108th Session of the International Labour Conference

Committee of the Whole: Remarks of Ms Catelene Passchier, Chairperson of the Workers’ Group

Statement | 21 June 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,

Those that were with me in our Committee of the Whole, the CoW as our chair called it (although I think it was more of a donkey), know that I have already spoken too much….

I think it’s been a tremendous two weeks for the ILO.

I heard colleagues reporting about many heads of state visiting the ILC, and they were generous in their words both looking back and to the future role of the ILO.

I did not pick up any sentiment that the ILO is somehow redundant.

So, the ILO should take confidence, belief and take the message to the world that we have solutions for people, responsible business and the planet.

Is the Declaration before us as ambitious as Philadelphia?

Maybe not. But it was never our intention to change the ILO’s Constitutional mandate. Rather to reaffirm it. To – as it were – renew our vows.
The ILO was the very first and powerful genuine social contract in the world, with its roots in the Treaty of Versailles, and with its tripartite mandate for social justice and peace.

Today, in this Declaration, we call on all constituents to ‘reaffirm our unwavering commitment and reinvigorate their efforts to achieve social justice and universal and lasting peace to which they agreed in 1919 and 1944’. This is a powerful message.

It is the renewal of our social contract that celebrates its 100th birthday.

This is not superfluous in the world of work of today.

As the world may be a good place for some, but it is a worrying place for the many.

And if we do not take action now, to put people and planet above profit, our planet will soon be dying.

With this Declaration, the ILO has a roadmap for its future which is true to its values and reaches out across generations to bring those values and rights to workers, all of whom are impacted by the digital revolution.

A roadmap as relevant to Silicon Valley as it is to agriculture, industry and services.
A roadmap for the Future of Work WE want!

B. Democratisation of the ILO

In my opening statement, I mentioned that in the first ILC in 1919, of 500 registered participants only 22 were women, and none of them a delegate.

But looking at the pictures from those days, there were even fewer persons of colour present. One continent, Africa, was not represented at all, except for 2 or 3 countries.

Now, there are 58.

History has had an impact on our governance structure which is not anymore in line with the world of today and tomorrow. So, it is only right to address this matter of democratic representation as a point of urgency in this 100-year Conference and this centenary Declaration and its Resolution.

It is high time to set this right.

C. Key elements of the Declaration

Let me now turn to the elements in the Declaration that are key to us, which I also enumerated last week in my opening address to the Committee.

With some bonus points.

One bonus point is certainly that in the preamble, we are committing to world free of violence and harassment.
It is significant in this Centenary year that we can still do standard setting on important issues in the world of work that require action at global level.

In our view, the Declaration - furthermore - delivered on the following issues:

0) It confirms the historic tripartite and normative mandate of the ILO as still fully relevant and up to date, and at the same time identifies areas in which there is unfinished business, ensuring that decent work for all and social justice are at the heart of it. I call this the ‘point zero’ of our list.

1) It addresses the erosion of the employment relationship and the need for protection of all workers, covering old and new forms of work, including non-standard forms of work as well as platform work, in order to ensure that ILO standards remain as inclusive as they were meant to be.

In our view, this requires a double strategy: a combination of re-inclusion - by ensuring that most forms of dependent labour are covered (again) by the employment relationship and its related protections - on the one hand,

and on the other hand extension of rights and providing for a floor of labour rights regardless of employment status.

The Declaration has clear messages on providing all workers with adequate protection, in line with the Decent Work Agenda, and the elements that at least then need to be addressed (fundamental rights, adeqate minimum wage, maximum working hours and safety and health at work), while reaffirming the importance of the employment relationship, and promoting transition from the informal to the formal economy.
Herewith, it lays the foundation for a labour protection floor, to be further developed by the ILO and its constituents as a matter of urgency.

2) The Declaration recognizes promotes workers’ rights as a key strategy for inclusive and sustainable economic growth, with a focus on Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining as enabling rights. It provides us with an important and authoritative basis to strengthen social dialogue and collective representation as strong and indispensable building blocks of democracy in the workplace and the world of work at large.

3) Certainly one key workers’ right is the right to go to work and arrive back home safe and sound. And all records show, even after 100 years of this being at the center of the ILO, that this is far from achieved, with new challenges coming because of technological and climate change. So, safe and healthy working conditions really deserved already for a long time to be accorded status of a fundamental right. This Declaration and its Resolution clearly and unambiguously sets out the first steps to make this happen.

4) It sets a strong agenda for skills, competencies and qualifications for all workers throughout their working lives.

5) It provides the basis to address the growing income inequality and other inequalities.

6) It gives urgent priority to the development and implementation of a transformative agenda for gender equality at work, with evaluation of progress made. Gender equality can no longer be just an add-on to our agendas, something that you pledge your commitment to in one sentence of your text, and then to continue business as usual. It is now high time to take that commitment further to ensure real change, to ensure that the gender dimension is understood and acted upon under each strand of policy and action. This was certainly a point of great convergence in our Committee. And we came up with a strong agenda for it.

7) It promotes quality public services and the employment opportunities of the public sector, so important for sustainable, inclusive and gender equal economies and societies.

