Merkel: Arab Democracy Requires Jobs for the Young

June 14, 2011 - 8:43 AM

Switzerland UN Labor Meeting

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, delivers her statement during the 100th International Labor Organization (ILO) conference as ILO Director-General Juan Somavia of Chile looks on, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, June 14, 2011. (AP Photo/Keystone, Salvatore Di Nolfi) GERMANY OUT, AUSTRIA OUT

GENEVA (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday that freedom and democracy can only prosper in the Arab world if young people receive jobs that provide them with a dignified livelihood.

European governments have expressed concern in recent months at the possibility of thousands of job-seeking young men from Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab states flooding across the Mediterranean.

"We want that in those countries, too, freedom and democracy can develop well. This will be inseparably linked to providing sensible perspectives for the many young people who are prepared to work," Merkel told a U.N. labor meeting in Geneva.

Germany plans to support job creation in North Africa by providing opportunities for young people to gain training and qualifications "so they can work in their own countries," she added.

Her speech echoed a warning by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who earlier Tuesday warned that labor migration from the Mideast was among the top challenges workers face so far in the 21st century, together with the pressure from climate change.

Merkel, whose country has come through the financial crisis economically healthy, told the International Labor Organization's 100th meeting that Germany had benefited from a government-backed plan for companies to reduce working hours.

The government pumped billions of euros (dollars) into a so-called "Kurzarbeit" — or "short work" — program that allowed companies to hang onto experienced workers during the downturn, and then lengthen their shifts again when the economy recovered.

Germany's unemployment rate stood at 7 percent in May, far below that of most European countries, despite high labor costs.

"We realized that we couldn't let the ties between workers and employers be cut during a difficult period," Merkel said.

At the same time, people deserve to work in dignified conditions, she said, recalling the "barbaric" practice of forced labor instituted by Nazi occupiers during World War II.

Merkel said she hoped the labor meeting would approve a new pact to protect domestic workers — such as cooks, nannies and cleaners — around the world. The Domestic Workers Convention is scheduled for approval Thursday but has faced opposition from some African and Asian countries wary of granting labor rights to tens of millions of informal workers.