Watani talks to Egypt’s Minister of Manpower Gamal Sorour
Among the many major problems that challenge Egypt, two admittedly contradict each other: unemployment and staff shortage. To try and get to the bottom of this issue Watani talked to Minister of Manpower Gamal Sorour.
What is the current percentage of unemployment in Egypt?
According to the official statistics published by authorities such as the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) the percentage stands at 12.7 this year. This means that of the 27.6 million young people who have reached working age, three and a half million are unemployed. This percentage is distributed over various categories including university and technical schools graduates.
How many job vacancies are provided for young people by the Ministry of Manpower?
The ministry advertises jobs for no less than 20,000 vacancies. Such vacancies are published on the ministry’s website; and can also be found at all the ministry’s offices nationwide. Last November and December the ministry provided 25,000 vacancies, and in October there were 10,827.
The vacancies are published on the website with all related details such as the name of the company, its address and phone numbers, the salary and type of job. If a young man or woman approaches the ministry on that score, we send him or her to the employer with a covering letter, but others go directly to the employers after reading about the job online. The ministry doesn’t advertise government jobs as this is already done by the Central Agency for Organisation and Administration (CAOA). But the Ministry of Manpower offers jobs provided by the private sector; it teams up with that sector to fill vacancies.
Does the ministry place specific conditions for the companies that advertise on its website?
Yes there are conditions: a fair salary of not less than EGP1200; a means of transport if the place is too far from urban centres, provision of health care for staff, and ensuring them all their financial rights.
Businessmen are complaining about staff shortages. What does the ministry have to say about that?
Actually, it is a valid complaint as there is a poor turnout for the jobs advertised on our website. The Investors Association announced about 20,000 vacancies on the ministry’s website, but the response was very weak. Most young persons appear to be looking for jobs in the government sector.
Why are they unwilling to work in the private sector?
Among the reasons is that young people see private sector jobs as insecure; they believe an employer can terminate their contracts at any time. They also think the salaries in the private sector are too low in return for the effort required, and that they have to spend much time and money on transport since most of the big private companies or factories are located in remote areas. On the other hand, there are benefits in the government sector including good salaries, less working hours, easy routine work, social insurance, lifetime contracts, incentives and allowances.
But I would like to tell young people that private sector jobs are much better than government jobs because work in the government sector is routine, but work in the private area is challenging. A person can be guaranteed a better position if he or she makes an effort, and can reach a higher position while still young. There are many employees in the government sector who have spent their lives working there and remained mere employees, whereas there are young people working in the private sector who have become successful businessmen in their own right.
Does the ministry offer training for young people?
The ministry has 33 training centres all over the country and 11 mobile centres. Mobile centres are vehicles equipped with the tools and equipment needed for training. The vehicles go to remote villages to teach whoever is interested in a manual or industrial profession.
The ministry divides training into three parts. The first is for adolescents from 15 to 18 years and lasts for seven months. The second is a four-month course for holders of a diploma aged from 18 to 45. The third part is for university graduates and is for two months. Training is provided free of charge and a sum of EGP20 is given to the trainee as a transport allowance. We train about 10,000 labourers a year, and after training we offer them available jobs. Some of them accept and start work but some others prefer to go and work abroad. Most labourers opt for courses on car maintenance, carpentry, plumbing and maintenance of home machinery.
Does the ministry provide jobs abroad?
The ministry has 13 offices in the Arab World and Europe. The Arab countries include Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Sudan, as well as two offices in Libya which are currently closed for security reasons. These offices provide help for the Egyptian labour force living there, and they protect them, provide jobs for them and intervene in case of a problem between them or between them and the employer.
Some 400 labourers travel abroad annually through efforts of the ministry, while there are already eight million others working abroad. The ministry provides a service that offers free travel abroad for the workers.
What about Egyptian labourers who have returned from Arab countries where there was unrest such as Libya and Iraq?
A case in point was the return of some 290,000 Egyptian labourers from Libya. Most of them came home because of security problems or unrest. We welcomed them and offered them the available jobs. Our offices are present in all governorates so anyone anywhere can reach them and learn about job vacancies. However, some of the labourers returning from Libya had their small businesses so they didn’t take any assistance from the ministry.
Why do young men prefer to escape and work in insecure countries where they could be in danger?
Young men have ambitions and dreams; they believe that travelling abroad is the best way to achieve their dreams. But actually such a belief is wrong since there are lots of vacant jobs in Egypt that need filling, so we are putting pressure on businessmen to increase salaries to suit the needs of the young.
The ministry isn’t against the idea of travelling; it helps young men who want to travel and offers them the service free of charge. Moreover, we are working on creating online networks with Arab and Western countries to facilitate travelling procedures. We are also studying exporting labour to the European market where many labourers are needed, so we need to have skilled labourers trained to the highest standards.
Is there any sort of coordination between the ministries of manpower, education and higher education to define the needs of the Egyptian market?
On a quarterly basis, the Ministry of Manpower prepares a file to include all data and statistics related to professions and fields needed in the Egyptian Market. This file is sent to the Minister of Education and the Minister of Higher Education. The file is a guide for long term strategies. Solving the problem isn’t easy. The whole of society must cooperate to change the culture related to labour. If the percentage of technical education is increased, then the problem will be almost solved.
What is the role of the ministry in changing the prevalent Egyptian societal culture that regards labour and labourers as second class?
From my side as a minister, I always speak to the media about the importance and honour of work. To change the culture we need the media and the entire society to chime in.
What are the most important features of the new labour law currently being prepared by the ministry?
We have finished the draft of the new labour law and it is being reviewed by the work organisations and syndicates. It will be put before parliament soon.
The most important features of the law are the establishment of a mediation centre to resolve labour disputes and of labour courts to adjudicate labour issues more quickly.
What is the response of the ministry to businessmen who bring in labourers from abroad?
The law limits the percentage of foreign labourers so as not to exceed 10 per cent of the total number of staff. If there is still a shortage of staff we request that the business owner adjust the work conditions by increasing the salary or providing buses to remote areas.
What about the file of the factories in financial hardship?
The ministry gives financial support to workers in factories or businesses in financial hardship. The support stops after one year, and support is then taken from the emergency box. Last January the ministry paid some EGP18 million to 62 factories in financial difficulties. Most of these were involved in tourism.
What are the most important files currently on your desk?
The most important files currently on my desk are the new labour law, the syndicates project and the online networking between the governorates and externally with the Arab and Western worlds. We have already started networking with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and we are seeking to do the same with Libya once the security situation stabilises.
What message would the Minister of Manpower like to send out to young people?
I would like to send my greetings to all young Egyptians and urge them to work and to love what they do so as to achieve their goals. I would also like to advise them to consider working in the private sector as it would give them the chance to prove themselves and provide them a good work climate to create and invent. Dear young man, I talk to you as a father not as the Minister of Manpower; work hard and God will support you so you can attain your highest aspiration.
10 February 2016