12th Session of the Labour Assembly

A shared history

In an address to Turkey’s Labour Assembly, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder spoke of the shared history between the ILO and modern Turkey.

Statement | Ankara, Turkey | 23 May 2019
Your Excellency the President of the Republic,
Representatives of the employers’ and workers’ organisations of Turkey,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour to address this Labour Assembly and a pleasure to be back in Turkey, almost two years after the ILO’s 10th European Regional Meeting and its adoption of the Istanbul Initiative.

Let me thank you, representatives of the Government, Employers and Workers of Turkey, for your commitment to the ILO and to our Centenary Initiatives, especially on the Future of Work. Since 1932, the date of Turkey’s accession to the ILO, our relationship has intensified in recent years notably in such areas as fundamental principles and rights at work, occupational safety and health and, of course, the integration of refugees into the Turkish labour market. I have seen this personally during my previous visits to your country and I can only reiterate the ILO’s high appreciation of what Turkey has done and continues to do to help more than 3.6 million Syrians not only to survive, but to find a job and to live in dignity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On the occasion of the ILO Centenary, we have decided to focus on the future, the future of work and the future of our Organization. But this is also a unique opportunity to remember where we came from and, hopefully, to draw some lessons from our shared history.

Indeed, we can certainly learn a lot from our past, and in particular, from the history of your extraordinary country. One hundred years ago, in the spring of 1919, as our ILO’s founders were establishing our Organization from the ashes of the First World War, a group of soldiers, led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was starting your “Independence War”.

The ILO was founded on a very simple but at the same time very powerful idea that universal and lasting peace is only possible if it is based on social justice. So, as we were starting our fight against social injustice throughout the world, Turkish people were starting their uprising against foreign invasion and their fight for their independent future. And here, let me express my congratulations to you all for last Sunday’s celebration of the Centenary of the 19th May, the day Atatürk arrived in Samsun to start that War of Independence.

This was also the start of tremendous political and social changes in Turkey – from which the Republic of Turkey and a new society emerged. Ataturk launched a series of reforms focused on education, civil law, and women’s rights – in short, a true social revolution. That opened the way for an initial contact with the newly-born ILO already in 1920, and continued with consultations on the first labour legislation being drafted in the new Turkish Parliament. We remember Ataturk’s words, which singularly echo the spirit of the ILO Constitution: "If lasting peace is sought, it is essential to adopt international measures to improve the lot of the masses. Mankind's well-being should take the place of hunger and oppression... Citizens of the world should be educated in such a way that they shall no longer feel envy, avarice and vengefulness.

Indeed, the ILO was created for just this. But, a century later, the task of shaping a world of lasting peace is no less challenging than it was in 1919. And, we must continue to confront these challenges and dismiss any fatalistic attitudes. Throughout our centenary, we have steadfastly maintained that the future is not pre-determined! It is for us to forge our future, the future of work and the future of our societies. Together, we share the responsibility of shaping a future that delivers economic security and social justice for all.

As an Organization, today’s challenges force us to confront serious questions, as to whether the ILO, born after the first industrial revolution, still makes sense in the post-industrial realities of a fourth such revolution; whether it is credible and effective to address key social and labour issues through the tripartite interaction of governments, employers’ and workers’ who often face their own challenges of representation. That is why we followed a long path of analyses over the last years. We tried to get a clear understanding of the future and we need to better capture the current challenges. This is the raison d’être of the Global Commission on the Future of Work and its report Work for a Brighter Future launched on 22 January this year.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We will soon hear the message of one member of that distinguished Commission, Professor Seike from Japan.

But let me just share with you the key recommendations of the Commission’s report and where it might take us next. This report is primarily focused on people – not algorithms, not robots – people. It calls for a human-centred agenda for growth, development and work, structured around what are essentially three “investments” or pillars of action for the future.

The first investment is in people’s capabilities, so that they can take full advantage of the real opportunities that the future of work offers.
  • The report calls for universal social protection from birth to old age. Bear in mind the fact that only 45 per cent of the world’s population is covered by at least one social protection benefit.
  • The Commission also proposes a universal entitlement to lifelong learning – in other words, a right to go on learning throughout one’s working life.
  • It also insists on the need for a transformative agenda for gender equality. Because we all know that one century after the ILO proclaimed the principle of equal pay for work of equal value, an unacceptably large gender pay gap still remains.
Secondly, the report calls for increased investment in the institutions of work. It reminds us, as the ILO Constitution says, that “labour is not a commodity” and that it is the institutions of work that prevent labour from being treated as a commodity. These are the “building blocks of just societies” and we need to act upon them:
  • For example, the Commission suggests establishing a Universal Labour Guarantee, which would give all workers, regardless of their employment status or contractual arrangements, basic guarantees – respect of their fundamental rights at work, an “adequate living wage”, the guarantee of maximum hours of work and the right to a healthy and safe working environment. These guarantees were already part of the ILO Constitution of 1919, but their application today remains a distant prospect for too many people in the world.
  • May I underline the Commission’s recommendation that health and safety at work should become a new fundamental right, in addition to those already enumerated in the 1998 ILO Declaration. When we think back on the tragic accident in Soma in 2015, along with too many others like that around the world, or are reminded that nearly 3 million people die each year from occupationally-related injury or disease, this recommendation becomes urgent and compelling.
  • The report urges us to take advantage of technological developments so that workers have greater control over their working time, and so are able to balance much better their professional and private lives. This issue is directly related to the new forms of employment. For those working on digital platforms or in part-time jobs, it means flexible hours should be a real choice, not an imposition.
  • The report calls for the revitalization of policies that promote collective bargaining and social dialogue as a public good. We see serious gaps in many countries around the world when it comes to social dialogue and here in Turkey, there are still a number of issues concerning collective bargaining and freedom of association that we must address together. So it is particularly welcome that you devoted your Future of Work tripartite national dialogue to social dialogue in May 2017. And this Labour Assembly is another excellent example of a comprehensive platform for this dialogue.
The third investment should be made in the jobs of the future.
  • According to the Commission, this can be achieved by investing in transformative, job-rich areas of the economy, such as the rural economy, the care economy, and the green economy in addition to high-quality physical, digital and social infrastructure. For example, according to ILO research the transition to environmentally sustainable economies and societies could generate 18 million jobs by 2030.
Finally, the Global Commission recommends that countries individually establish national strategies on the future of work through social dialogue and calls on the ILO to be the focal point within the international system for the implementation of this human-centred agenda. It identifies the need for greater coherence and institutional arrangements, especially between international organizations dealing with labour – the ILO; with trade – the WTO; and with financial issues – the World Bank and the IMF. Because, as you, Mr. President, clearly stated last year on the occasion of the 73rd anniversary of the United Nations, “It is impossible for any country to combat alone these challenges that threaten mankind’s common future and disrupt the search for a global justice.” And in this context, let me say that I will be delighted to receive you, Mr. President, at the International Labour Conference in Geneva which you will address on its opening day.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

All these ideas will be discussed in Geneva next month – for the ILO this Centenary Conference will be historic. The ambition is to adopt a Centenary Declaration on the Future of Work that will help us carve out a path for the future and reinvigorate the social contract of 1919 when Governments, Employers and Workers of the world came together to make social justice a reality. We all trust that this Declaration will honour and stand to comparison with past ILO Declarations – notably the Philadelphia Declaration of 1944, and that it will advance the urgent cause of decent work and social justice for all.

I look forward to your today’s discussions as it will be you, the ILO’s member States, and our tripartite constituents who will decide ultimately what the future path will look like in the 21st Century.

Thank you.