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Interview

H.E. Mohamed Saafan – Minister of Manpower, Egypt

22.02.2017 / Energyboardroom

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H.E. Mohamed Saafan, Egypt’s Minister of Manpower, highlights the strategic importance of the Ministry in contributing to the development of Egypt’s human capital, a necessary ingredient in the country’s Sustainable Development Strategy 2030, and the specific initiatives the Ministry has undertaken to ensure the continuous development of the Egyptian workforce, which will especially benefit technical sectors like the petroleum industry.

Your Excellency, what are the items currently at the top of your agenda as Egypt’s Minister of Manpower?

“The goal is to provide an environment that encourages Egyptian workers, especially youths, to work in the private sector to achieve job security, and to increase the competitiveness of the Egyptian workforce, which will also have the added benefit of attracting foreign investment to Egypt.”

Since I assumed this role with its attendant responsibilities, I have tried to find profound solutions for the labor problems that have recently led to the occurrence of a number of protests in some enterprises. The current situation requires a short-term strategy to be implemented in order to address the underlying issues.

The main features of this strategy are based on discussing and understanding the needs of the workers, evaluating our ability to implement legitimate reforms and discussing employers’ abilities to provide better work environments and conditions. As a result, a number of initiatives have been undertaken, for instance, contacting workers in different sectors to prevent the escalation of worker unrest; issuing new labor legislation; and building a vocational training system to raise the qualifications of Egyptian workers in both the internal and external labor markets. The goal is to provide an environment that encourages Egyptian workers, especially youths, to work in the private sector to achieve job security, and to increase the competitiveness of the Egyptian workforce, which will also have the added benefit of attracting foreign investment to Egypt.

With H.E. President El-Sisi spearheading a serious package of economic reforms to drive Egypt’s sustainable development, what role can the Ministry of Manpower play to contribute to the national mission?

Manpower is one of the main elements needed to improve living standards and to foster the development of human resources, which countries depend on for their sustainable development. Globally, the labor market based on economic principles governing labor demand and supply is founded on four key pillars: education outcomes, vocational training, governed labor legislation and work culture. It is important for these pillars to complement each other and everything must be implemented in parallel to enable us to provide skilled labor that fit current and future labor market needs.

The Ministry of Manpower was and still is one of the first institutions responsible for acting         quickly and effectively to decrease the unemployment rate and to improve the technical skills and capabilities of the Egyptian labor force, most notably by setting out a work plan compatible with Egypt’s Sustainable Development Strategy 2030.

I can assure you that the employment issue is a global one; Egypt is not the only country that faces this problem, which is why the Ministry seeks to lessen the impact of this phenomenon on the national economy through providing job opportunities in both investment and private sectors.

With unemployment rates currently hovering at 13 percent, what type of initiatives is the Ministry undertaking to create a more competitive work force that can meet future labor demands, particularly in highly technical, skills-intensive industries such as oil and gas?

The problem in Egypt is that current education outcomes do not meet labor market needs. For instance, we have a large number of theoretical college and institute graduates every year, whose specialties do not fit market demands. In addition, many of them refuse to work in jobs unrelated to their specialties, which explains why a large number of them stay in the unemployment queue, even as others seek to develop their capabilities by receiving additional training and upskilling, which allows them to take advantage of the opportunities in the industries that face labor shortages.

To alleviate this problem, the Ministry has set up 52 fixed and mobile training centers to train job seekers and increase their skills to match labor market needs. Specifically in the area of petroleum, we have also signed a number of cooperation protocols with major petroleum companies to provide training for Egyptian job seekers relevant to the jobs available in the sector and to recruit those that receive top degrees.

Something else that exacerbates the problem is the Egyptian cultural mentality that sees government work to be the best sector for any job seeker. Some negative practices in the private sector due to previously weak labor legislation governing relations between workers and employers have further reinforced this mentality.

In addition to making critical amendments on current labor code provisions to provide legislative protection encouraging youth to work in private sector, we are also adjusting the wage system in this sector by implementing mechanisms to guarantee that wages will increase periodically to match inflation. I am also committed to supporting the Ministry’s executive bodies and to increasing our inspection bodies’ effectiveness in enforcing labor code provisions and providing workers with needed protection.

Having actively worked with unions previously, how do you plan on engaging and collaborating with local petroleum unions to solve the industry’s future labor challenges?

The General Union for Petroleum Workers (GUPW) is considered one of the greatest unions in Egypt, which always defends workers’ rights within the petroleum sector. There is continuous communication and coordination with the union leaders in related issues, which allows us to solve workers’ problems before they escalate. This is reflected in the fact that the petroleum sector is one of the sectors that does not experience strikes and protests. Hence, I would like to thank all workers and officials in the petroleum sector for their sense of patriotism, which motivates them to settle all their problems on the basis of friendly cooperation.

In what way does Egypt’s oil and gas industry serve as a key source of job creation and employment opportunities, now and moving forward?

The Ministry believes that the petroleum discoveries discovered by Egypt recently will not only contribute to the addition of more value to the country’s petroleum fortunes and the continuous effort to attract foreign investment, but position Egypt as the regional trade and energy center. This needs to be understood in light of the comprehensive set of sustainable development goals set out by H.E. President of Egypt Abdel Fatah El-Sisi, which will also have the added advantage of positively affecting workers in the sector and transforming the petroleum sector into one of the biggest labor markets in Egypt in the future.

Do you have a final message for our international readers?

I want to give my assurances that Egypt have great investment opportunities and I invite everyone to come and benefit from them. As your very presence indicates, people coming to Egypt can rest assured that full stability and safety exists in Egypt in all cities from Alexandria to Aswan. This prompts us to invite all world citizens to come and visit Egypt, enjoy its moderate climate and visit its monuments.

The full height of Egyptian talent can be seen in the proliferation of Egyptians working abroad, in every sector and in every country, which highlights their ability to work well anywhere. I would like to emphasize my commitment to training and raising the skills of Egyptians even further so that even more labor markets are open to them and they can further improve their standards of living.

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