb. Jamal Rhmani, the Moroccan Minister of Employment and Vocational Training, Carnegie’s Lahcen Achy and participants from Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco highlighted the urgent need to tackle the challenges related to employment and to improve not only the quantity of job opportunities, but, more importantly, the quality of those opportunities.

Trends of Employment and Unemployment 

Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco all show a decrease in unemployment rates over the last ten years. This decline is mainly driven by changing demographic trends, such as slower population growth, explained Achy. Unemployment rates among women and youth, however, remain high.

  • Tunisia: In Tunisia, unemployment rates have not significantly decreased over the past years. Discrimination against women and young graduates continues to play a role in hiring, Monji Ben Chaaben, professor at the University of Tunis, stated. Most jobs are created by the service sector.

  • Algeria: The Algerian labor market has seen a decrease in demand for jobs based on demographic trends, coupled with an increase of pressure on the labor market from growing female participation in the workforce. Algeria has had substantial success in reducing unemployment, concluded Rafik-Bouklia Hassane, Professor at the University of Oran; Algeria’s unemployment was cut by more than half between 1987 and 2008.

  • Morocco: In Morocco, graduates from institutions of higher education suffer from particularly high unemployment rates. Mohammad Ben Said and Kenza Oubejja, professors at the University of Mohamed V, explained that this is the result of an education system that does not reflect labor market needs and a labor market that does not require an educated labor force.

The drop in unemployment rates across the Maghreb hides serious employment problems that persist in the region, concluded Achy. 

Job Quality 

Panelists from all three countries agreed that the majority of jobs created in the Maghreb are precarious and of low added value, which do not require high productivity or induce growth. In addition, panelists attributed a large share of the jobs created to the informal sector. They argued that:

  • The quality of jobs created should be taken into consideration when considering unemployment rates in the three countries. Touhami Abdelkhalek, Professor at the Morocco’s National Institute of Statistics and Applied Economics suggested an approach to address the issue.

  • The share of people who are not registered for social security had reached over 50 percent in 2008 in Algeria, giving an indication of the size of the informal sector in that country, confirmed Nacer Eddine Hammouda, research director at the Algeria’s CREAD.

  • The solutions implemented by the Tunisian government to promote the creation of high quality permanent jobs seem inadequate, said Fathi Elachhab from Sfax University. 

Labor Market Policies 

The three countries have implemented a number of policies aiming at creating jobs and reducing unemployment. Mourad Ben Tahar presented Morocco’s experience and Miloudi Gobentini the Tunisia’s experience. The audience questioned the efficiency of these policies, arguing that it is necessary to consider:

  • The difficulties of measuring policy impact at the entry level. 

  • The fact that there are people who can find jobs without the help of policies or institutions implemented by their governments, but who would still benefit from those policies. This reflects the inability of government policies to target the right population.

  • The low coverage rate of these policies, which find more than 80 percent of those currently unemployed ineligible for aid, which is mainly targeted toward graduates of higher education institutions. 

Ultimately, Achy concluded, there is a need to better understand how much of the investment allocated to labor market policies is being used to improve the quality of employment and to integrate excluded populations. This would help formulate better future allocations and investments.

Flexibility of the Labor Markets

The atmosphere between employers and labor unions is tense in the Maghreb. Employers are calling for greater flexibility in hiring, since labor codes are very strict, while labor unions argue that employees are not sufficiently protected. 

There is a need to introduce greater flexibility without compromising, yet again, the quality of employment, panelists concluded. Employers and labor unions need to reach a consensus that would not jeopardize the rights and duties of employers or their employees.

Achy highlighted the need to rethink labor market policies. The current growth systems are not creating enough jobs and the jobs they do create are precarious and informal. In addition, he concluded, investment in education should address the main needs of the labor market in order to avoid a waste of resources.