European Training FoundationEmployers, trade unionists and public authorities in charge of vocational education and training (VET) from eight southern and eastern Mediterranean met in Istanbul, Turkey on 15 and 16 October. 
The participants took stock of almost two years of activities in an ETF regional project on social partnership in VET.
‘The Arab spring has changed the landscape of social partnership considerably,’ said Petri Lempinen, expert in social partnership at the ETF. ‘Egypt has seen the rise of new independent trade unions with more than 200 affiliated unions and 2 million members.  Mushrooming of new trade unions and employers’ organizations is visible also in other countries.’
Cooperation between labour, employers and government is not easy

In 2012 the ETF mapped the roles of social partners in VET in Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. Three countries have different traditions and structures of social dialogue. But there is one common element: a real cooperation between labour market and government is not always easy. Many Arab countries have a tradition of centralized decision making which is an obstacle to active and effective participation of employers and especially trade unions.
‘Social partners from the region recognize that they need to develop awareness and capacity to assume the role in the development of VET,’ said Mr Lempinen.  ‘Our project supported this for example by producing a guidance note for use by national and sector organizations when working with their own members.’
The participants of the conference asked the ETF to tailor its support to different target groups as countries have different education and legal structures. They also stressed the need to increase countries’ ownership of the project
‘The new project could be linked to existing structures such as Jordan’s TVET council, ‘proposed Nadera Karim Al Bakheet, director of the E-TVET Council Secretariat at the Ministry of Labour of Jordan.
Host country’s experience most relevant to project members

Among ETF partner countries Turkey has one of the most advanced systems of social partnership, which covers employment and training issues. The country has adequate structures for cooperation and social dialogue e.g., the Economic and Social Council was established in 1995. There are regional councils for employment and training issues. They all have a strong base in legislation.
Enis Bagdadioglu of TURK-IS, a trade union confederation, and Akansel Koç of Leather Industry Employers Association in Turkey, said social partners take concrete actions and they have responsibilities in governance and financing of training. Turkish employers and trade unions have worked together to train their representatives in various social dialogue bodies. For example in metal industry some 120.000 workers have been retrained. Several participants of the meeting in Istanbul pointed out that Turkey provides relevant example to learn from as it is in many ways closer to the Arab countries realities than EU member states.
‘The conference in Istanbul is another example of the ETF encouraging this “South-South” cooperation, said Mr Lempinen. ‘Earlier we organized a study visit for employers and trade unions from Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon to Morocco.
In 2013, more emphasis on the local level

Learning and sharing good practices of social partnership between the Mediterranean countries will continue in 2013 with the new regional project on governance for employability. The new activities will support social partners’ involvement in the governance of VET not only on the national level but also locally because a lot of practical cooperation takes place there.