KUWAIT, April 21 — A series of structural reforms to the economy and the labor market are urgently needed to heed high unemployment rates in Kuwait and regional countries, said the Director-General of the International Labour Organization Guy Ryder.

“The absolute priority (for the government should be) in getting jobs moving that does mean I think looking at the private sector, it does mean looking at skills and training,” Ryder said in an interview with KUNA and Kuwait TV on the sidelines of his participation in the 42nd Arab Labour Conference.

“It does mean some structural changes in the nature of your economy. I think it is a mistake to rely solely on the petroleum industry on the long term future.”

He elaborated that the Kuwaiti and other governments of the region have to rely more on the private sector for job creation and to encourage young people to have their own businesses.

“You can’t expect the public sector or the state to take the whole responsibility for creating jobs in the future, more and more the understanding is that the private sector has to take over as the motor of the job creation,” he said.

Ryder underlined the need for promoting small and medium enterprises, creating an enable environment for private enterprises and making entrepreneurship.

“I think this makes the structural shift that applies to the world in general and to the GCC countries with particular force.”

The ILO chief stated that growing unemployment is an “overwhelming challenge” that faces the whole world not the region only.

“In the world in general unemployment is very high, more than two hundred million people without jobs,” Ryder said.

He, however, stated that the situation in Arab and Gulf regions is much worse.

“Unfortunately, and I have to say in the Arab region as a whole that the situation is even more acute. Levels of unemployment in Arab countries are now three times higher than in the world in general. So you have a very acute unemployment problem and that is felt particularly in the GCC countries.”

The UN official added that the GCC countries have a real problem in finding jobs for young people and integrating them in labor market.

He pointed out that the Gulf countries have also a divided labor market; where, part of which, expats often form the majority and the other, mainly the public sector, in which national workers often very much concentrated.

“I think these structural issues which many GCC countries again have to deal with in the future,” he said.

Speaking of the ILO’s role, Ryder noted said it is working with all governments in the Arab region to develop policies which help employment, build capacities and improve educational and training systems to produce young people with skills the labor market requires.

He also revealed that the ILO is also helping in increasing efficiency of labor ministries in the region to deal with the growingly complicated labor problems.

“I think that there is particular responsibility to build up the capacity of labor ministries. I think in many countries, labor ministries are not really up to the task: they do not have all of the expertise which is needed to deal with labor market problems which are increasingly complicated and sophisticated,” he viewed.

“So we are trying to work here in Kuwait with the labor ministry and in other countries as well so they can begin to deal with these problems in a much more effective way.”

In this regard, Ryder pointed out that he met separately Sunday with Kuwait’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah and Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Hind Al-Sabeeh to discuss boosting cooperation.

“In this time of turbulence not only in the Arab world but also in the world in general, people are worried about the world of work: the effects on jobs and the effects on economic growth. I think this makes our cooperation together more important,” he concluded.

The 42nd Arab Labor Conference, organized by the Arab Labor Organization in Kuwait during the period April 19-25, brought together up to 19 ministers, 50 chambers of commerce, six economic councils and 67 Arab and regional and international labor delegates to tackle the labor market problems in the Arab world.