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“Fair” monthly salaries and stability attract many Iraqi graduates to government jobs, but the public sector is “exhausting” state finances in a country in political crisis and the private sector does not meet the aspirations of the youth.
For years, the city of Nasiriyah, the center of Dhi Qar governorate, has witnessed demonstrations almost every day of graduates looking for employment in the public sector, which Maitham Muhammad Reda, 32, sees as a legitimate right.
There, in southern Iraq, which suffers from neglect, only "wasta" guarantees a job for its seekers. But Maitham has no wasta, so he goes directly to the governor to demand an appointment.
The case of the young man summarizes the general economic scene in Iraq, a country of 42 million people, and where the state is the primary employer.
Oil-rich Iraq, which accounts for 90% of its revenues, relies to a large extent on the public service. Young people see it as a haven amid the political and economic turmoil the country is going through, knowing that four out of every ten economically active youth are unemployed.
For Muhammad Al-Obeidi, who has been employed in one of the ministries for 19 years, working in the public sector is positive because “the salaries are fair,” as he sees it, as well as “benefits and guarantees for the future” after retirement at the age of “55 or 60 years,” which allows a person to continue working. In the private sector.
Despite the youth's desire for it, the public office has a price that worries Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. During a press conference last summer, Al-Kazemi said that "past governments did not provide job opportunities for citizens, and there was chaos in appointments in Iraq."
He believed that "this large increase in the number of Iraqi state employees in an absurd populist manner exhausted the Iraqi economy."
And since 2004, a year after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime until 2019, "the increase in Iraqi state employees has reached 400%," according to Al-Kazemi, noting that the public sector "constitutes two-thirds of the Iraqi budget."
This makes the fragile economic fabric in a country "where the public sector employs 3.3 million people, or about 37.9% of the economically active population, one of the highest rates in the world," explains Maha Katta, Iraq coordinator at the International Labor Organization.
"This is a lot of pressure on the government," she says.
Al-Kazemi acknowledges this, but his ability to reform is without difficulties, as his survival at the head of the government depends on negotiations between the two Shiite camps that dominate the political scene in Iraq. A year after the October 2021 elections, the two sides are still unable to agree on the new government.
In the public sector as well as in the private sector, employment is usually done by agreement and coordination between members of the same clan or one political party.
The quota system and wasta contributed to “consolidate the continuation of corrupt practices that destroy the moral and material foundations of the country,” as former Finance Minister Ali Allawi wrote in his resignation letter to the Council of Ministers.
Allawi talked about corruption, which "can be described as a cancer that can kill the body," considering that the state "has not been liberated as a whole from the control of political parties and foreign interest groups."
- "freedom" -
This may be a good opportunity for the private sector to start attracting young people, but Maha Katta of the ILO believes that companies should first "improve working conditions".
"Medical insurance must be paid, and their salaries must be at the same level as those of the public sector. This is more complicated, because in the private sector, what matters is profit."
However, some small private projects have been launched. Its owners hope to make profits in an economy in the process of rebuilding, after decades of wars and conflicts, and the International Monetary Fund expects it to grow by 10% this year.
Maytham Saad, a 41-year-old Iraqi, established a company "Barhieh" three years ago to market dates in southern Iraq.
The man who runs a company of 30 employees admits that he has had difficulties finding employees, especially young people. "But once they are employed in the private sector, as long as their manager is good, they feel stable because they can negotiate their salaries," he says.
"They also have freedom, they have vacations, and they are actually part of a group," Saad adds.
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