Ladies and gentlemen,

8) Technology brings huge promises and opportunities. Yet, we must learn from the past and the initial sufferings caused by the industrial revolution. It took more than a century, with a key role for the ILO’s policies and regulations, to lay the basis for decent work, which is still not a reality everywhere in the world. Technological change does not automatically produce wellbeing and fair outcomes for all workers. Regulation is necessary to manage and master it, in order to reap its benefits.

The Declaration recognizes that, in order to create the Future of Work WE want, we need a human-centered approach with a strong guiding role for the ILO, including on data and privacy protection and platform work.
This also requires social dialogue to play an important role, with workers and their representatives contributing to a more sustainable and human centered management of technological change, reaffirming tripartism, social dialogue and collective bargaining as key drivers for negotiating the terms of social and environmental just transition.

9) A change of direction is certainly needed when it comes to the business models governing economies, societies and the world of work of today, putting profit above people and planet. We must ensure that businesses and companies are geared towards more sustainable models of enterprise, showing that social and economic progress can and must go hand in hand.

To achieve this, effective regulation is indispensable, not only at national level, but also cross borders, when it comes to global supply and value chains, with due diligence on human and labour rights at the heart of it.

This is certainly a point where we would have wanted more forward looking language, but the elements for this are there, and we will have to convince employers to be more courageous to enter into this arena together with us, to our mutual benefit.

And let me say in response to the Employers’ Spokesperson on this matter, that there is no reason to assume that ‘labour’ is only an issue for workers, and that we need to ensure an equal and separate place for business in the ILO. Labour is our common ground. ‘Labour’ is the (human) capital of business. Decent work, dignity and collective representation at work, all that, together with care for the planet, is what a sustainable enterprise is about.

10) The Declaration also shows, that we must go beyond GDP: ensuring that global macro-economic frameworks including tax, trade, industrial and sectoral policies promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable growth, full and productive employement and decent work for all.

11) It confirms ILO’s leadership role on decent work in labour migration.
This issue is more important than ever, taking into account the seemingly unbridgeable gap between regions and countries insisting on rights for migrants regardless of their migration status, and others who see the recognition of rights as an obstacle to managing (and limiting) migratory flows.

12) Last but not least, the Declaration places the ILO at the centre of a global multilateral system to achieve social justice. |
It lays the basis for a strong tripartite commitment to bring this further, inside and beyond the ILO, with a special responsibility for the Member States, including in UN reform.

D. Conclusion:

The Global Commission report helped us in our deliberations and it is a source to which the ILO should return to for ideas and guidance in the future. The Declaration and the report together, when put into action, will realise the vision we have, as the report was titled, ‘for a brighter future’ for people and planet.
The Global Commission warned about sleepwalking into a grim future, if we don’t take action NOW.

It’s true that we have been deprived of sleep these past two weeks, but we must be aware of the millions of workers out there, working 14 or more hours per day, for whom we want to secure a better future -----
Also, billions of people will sleep easier when we lay the basis for a future of work for them which is truly human centred and sustainable.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In my own group, many will recall how I warned them, when we had some achievements to celebrate, ‘not to sell the bear’s skin before having shot the bear’ (which is a saying in my country). This morning, a colleague sent me a message, saying “the bear’s skin is yours now”…..

But I am not going to shoot this bear.

I will set if free.

Because we need more bears, roaming wild in pristine forests.

We need more bears, and bees, and birds, and boa constrictors….

Without bears and other species on this planet, also the human species cannot survive.

But beyond that: nature has a right to survive of its own, and not only in function of human needs.

To conclude: a world in turmoil requires leadership.

This is what the ILO can and must offer, as much as it did in 1919, with social justice as its guiding principle and primary goal.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The work in our Committee was like a Mount Everest to climb.

We would not have reached the end of it, without the very able leadership of the Chair of our Committee, ambassador Salim Baddoura, with his stamina, patience, inclusiveness and charm, even at very late hours.

I also want to address my sincere thanks to the Office: Greg Vines and his team, who worked many indecent hours to ensure that our Committee could function properly. This issue must certainly be addressed when we evaluate the ILC in the Governing Body.

I thank the spokespersons of Government Groups and governments, who actively and constructively contributed to the discussion, trying to bridge gaps and come up with solutions that could find tripartite agreement.

I congratulate the Employers group with their spokesperson in this Committee, mrs Renate Hornung Draus, who was a tough fighter, but also ready to compromise.

This Committee’s experience has certainly shown that everything gets stuck until genuine social dialogue starts working.

I want to thank our ‘ambassadors’ in the Committee on the Future of Work, Luc Cortebeeck, Philip Jennings, and Reema Nanavaty, who worked very hard to provide us with an inspirational basis for our work.

My own group was of great and solid support to me, from early in the morning to late at night.

Anna Biondi and her ACTRAV team (Rafael Peels and Michael Watt) were always there to provide valuable input.

My ITUC colleagues shored me up:

Tim Noonan with his Australian sense of humour made me laugh and kept me going when things seemed desperate - but a special thanks goes to Raquel Gonzalez, the Secretary of the Workers Group and also my left AND my right hand in this Committee, for her expertise, for keeping cool in hectic times, and preventing me from insanity during those very long hours of intense working.

I thank you for your attention.