afrol News, 29 September - In spite of solid economic growth, unemployment in Tunisia remains persistent at 14.7 percent and a constant threat to the social peace. Critical labour market reforms are trying to address the chronic problem.
With GDP growth levels near 5 percent over the last eight years, Tunisia still has a relatively high unemployment rate at 14.7 percent. This is more than double the 6.4 percent for all middle income countries in 2008.
Especially the Tunisian youth is affected by long-term unemployment, something authorities see as a constant threat to stability. Hordes of unemployed youths had caused social unrest in neighbouring Arab countries, including recruitment to radical Islamist groups. In Tunisia, a highly secular state without any political opposition, such a development is unwanted at all costs.
With assistance from the World Bank, Tunisian authorities have analysed the country's persistently high unemployment to see whether labour market reforms could address the problem.
The analysis found a surprisingly high unemployment rate among the better-educated Tunisians. The overall unemployment rate of higher education graduates, which was below 5 percent in 1994, had increased significantly to 23 percent in 2009. Recent graduates even face 46 percent unemployment 18 months after graduation.
Further analyses of the legal and institutional framework of the labour market "pointed to scope for improvement particularly in the regulation of work contracts, employment services for national and international placements, and open dissemination of labour market information," according to the World Bank.
Financed through a US$ 50-million development policy loan from the Bank, authorities implemented wide-reaching reforms, including the improved monitoring of unemployed and their qualifications and vocational training. The European Commission is now to take over funding of the project.
So far, the recently implemented reform project has few successes to show to. However, "among the results achieved to date, over 2,300 unemployed university graduates were matched to jobs and this figure is expected to 5,000 by 2011," according to the World Bank.
Greater results are expected after the 2012 reform of Tunisia's labour legislation, which is set to liberalise the labour market and ease access to employment.
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