Director-General’s opening address to the 346th Session of the ILO Governing Body

Statement | 31 October 2022
Madam Chairperson,
Members of the Governing Body,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, I must thank all of you for your touching words of encouragement, support and friendship.

Allow me, once again, to reiterate my deep gratitude for the trust that you have shown in me by granting me the privilege – and it is truly a privilege – to serve this august Organization and to do so in this particularly delicate and complex period.

Last week, we all heard about the sale of Twitter. Far be it from me to provoke endless debates in this regard – but it is clear that it is also a reflection of current contradictions on a global scale.

On the one hand, we see the structural transformation of our economies towards the services sector and unprecedented technological advances which have resulted in the digital economy; notable scientific progress witnessed in the production of the COVID-19 vaccine in record time; and a global economy which, in spite of its current upheavals, is evolving at a growing rate.

On the other hand, we see an unprecedented deepening of inequalities within and between countries; a deterioration in employment relationships; the insecurity of millions of jobs, the trend towards the informalization of the formal sector; the deterioration in child labour and forced labour; a terrible absence of any social protection floor for four billion citizens; challenges in youth employment, etc.

It is clear to say that the world needs a new social contract. As we have said more than once: the founding values of our Organization, these values that our predecessors stood for in 1919, remain relevant today.

Before all of you gathered here today, I solemnly commit to making every effort to defend the founding values of the ILO – our shared values of peace, social justice, equitable economic growth and solidarity, while respecting and protecting the environment.

I am very honoured that several of you had the opportunity to contribute to refine and enrich my vision for the ILO, thus making it a shared vision that belongs to all of us, and that we will implement together.

The ILO’s normative function remains the foundation of our Organization. It is our duty to ensure that the ILO’s normative system continues to work for social justice. We should therefore strengthen our tripartite capacity to face, through normative action, the significant changes in the world of work, and to keep up with the changes taking place in labour relations and in workplaces.

The emergence of the digital economy and digital platforms, the transition to green jobs, supply chains and many others are challenges we must face.

I recognize the real complexity of these subjects. As proof, I point you to the recent, and difficult, discussions, in the Meeting of experts on decent work in the platform economy. However, our shared determination and the expectations of the world of work should overcome. It is also necessary to speed up the work of reviewing existing standards.

The quest for social justice cannot be an endeavour for the ILO alone. This quest requires the participation of all stakeholders.

To put it another way, a Global Coalition for Social Justice is necessary and urgent. We recognise that social issues are the weak link in the three-part chain of economy–social issues–environment. We must act in favour of the planet and of the wellbeing of its inhabitants. Yes, a social justice that allows societies and economies to function better and to reduce poverty, inequalities and social tensions, a social justice that goes hand in hand with ecological justice.

The Coalition aims to facilitate and strengthen collaboration and collective action by bringing together, with the ILO and its constituents, the agencies of the United Nations, international financial institutions, civil society, the private sector, development partners, universities and other concerned stakeholders to promote social justice when developing policies at the global, regional and national levels on the one hand, and as part of development cooperation and financial agreements, trade agreements, investment agreements, on the other.

Madam Chairperson, Members of the Governing Body,

The inclusion of occupational safety and health (OSH) as a fundamental principle and right at work is a source of renewed momentum for the promotion of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Therefore, I intend to place a greater focus on the ILO’s work on OSH matters.

Full and productive employment and labour protections remain a priority. Earlier today, we launched the tenth edition of the ILO Monitor on the world of work. I am reminded and mindful of the needs of our Member States and social partners in terms of job creation, taking into account the severe impact that multiple crises are having on employment and labour markets – especially for women and young people.

Sustainable enterprises play a decisive role in fostering inclusive growth and decent work. We must take action to create a conducive policy and institutional environment for enterprises, both micro, small and medium-sized enterprises – including those in the social and solidarity economy – and multinational companies. The quest for increased productivity and skills development remains essential, particularly for low-income and middle-income countries, as does the need to strengthen interlinkages between productivity growth and decent work, and to ensure that productivity gains are shared equitably between stakeholders, including workers, employers and local communities.

Supply chains remain a powerful engine of economic growth and development. Sustaining these positive attributes requires all stakeholders to tackle and turn into opportunities the challenges observed too often in many supply chains. We have to ensure that the fundamental principles and rights at work – obviously including OSH – are fully implemented in supply chains.

Social justice is inconceivable without protection. We must redouble our efforts to achieve universal social protection. While the COVID-19 pandemic triggered an unparalleled social protection policy response, investment in social protection needs to go beyond a one-off crisis response and be part of broader and longer-term policies that prevent poverty and reduce inequalities. We must work closely with you – our constituents – to develop comprehensive universal social protection strategies and policies that are inclusive and gender-responsive, and that are sustainably and adequately financed.

Needless to say, none of the above will happen without effective social dialogue. This is why I am proposing a dedicated programme to build the capacities of employers’ and workers’ organizations to further harness their potential as impactful drivers of positive change in the world of work. Of course, the International Training Centre of the ILO in Turin will play a critical role in this effort.

It is critical that increased attention be given to building the capacity of and providing the necessary support to all our constituents to help address the root causes of labour conflict, foster trust among the partners for effective social dialogue and strengthen alternative dispute resolution mechanisms that will lead to harmonious industrial relations.

