Report of the Chairperson of the Governing Body to the International Labour Conference 2012: Plenary Speech of Mr. Luc Cortebeeck

Statement | Genève | 06 June 2012

Report of the Chairperson of the Governing Body to the 101st Session of the International Labour Conference

Plenary Speech of Mr. Luc Cortebeeck

Worker Vice-Chairperson of the Governing Body

Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I address this august Assembly at a time when the world and the ILO are at a critical point in their history.

Since 2008 most of the advanced economies have experienced the worst economic and employment crisis since the Great Depression. We are now entering a truly global crisis in which past progress with poverty reduction will be reversed and a new race to the bottom with labour standards will emerge.

In 2008 and 2009 many countries implemented fiscal stimulus packages to offset declining spending by households and enterprises. However the magnitude of these measures was inadequate to re-start growth and restore prosperity. Moreover, the modest attempts at fiscal expansion were brought to an abrupt and premature end in 2010. They were replaced by fiscal austerity that cut spending on essential services and abolished jobs.

Since then, austerity has been accompanied by massive attacks on labour institutions. Institutions including the IMF, OECD, European Central Bank and the European Commission have forced countries to dramatically weaken labour legislation, labour market institutions and social protection. Many of my colleagues in the Workers’ benches live in countries where collective bargaining, freedom of association, employment protection legislation, social security and minimum wages have been severely attacked in blatant contradiction of the commitments we all undertook in 2008 and 2009 when we adopted the Social Justice Declaration and Global Jobs Pact.

It is clear that austerity and attacks on labour institutions have failed to restore growth. In countries across Europe these measures have generated social tension, strikes and protests.. We risk repeating mistakes of history. Past mistakes that the ILO was created to ensure would not be happening again.

To reverse these trends the ILO needs to fully implement its constitutional mandate set out in Philadelphia in 1944, and re-asserted in the 2008 Social Justice Declaration. The ILO has a clear mandate to review all international economic and financial policies to assess whether they promote or hinder social justice.

The ILO must be more assertive at both international and national level in the future to promote an alternative response to the crisis based on its decent work agenda.

The ILO needs to strongly promote economic and social policies that will accelerate growth, jobs and fairness. We welcome the fact that the Office Report to the Conference for the discussion on youth unemployment recognizes that more weight needs to be given to these policies and we look forward to conclusions from this discussion that adjust Office priorities and resource allocation to reflect this commitment.

Promoting equitable growth also requires comprehensive social security systems. Our Group therefore welcomes the Conference Discussion on the Social Protection Floor Recommendation. We are confident that next week the Conference will adopt a Recommendation that will provide valuable guidance to Member States on the extension of a social protection floor to the millions of people around the world that still lack this basic protection.

We also need to ensure that workers can exercise their rights at work. We need Member States to ratify and implement international labour standards. And we need the ILO to continue to adopt new standards to address new patterns of work and existing gaps in protection. There is therefore a need in the years to come to strengthen the ILO mandate in respect of labour standards. We must urgently realize the commitments of the 2008 Social Justice Declaration to promote ILO standard-setting policy as a cornerstone of ILO activities and ensure the role of standards as an important means of achieving the constitutional objectives of the Organization.

This year recurrent item discussion on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work is particularly important for the future of the Organization as it comes at a moment were these rights are under intense attack. We expect the discussion to produce a road map for the next three years, which must include ways to re-dress the current imbalances between the eight conventions, with a focus on Conventions. N°87 and 98 that remain the least ratified.

I must express the deep disappointment of the Workers’ Group on what happened in the Committee on the Application of Standards. I know many governments share this frustration. Workers deplore that the Committee was not able to adopt a list of cases and that the reason for it is the questioning by employers of some 50 years of jurisprudence by the experts and the Committee on Freedom of Association on the right to strike and its linkage to Convention 87. Workers until the very last moment tried to reach an agreement with employers on the list regrettably with no success. Many workers who are victims of serious rights’ abuses in their home countries came to Geneva to have their cases heard. They will go back home feeling that they have been unjustly hijacked by a political manoeuvre of the employers group. But also, some of them will go home fearing for their lives, for their family and their colleagues… But all of us do have deep fear for the future of the supervision mechanism.

Let me also thank the Director General for his excellent report on the situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories. But we deeply regret that we remain unable to tackle what we all know is the principal cause of this chronic suffering: “the longest military occupation in modern history.” We therefore fully endorse the call that the ILO must continue to make resources and capacities available to the Palestinian Authority and the social partners. This is very much needed in order to fight against the unacceptable high levels of poverty and unemployment of workers in these territories.

I started my intervention by saying that this was also an historical moment for the ILO. On the 28th of May the Governing Body elected Guy Ryder as its 10th Director-General. Guy Ryder is not the Director General of the Workers’ Group. He is now also your Director General, the Director General of workers, employers and governments. Having known Guy for many years and having worked closely with him I am fully confident that he will be able to work with all constituents and lead the Office in the difficult times that we are facing.

I am also confident that Guy is the right man to promote the necessary reforms in consultation with all constituents. , We need to break out the silos that prevent the Office from working together in an integrated manner as called for by the Social Justice Declaration, at the service of its constituents.

In the past our Organization responded creatively and gained strength when the world faced its most pressing challenges. In 2012 we need to again be bold and deliver on our mandate to create a more equitable and rights’ based growth model for all women and men in the developing and developed world. Let us not miss this opportunity.