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ILO stakes fresh initiatives to tackle global labour issues

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ILO Director-General Guy Ryder

The dynamism that operates in the workplace that often necessitates renegotiation amongst the contending forces was at the centre of the recently concluded International Labour Conference.

The annual confab of the tripartite groups – governments, employers and unions – has grown to be a platform where new guidelines, conventions, standards and practices that are aimed at promoting a fair work environment and a just society where no one is denied basic right is espoused.

Indeed, the General Secretary of the International Labour Organisation, the organiser of the conference, Guy Ryder, in his statement at the opening ceremony of the 107th session of the ILC had warned of ‘heightened tension in the world’.

He urged delegates to show “the spirit of tripartism, compromise, and consensus,” which, he said, is a precondition of success for the Conference and of the ILO in general.

Ryder also spoke of the growing challenge to international cooperation through multilateralism. Referring to ‘a new brutalism’ in the world, he expressed his firm belief, “that our Organization and our Conference must be a bulwark against such contagion, by its own conduct and by the results it achieves.”

He submitted that in this environment, the Conference discussion on social dialogue is timely and an opportunity to sharpen it as an instrument for dealing with the transformations taking place in the world of work.

On workplace violence and harassment, the Director-General called on delegates to open, “the way for guarantees of workplaces entirely free of violence and harassment.”

Underscoring the need for action against all forms of violence and harassment at work, including sexual harassment – which has been brought into sharp focus by the ‘Me Too’ campaign – he encouraged delegates to produce results which will really make the difference: “Our answer to the ever more vocal call for action must be ‘Us Too’”, he said.

During the Conference, a committee of workers, employers and government representatives held a first discussion on possible new standards to fight violence and harassment at work.

Looking ahead, Ryder announced a major report to be published by the Global Commission on the Future of Work early next year, adding that, “the future of work also means the future of the ILO.”

Ryder also introduced his report on ‘The Women at Work Initiative: The push for Equality’, which calls for innovative action to close the persistent gender gap.

His annual report on ‘The situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories’, had little positive to report on the labour situation but he pointed out the potential of ILO action bringing some improvement to the realities faced by working people there.

The ILC also discussed ILO development cooperation in the context of UN Reform. The Conference Committee on the Application of Standards addressed the situation of labour rights in countries around the globe and discussed a general survey on standards related to working time, reflecting the experience of member States.

The President of Ireland, Michael Higgins, made a passionate call for an approach to work that could meet the contemporary demands of social justice.

He made the remarks in an address at the World of Work Summit of the ILC that discussed, ‘Employment and Decent work for Peace and Resilience’.

Setting out the challenge of peace building in this century, President Higgins pointed to the need, in ever-changing conditions, to craft the experience of work within a sustainable, ethical global citizenship.

He traced the linkages between the quest for peace and the role of decent work and social dialogue and told delegates at the ILO’s ILC, that: “Expanding economic opportunities, ensuring the recognition of fundamental social and economic rights, advocating, advancing and achieving decent work, and facilitating social dialogue between workers, employers and civic organizations are critical components of recovery from conflict and the prevention of any return to war.”

He pointed to the ILO’s milestone 1944 Declaration of Philadelphia, which states that all human beings have the right to pursue material well-being and spiritual development “in conditions of freedom and dignity, or economic security and equal opportunity.”

“In affirming that principle, we the members of the International Labour Organization accept a moral, political, social and economic responsibility, not only to the peoples of our own nations but to the peoples of other nations, and, may I emphasize, for future generations as well, for there can be no social justice that is not unlimited, no peace that is not universal, and no solidarity that is not open to all,” Higgins said.

In his wide-ranging address, the President welcomed the ILC’s commitment to put an end to violence and harassment in the workplace: “These daily acts of aggression against women are a global outrage, they know no national barriers.”

He called for a global response beginning in every workplace.

He also touched on several topics that the ILO is deeply involved in, including social protection, the gender pay gap and the future of work.

As part of ensuring social justices to all and in the spirit of fairness to all workers, the ILO has consistently said child labourers must be protected against hazardous work.

This re-echoed at the conference as the General Secretary of ILO, Guy Ryder called for urgent action to tackle the economic root causes of child labour, pointing out that attention needs to be paid not only to global supply chains, but also to unpaid family work in agriculture.

“The challenge is not just about globally-traded garments, tobacco and cocoa; it is also about local markets for sorghum, millet, bricks – and it’s about domestic work as well,” he said.

Ryder pointed out that some 152 million children aged 5 to 17 are in child labour worldwide. Between 2012 and 2016, there was, “almost no reduction in the number of children aged five to 11 in child labour, and the number of these most vulnerable, youngest children in hazardous work actually increased.”

Ryder added that this is partly because child labour in agriculture – which is mostly unpaid family work – increased.

He added: “These children typically begin child labour at the age of six or seven and they commonly perform hazardous work as they get older.”

On his part, Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian children’s rights activist and Nobel peace prize laureate said much still remains to be done.

“If the children are still trapped in the international supply chains, if the children are still enslaved, if the children are still sold and bought like animals – sometimes for less than the price of animals – to work in the fields and farms, and shops and factories, or for households as domestic workers, this is a blot on humanity,” he said.


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