Committee on the Application of Standards:Mr CORTEBEECK (Worker, Belgium; Worker Vice-Chairperson, Committee on the Application of Standards)

Statement | Genève | 16 June 2011

This year we are celebrating the 100th Session of the International Labour Conference and the 85th meeting of the Committee on the Application of Standards, which was created in 1926.

I cannot pass up the opportunity to mention an interesting work that was published a few weeks ago and which is dedicated to the institutional process and the impact on the effective application of standards of the constructive dialogue established over many years between Workers, Employers and Governments within the Committee on the Application of Standards.

This study takes a structured and scientific look at the intimate, highly emotional experiences within the Committee on the Application of Standards. Within the Committee, serious and personal violations of workers’ rights are discussed every year in the Committee. Sometimes this is the only international space where the workers can denounce what they live through on a daily basis in certain countries, and they do it with discipline and with dignity.

That is one of the reasons why the Conference is such an important and privileged point in time, even if some of us are under threat when we return to our countries because of the words that we have uttered. One example of this is the situation of our colleague who intervened in the case of the Republic of Fiji as an observer from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). He had previously been detained in his country and our fear is that this will happen once again, but we would point out to the representative of the Government of the Republic of Fiji that the Workers’ group, in its entirety, will be vigilant as to the fate of our colleague.

We know that every year this is an important event for workers. We are aware that in the very difficult current environment our work within the monitoring system for the application of standards, in close cooperation with the Committee of Experts and the International Labour Office but also with the Employer and Government members, is an instrument for rebalancing the economic focus with a social focus. However, this year our work was really not easy, even though at the end of our work we were able to have a very positive tripartite dialogue within the Committee. And we were very happy that we arrived at common conclusions for the 25 cases which were chosen, even though set-ting up or drafting the list of cases was extremely difficult and a source of great tension. The preparation of this list is becoming increasingly difficult, but this year the experience was much worse than any year in the past.

On the eve of the Conference we had a list of 44 cases, the first time ever. However, very detailed preparatory work had been carried out on the basis of the criteria which are normal for our Committee and which is recognized by workers throughout all continents.

The list of the cases presented last May to governments was the fruit of a compromise between the concerns of the Workers’ and of Employers’ groups, together with an abiding concern to avoid haggling, blackmail, the use of a veto in one camp or the other.

The problems that arose – and the Employers may not be happy to hear this – did not arise because the Workers forgot the selection criteria, nor was it be-cause they dragged things out, nor was it because they tried to use the Committee as an alternative forum to discuss freedom of association. It is clear that choosing cases for the list is in essence, as the spokesperson of the Committee said, automatically a subject of controversy, a discussion based on arguments put forward to criticize someone else’s opinion. In the selection process, the greatest responsibility lies with the social partners, who are in charge of the practical functioning of our Commit-tee. And that is the way it has to be.

We have to produce this list together, and it is together that we have to reach compromises in order to make choices. We cannot have a situation where one of the parties has constantly to submit to the other, which clings stubbornly to its cases. I will repeat as often as is necessary that the mission of this Committee is to take part in the monitoring of the application of Conventions ratified in the spirit of calm discussion, away from pressures relating to ideological opportunism or internal political pres-sure within the countries in question.

This year, the incidents that accompanied the drafting of the list forced us once again to find a creative solution in the case of Colombia, where assassinations and threats to workers continue. These incidents also forced us to remain silent on the case of Japan and Convention No. 29. At the moment, there is no prospect of a solution for this case, despite the repeated calls to the employers and the Government in Japan. The Conference is finishing without any sign of a possibility of offering these women a respectful solution to their rights.

Recognizing the facts and asking for people’s pardon and rectifying the situation does not involve losing face. Other governments have understood that throughout the world. In Korea there are 74 survivors aged 85 and more. The respect due to these women and those who still live in Japan means that an alternative solution has to be found with the cooperation of the Government, the Employers and the officers of the Conference, for humanitarian reasons alone. Therefore we feel a great sense of disappointment – and would like these words to be recorded in the Provisional Record –because I have often criticized inertia in the search for compensation in this case.

We were, however, able to acknowledge the situation of Colombian workers in the context of the general report of our Committee at a point when the discussion had not been technically concluded; the conclusions of the high-level tripartite missions, which were carried out in February of this year, were read out In future, in the working group on the Commit-tee’s procedure, we need to find an original solution, which is discussed by the social partners, to the problems we are faced with. The Employers and the Workers have to speak about this as quickly as possible and establish a better working basis when it comes to drafting the list relating to the defence of absolute rights.

