On May 31st, in Tunis, Special Representative for International Labor Affairs Barbara Shailor chaired an informal sector roundtable at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s International Tax Dialogue (ITD) Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Regional Conference. The session brought together three experts on efforts to bring workers into the formal sector of respective national economies, and each presented a unique angle to the issues.
Hernando de Soto, the President of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, a renowned figure in development circles, advocated legal systems to help the poor access property rights, which in turn allows access to credit – a critical component to economic growth. The ITD’s Alan Carter outlined the main tax issues related to informality and promoted policies to encourage workers to seek formal employment. The International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Frederick Lapeyre, highlighted the importance of introducing “Decent Work” (improved working conditions) in the informal sector. Statistics indicate that informal sector work (which is estimated at 40 to 50% in North Africa) continues to grow.
Following a lively and dynamic discussion with participants, Shailor emphasized the role that labor organizations may play in integrating the informal sector and giving them a voice which allows for greater social inclusion to this vulnerable group of workers.
In addition to the MENA conference, Shailor held several meetings May 30 and 31 in Tunis to explore the state of social dialogue among government, business, and labor. Shailor met with representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs, the leading business association, the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), and the General Union of Tunisian Labor (UGTT). All parties indicated their support for the tripartite talks, which are meant to promote stable industrial relations – a necessary condition for attracting foreign investment. Shailor also chaired two roundtables, one with the American Tunisian Chamber of Commerce (TACC), and one with labor representatives from the MENA region.