Committee on Labour Administration:Mr GURNEY (Worker, United Kingdom; Worker Vice-Chairperson, Committee on Labour Administration)

Statement | Genève | 16 June 2011

I would like first to turn to the substance of our discussion in the Committee and to the conclusions that we are presenting to the Conference today and to reassure Mthunzi that we are still friends after that intervention, although some of the things I say will have a different emphasis.

Our work in the Committee goes to the very heart of the basic mission of the ILO, and I was proud as Worker spokesperson to play a small role in this. This is especially the case when I look back at the role that some of the giants of the British Labour movement have played in this area.

In 1919 Ernest Bevin and George Barnes saw the newly created ILO, in the post-First World War world, as a vital tool to establish the basic rights that unions could build upon. They recognized the essential need for strong public labour administra-tion and inspection systems.

Two and a half decades later, Clement Attlee, La-bour Party Leader and at the time Deputy Prime Minister in the British war-time coalition during the Second World War, flew to Philadelphia to take part in the ILO Conference because he, too, saw the crucial need for the ILO to renew itself and prepare for the aftermath of that global conflict. Out of that Conference emerged the Declaration of Philadelphia, which placed renewed stress on the necessity for strong labour administration and inspection.

In the twenty-first century the work of the ILO has expanded, but the need for a basic foundation of labour administration and inspection to ensure de-cent work and social justice alongside strong worker organizations remains more crucial than ever, and in need of urgent reinforcement.

What has changed, and what we tried to address in the Committee, is the sheer diversity of the global workforce today; and we are very pleased that the Committee’s conclusions are strong and unequivocal on the essential point that labour administration and inspection need to cover all workers – those in the formal economy and in the informal economy those in rural and agricultural employment, home-based workers and, crucially, in the light of the new Convention, domestic workers (although, from the deeply disappointing interventions of my British Government and Employer counterparts in the de-bate, it appears that not yet everyone has realized this), workers in subcontracted, outsourced, disguised and triangular employment relationships, workers in the public sector; migrant workers and those who have been posted across borders, and workers in extended global supply chains, including in export processing zones. At the heart, these systems must also combat child and forced labour. All workers have rights and all workers need protection.

We also reaffirmed the key points that these ser-vices are public functions; that labour and employment ministries must be at the heart of policy development at a national level to ensure coherent government approaches that deliver job-rich growth and decent work; that genuine, timely and effective social dialogue and tripartite working is essential to ensure their effective operation, as is effective enforcement and sanctions where appropriate. Not-withstanding the crisis, and indeed in part because of it, more resources are required. And here we would reiterate that investment in public employment and inspection services is exactly that – an investment, which will pay off over time.

So, is our basic mission today any different from that of the founders of the ILO? Has the mandate of the ILO changed? No. But the circumstances in which we work are changing and the ILO must adapt. Labour administration and labour inspection remain part of the core business of the ILO; how-ever, this needs to be reaffirmed again, and it needs to be reaffirmed in terms of resources and staff, both within the ILO and at the national level. In this regard I would make a particular appeal to govern-ments that provide additional voluntary support to the ILO not to neglect the importance of this area – something that in the United Kingdom we have sadly seen a move away from with the withdrawal of additional partnership funding to this Organization.

In the final section of the conclusions, we set down a series of proposals which the Office, with our support as constituents, needs to act on. I will not list them all here, but they are concrete and necessary. To highlight some of the most significant, to prioritize, as my Employer colleague suggested we must, we called for work to promote the ratification and implementation of the labour administration and labour inspection Conventions and the Protocol of 1995. We called for more in-depth research and data collection on labour inspection and, in particular, on strategies to ensure coverage of all workers by inspection. And call for research on compliance through the use of government procurement.

We call for a tripartite meeting on private auditing initiatives, as we have real concerns that growth in these initiatives is undermining public labour inspection.

We call for the Office to work on the development of strategies to promote the application and enforcement of labour legislation for workers in the public sector, who are often excluded, and workers in the informal economy, rural economies and ex-port processing zones and domestic workers.

We call for active work on “national tripartite dialogue”, hopefully through designated committees which will deal with the challenges of labour law enforcement in new forms of employment, making use of the provisions of the Employment Relation-ship Recommendation, 2006 (No. 198), to deter-mine which workers should be covered by labour legislation.

We call for an increased focus on the role of ILO regional offices in the promotion of labour administration and inspection, which is crucial in terms both of promotion and of securing terms of financial resources.

Priorities for Decent Work Country Programmes should include the need for enhanced and effective inspection systems.

We know that we cannot keep asking the ILO to do more with less, but this area of work, as I said at the beginning, is not just a part of the ILO’s role. It is, after the setting of standards, the very foundation upon which all else the House does is based.

Now to the obligatory but heartfelt thank yous.

First and foremost, to those on the Workers’ side, those who took part in our group and who gave so much in terms of their knowledge and experience, and especially those who took part in the drafting group.

As we move forward with the review of the working of the Conference we must consider how we can really maximize time for group interaction and ex-change during the Conference.

It was my privilege to act as spokesperson for you. That was a task which would have been impossible without Lene and Mohammed from ACTRAV, and our group secretary from the ITUC, Esther Busser, so particular thanks are due to you.

To the Governments, thank you for the many examples of good practice although, as many on our side commented, the reality experienced on the ground is sometimes in contrast to the picture presented during our meetings.

We know that most of those who took part are dedicated representatives and officials who are doing the best that they can with often limited re-sources at national level, and I hope these conclusions can be used to strengthen your position and role.

To the Employers’ group, I thank you for your constructive engagement. I still have no idea why there is such an objection to stating the fact that collective bargaining assists effective labour administration, when it is a fundamental right (and I won't start again here on the importance of Recommendation No. 198), but Mthunzi, whilst we did not agree on everything – and, quite frankly, I would have been worried about my politics if we had agreed on everything – it was a genuine pleasure to work with you. I think we found a good way through our differences.

To the Office staff, the interpreters who had to put up with my London accent and the technicians. As a colleague said to me, the Conference is when the Office works at its very best, but we, the delegates, only see the tip of the iceberg of that work. The speed and efficiency with which documents are turned around and the level of logistical ability needed to keep everything running are, quite frankly, amazing.

On a procedural point I should note that we have recorded our concern over the need to ensure that the three official languages of the ILO are catered for during the drafting process, which must be done to make sure of the full participation of our delegations. Again, this is something that I think we need to look at when we come to a review of the Confer-ence and of the Governing Body.

Finally, to our Chairperson, Ms Gunla Kvam. Obviously Chairpersons must be chosen from across the full range of governments. I think Norway should be very proud of the effective, and – yes, in a nod to some of the EU government colleagues, I will say efficient – way in which you ensured that we arrived at our conclusions. We can all learn from the style in which you conducted our Committee.

So, the task before us now, both constituents and the Office, is to make sure that we act and build on these conclusions, that we do not just pat ourselves on the back and say “job well done”, but that we make every effort to take them forward as the basis for our work here within the ILO, as the ILO seeks to achieve decent work for all and to live up to the mandate of those who founded it in 1919.

So, colleagues, on that note I commend this report to you and I thank you, Mr President, for giving me the time to speak on it.