In our Committee I also raised questions about our working methods and I hope that we will be able to come back to those issues soon, when we have our next working sessions with the experts.

Let me take a look now at the list of cases. I would like to give you some figures. We discussed 25 cases, as always, but within those 25 cases there were six cases involving double footnotes, which were added by the experts in article 56 of their re-port. Five cases were given a special paragraph in our Committee’s report: Guatemala for Convention No. 87, with a request to maintain the technical assistance which is currently under way; Uzbekistan for Convention No. 138, regarding which an offer has been made to the Government to send a tripartite mission of observers at a high level from the ILO, together with technical assistance and an offer to involve the country in the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), as this case relates to the mobilization of thousands of children in dangerous labour in the harvesting of cotton; the Democratic Republic of the Congo for Convention No. 29, where technical assistance was also offered to the Government (not present during the discussion), with the emphasis on implementation of a reinsertion programme for victims of sexual exploitation; Myanmar/Burma, for Convention No. 87, where the Committee called for the liberation without further ado of specifically identified trade unionists (this case is so serious and goes back so far that it will also have to be discussed in the Governing Body in November 2011); and Swazi-land, for Convention No. 87.

In all, our Committee discussed 12 examples of technical assistance, and we have confidence in the ability of governments to work together with the ILO to improve the respect of Conventions and their implementation in practice in the territories in question. Three special missions were decided, apart from that already decided for Greece. We should note that this case, as well as the case relating to Romania, which concerns the implementation of Convention No. 98 and the limitations which may or may not be deemed to be acceptable in a situation of crisis, is symbolic of the threats that weigh on certain countries in the European Union (EU) as a result of the measures undertaken by the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In the majority of cases, the experts should receive information on advances that have been made so that they can feed into their sessions of 2011. The reading of their report for 2012 will provide us with important information as to whether the governments in question are taking our Committee seriously.

I would like now to speak of certain cases which we were not able to discuss. I am not trying to deal indirectly with cases that were not part of the final list among the 44 cases that were communicated to the governments last May. I am just trying to re-mind people that the 19 countries that were not discussed this year should not rest on their laurels or imagine that everything is hunky-dory as far as they are concerned.

I will start by saying something about the Arab Spring. The Arab revolutions have been characterized by the fact that they were non-violent victories and were the result of work on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. They came un-expectedly, they came from civil society, they came from young people, but these young people – and this is an important point – were educated. In the revolution of young people in Tunisia, for example, they were able to base themselves on work that had been done by trade unions on the ground and that allowed for a rapid and spontaneous political follow-up. So it was not a revolution of empty bellies; it was a revolution which involved a lot of dignity and which led to Ben Ali stepping down.

However, not everything has been achieved; everything is not going to happen overnight. This Arab Spring led – and continues to lead – to a shake-up of authoritarian regimes. These revolutions have gone beyond the bans imposed by the people in power.

They are a sign that, after the winter of dictator-ship, it is necessary to have a spring of freedom. The uprisings have changed the political order in certain authoritarian regimes, which thought that the lesson to be learned after September 2001 was that brute force was the only deterrent to terrorism. As long as leaders listen to their people and do not shut their ears, as they have done in Bahrain – not counting the torture carried out in the Syrian Arab Re-public and in Yemen – the Spring phenomenon of freedom points the way towards greater democracy, better standards of living and the possibility of De-cent Work and the hope of better integration into a democratic society.

In Bahrain, on the basis of article 26 of our Constitution, the Governing Body will adopt the necessary measures to ensure that workers’ rights are guaranteed.

On this long list there was also the case of Egypt for Convention No. 87. Dr Ahmed El Borai, Minister of Labour and Migration in Egypt, reminded us in the wings of the last Governing Body meeting of the ILO: “The value of social dialogue between governments, employers and workers is important if we are to attain social peace and create a climate which fosters economic development.”

We decided to take the Minister at his word, and we asked him to introduce new legislation on trade unions as quickly as possible which would guarantee freedom of association and the respect of other Conventions in the ILO system. The Workers’ group pays tribute today to the courage of the Egyptian people.

At this stage we are very far from the terrorism advocated by certain radical religious groups. The message is essentially secular, of simply being open to the world. It is therefore important to respond adequately to these aspirations, if we are not to damage the concept of democracy irreparably. That is one of the responsibilities of governments, particularly those governments that are in a process of transition.

It is also a wonderful opportunity to have social dialogue and strong social partners contribute to democratic change.

