20th Anniversary 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work

Address by Catelene Passchier, Chairperson of the Workers’ Group

Statement | Geneva | 07 June 2018
President and Vice Presidents of the Conference,
Director General,
Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We need to move from declaration to action!
This is my message for today, and here I could stop my intervention.
However, I have a few more things to say….

We are celebrating today the 20th Anniversary of the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (FPRW) and the 10th Anniversary of the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalisation (SJD). These two landmark Declarations represent major developments in the history of the ILO after its foundation in 1919 and the Philadelphia Declaration of 1944.

As Kari Tapiola recalls in his just released book “The teeth of the ILO – The impact of the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work”, the 1998 Declaration came out of the often heated and controversial debate on the social clause in the WTO, to condition trade to respect for international labour standards, and to recognize the ILO as the competent organization to set and deal with recognized core labour standards in a globalizing world. And let me say here loud and clear, these standards cover ALL workers, regardless of the nature and status of their employment relationships.

The 1998 Declaration declares that all members, even if they have not ratified the core conventions, have an obligation, arising from the membership of the Organization, to respect, promote and realize freedom of association and collective bargaining, the elimination of forced labour, the abolition of child labour, and the elimination of discrimination.

In 1999, Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour became another core convention. And in 2014, the ILO adopted a Protocol on Forced Labour, showing the ILO capacity to update its standards to make them more effective.

Fundamental conventions also became an essential pillar of the SJD. And the SDJ, which re-stated with the 1998 Declaration that “labour standards should not be used for protectionist trade purposes” this time added the important notion that “the violation of fundamental principles and rights at work cannot be invoked or otherwise used as a legitimate comparative advantage”.

Many achievements have taken place over the last 20 years and I want to congratulate here the many governments that have strongly endorsed the ratification and implementation of the core labour standards, understanding their key importance for the well-being and sustainable development of their economies and societies.

However, much remains to be done to achieve the goal of universal ratification which was initially set for 1995. Still too many countries deny workers’ fundamental rights. Recent and shocking figures from the ILO and others tell us that today still 40 million people live in forms of modern slavery, 152 million children are found in child labour, more than 15 million women and girls trapped in forced marriage, while women continue to be paid on average 23 percent less than their male colleagues.

Freedom of association and collective bargaining are not only fundamental rights but also of key importance as enabling rights, as recognized by the Social Justice Declaration, providing workers the means to play an active role themselves in improving their living and working conditions. Therefore, it is especially worrying that still more than 50 percent of all workers in the world live in countries that have not ratified Conventions 87 and 98. Many of those workers are not enjoying in law or in practice the rights these conventions are affording them, for instance because they are working in non-standard forms of employment, old and new ones, and many of them are women and young workers.

This is why the Workers’ Group expects that the upcoming centenary celebration will become the way to reiterate and reinforce the ILO commitment towards the ratification and implementation of ALL core labour standards, but especially 87 and 98. The last recurrent discussion on the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work agreed to strengthen the Annual Reviews. We now need to follow-up with action in order to enhance ratification rates.

We need to use the principles contained in both Declarations, in order to create the level playing field that is needed in a globalized world marked by the internationalization of production and services in global supply chains, and the mobility of capital.

We also need to create better synergies with the newly revised MNE Declaration, in order to strengthen company-union dialogue as well as tripartite dialogue at national level with regard to investments.

Finally, we need to strengthen policy coherence - as mandated by the SJD - with other international and regional organizations having mandates in closely related fields to the ILO, to ensure that economic progress goes hand in hand with social progress.

20 years after the adoption of the 1998 Declaration and 10 years after the adoption of the SJD, ILO constituents have to strengthen their commitment to these fundamental values and give effect to them.

This is the mandate of the ILO, and the Workers’ Group is ready to join forces for a Future of Work where core labour standards are ratified and implemented, to the benefit of our economies and societies.

As I said at the beginning: we need to move from declaration to action.

Thank you for your attention.