Just as the Global Coalition for Social Justice will serve as a framework for policy coherence on social justice at the wider multilateral level and beyond, we also need to reinforce internal coherence and coordination within the Office. To support this effort, I am proposing five action programmes in areas that cut across the policy outcomes and technical departments, and that present significant opportunities for the promotion of social justice.

On the occasion of this session of the Governing Body, you will already have the opportunity to address these priorities, in particular the question of the transitions that concern us all, whether they are linked to informality or to environmental issues. Decent work in times of crisis or post-crisis concerns us more than ever, and we must build a strong common ambition in terms of supply chains, investment and trade.

As such, and I really need to emphasize this, the action programmes do not stand outside the seven policy outcomes and do not add to them. Rather, they will combine work carried out under several outcomes and contribute to their more effective achievement.

Let me also underline that the singling out of these five thematic areas into dedicated action programmes is indeed testimony to the critical importance that I attach to each one of them. For example, gender equality and non-discrimination are inseparable, and they dovetail with social justice. As such, the gender dimension is imperative for the ILO, not merely for reasons of equity but because the labour force participation of both women and men – on equal terms – is an important driver of growth and development.

I am also determined to work closely with you to conclude the long-standing effort to bring into force the 1986 Instrument of Amendment to the ILO Constitution. I am pleased to share with you the fact that, since the March session of the Governing Body, five new ratifications have been registered, bringing the total number of ratifications and acceptances to 122. As the 1986 Instrument of Amendment has to be ratified or accepted by 125 of the 187 Member States, three more ratifications are still needed.

In order to achieve the ambitious programme of work that I am proposing for the coming years, I have the privilege of working with highly motivated and dedicated staff. I want to acknowledge that our staff remains the Organization’s paramount resource. I also recognize the significance of an Office staff composition that, to the greatest extent possible, reflects the membership of the Organization. I also wish to reiterate what I have said on multiple occasions: achieving gender parity at the P5 level and above is a firm commitment of mine.

We will strive to further improve the quality of our development cooperation, ensuring better integration of the various sources of funding and ensuring follow-up to evaluation findings and risk management measures, including of course the recommendations of the Multilateral Organisation Performance Assessment Network. Staff mobility and the quest for the harmonization of the conditions of work for staff funded by development cooperation resources with those of staff funded from the regular budget is also a very critical issue that needs to be addressed in cooperation with the Staff Union.

Such improvements will be driven by innovation. We must establish a system to identify new solutions, policies and practices that promote social justice. I am committed to the establishment of an ILO Innovation Facility to coordinate innovation initiatives in priority policy areas.

Upon assuming office, I introduced a revised organizational chart for this Office. In designing the new structure, I have placed a high premium on the importance of working as One ILO and on the importance of collaboration and coordination across departments and across regions.

At the senior management level, I will be appointing one Deputy Director-General. The Deputy Director-General will oversee the roll-out of the five priority action programmes that have been included in my programme of work and will be responsible for our global work on research and statistics, as well as for the International Training Centre of the ILO in Turin.

I have decided to discontinue the division of the Office into three portfolios, and instead group our policy and operational departments into four clusters that will each be led by an Assistant Director-General. Further refinements to the Office structure may take place in the coming weeks, at the end of ongoing consultations with the departments concerned and with the Staff Union.

The consultations undertaken by my Transition Team have pointed to some areas where I believe there is scope for such improvements. For example, the call for a reinforced and expanded partnership approach could speak in favour of merging our work on development cooperation with our work on multilateral cooperation into a single department. The desire to make more effective use of our sectoral expertise is another such area.

Throughout the campaign and since the elections, I have been overwhelmed by the requests by Member States to step up our support to Member States on the ground. And this is what we will do. Although these demands and expectations are multidimensional, I have been particularly aware of the global discourse on the ILO’s work in countries such as Qatar and especially, the discourse around the 2022 FIFA World Cup. It is factually correct to state that the ILO’s work in and with the State of Qatar in recent years has yielded positive results with important milestones, yet continued improvements in the world of work are still required.

Accordingly, the Office is in discussions with the State of Qatar – and, later this week, I will be meeting with the Minister of Labour – on the continuation of our engagement and our work for the coming years. Such a programme might require the transformation of the current ILO Project Office for the State of Qatar into a regular country office, with adequate resources for such an endeavour.

The current state of official development assistance, combined with our zero-real-growth budget in the last 20 years or so, calls for the Office to be constantly searching for greater efficiency and possible cuts. In this context, I am proposing the discontinuation of regional meetings in their current configuration. The truth is, if we phase out regional meetings in their current configuration, we would release enough resources to open additional field offices and provide adequate resources for the action programmes. The Office is seeking your guidance in this regard.

Madam Chairperson, Members of the Governing Body.

I have spoken of global challenges and these are real. However, we must not forget that even while we find ourselves in a crisis situation, there are also opportunities that we should identify and that we should take.

Today, the importance of the quest for social justice means that the ILO and its mandate have moved to centre stage. The ILO is better known than ever before, notably thanks to the remarkable leadership of my predecessors.

The ILO is strong. Our mandate is at the heart of global concerns, and we have the capacity and the energy to translate this mandate into specific measures for everyone.

With your support, I am convinced that, together, we will succeed in making the world a better place. And in doing so, we will not leave anyone sitting in despair.

Thank you for your attention.