On our long list there was also the Netherlands for Convention No. 121 and if it was not on the final list it was only because we had to restrict ourselves to 25 cases. I will just mention that the Committee of Experts will ask the Government to provide precise information for 2011. This is a case that we will follow up with the Dutch trade union organizations, and we will come back to it if necessary in 2012.

We will do this because the case is directly relevant to the subject of the General Survey. More than that, in paragraphs 230 and 233, the General Survey specifically refers to legislation on unfitness for work, which is precisely why we put this case concerning Convention No. 121 on our long list. I would ask the Government to note this point.

This year, we did not raise the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the implementation of Convention No. 111. The workers follow closely developments in this very serious case, which has often been mentioned by the Committee. We hope that the Government will respond to the repeated, precise and targeted demands of the Committee of Ex-perts in their 2011 report.

The workers also paid tribute to the liberation of Mansour Osanloo, the president of the Bus Workers Trade Union in Tehran. We are extremely happy to hear this news. Nonetheless, there are still two other leaders of the same trade union in prison, Abraham Madadi and Reza Shahabi. We would ask that they, along with Mansour Osanloo, be freed immediately.

Finally, we note the follow-up to the decision of the Governing Body of 24 March 2011 to send a high-level tripartite mission to the Bolivarian Re-public of Venezuela on Conventions Nos 87 and 98, and we look forward to hearing the outcome of those missions.

To conclude, a few words on the General Survey on social security and the state of law, in the light of the follow-up to the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization of 2008.

The Committee had a very good discussion on the General Survey, even though the Employers accused the Experts of exceeding their remit, and even if the points of view on the instruments analyzed often diverge.

Our approach in the Workers’ group was to welcome the General Survey, which provided us with very good guidelines for national and international policies with respect to social security.

We have the impression that a large number of governments shared this positive analysis of the General Survey. From all continents we receive indications that social security is a guarantee for access to fundamental rights and that privatization unfortunately often leads to minimal welfare ser-vices that are unacceptable if we are to guarantee improved living standards.

We have fulfilled our obligations as regards the Committee for the Recurrent Discussions on Social Protection, because a message was sent to it by our Committee on 4 June, the main points of which were the following.

Updated ILO standards on social security systems should set up an overall legal framework backed by ILO assistance and advice.

A special effort is expected from the ILO in rein-forcing the skills and training of the social partners, as well as strengthening our social dialogue. As regards Convention No. 102, which deals in stereo-types and an outdated model of the family, we expect work to be carried out by the International Labour Standards Department in order to resolve these problems.

Convention No. 168 should also be submitted to the same body. Principles of good governance by States have been brought to the fore in order to guarantee robust and long lasting social security systems.

What is needed is good administration, having well-equipped services to combat clandestine work, non-payment of social security contributions, fraud, corruption and the misuse of the system as a whole.

We must insist on the responsibility of the State to ensure that sustainable social security systems and adequate administrative and financial administration systems are set up. We also need to ensure coordination between social security policies and employment systems, as well as economic and development policies.

The Committee supports the idea of a Social Protection Floor subject to a progressive approach, which is relevant and ensures the sustainability of social security systems.

We regret that the various challenges posed by migration, which are increasing, were not dealt with. The important thing is to ensure that the number of ratifications, in future increases, once the content of these conclusions has been activated.

We also hope that we will be able to meet the challenge facing our two committees, especially as the General Survey in 2012 will be much more complex as it will deal with the eight fundamental Conventions.

It remains for me to thank everybody. Thank you, Mr Potter, who had to leave the Conference before it ended and was replaced by Mr Chris Syder. I thank the Workers’ group for the excellent work that it did over the past three weeks.

I thank Sérgio Paixão Pardo, who really is our best Chairperson. I thank Ms Doumbia-Henry, Ms Curtis and our counterparts at the ILO for their technical help and their legal support. I would also like to thank the Reporter, Christian Horn.

I would like to thank the staff of the ILO for their help and their friendliness and the interpreters with-out whom we would be lost. I thank the ITUC, and particularly Stephen Benedict.

I would particularly like to thank the Officers of the Workers’ group for the Committee on the Application of Standards, who were extremely involved in the organization of our work, particularly Trine Lise Sundness, José Pinzon, Mademba Sok and Annie Van Wezel.

On behalf of the Workers’ group, I thank Kurshid Ahmed who over the years has played an extremely important role in our Committee and in the ILO. And I thank those who have helped us from ACTRAV, Beatriz Vacotto and Enrico Cairola, as well as my closest collaborators Andrée Debrulle, Gilbert Deswert and Véronique Rousseau.

I would like now to ask you all to approve our Committee’s report.