Director-General’s Address to the Plenary of the 101st International Labour Conference

Statement | Geneva, Switzerland | 06 June 2012

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(...) [DG welcome and initial remarks to the Conference, ILO Governing Body, Ministers, Ambassadors and Delegates] (...)

Now, we are at the halfway point of our Conference. I have participated in the Committees on youth employment, social protection floor and rights at work.  They are true engine rooms of productive delegates hard at work finalizing the policy products that they will bring for your adoption in the Plenary.  Those products are extremely critical to the challenges we all face in our different situations back home, and in the way the global economy must evolve: Once again, the ILO proposing ways forward on issues at the heart of societies’ concerns. And I know you will be working hard to take the conclusions we adopt here to your unions, your employers’ organizations and your governments for action and implementation.  And the Office is at your service, operating under the guidelines of your decisions.

This year I will go straight from the Conference with these products to the G20 in Mexico. And from there to the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. And from there to New York for a High-Level session of the UN Economic and Social Council on decent work and inclusive growth.
As I promised, I do intend to keep working hard up to my last days in office!

Dear Friends,

This International Labour Conference is not only a key decision-making moment for ILO’s tripartism. This Hall is also the place in which the world of work engages through its policy proposals with the world of international cooperation and coordination — the multilateral system. We have seen that what we do here has importance far beyond the ILO.

No other Organization has this capacity to connect enterprise, workers and governments – the real economy actors, with their sometimes divergent views and disagreements, to the highest levels of global policy making. It is a remarkable and invaluable quality of the ILO which we have successfully promoted in the last decade.  There is today a recognition that the voice and views of the ILO are not only listened to and welcomed but also pertinent and necessary.  Why is this?

Because work is central to people’s lives everywhere. Elections turn on whether people have confidence in political leaders’ ability to design and run an economy that delivers decent work. When the world’s leaders come together to discuss how to generate strong, sustainable and balanced growth, the litmus test of their success in the eyes of the citizens that send them to the Summits is “what is this going to do for jobs?”  And that is why the ILO is invited to the G-20 and other Summits.

Our global perspective, based on real economy knowledge, confers on us responsibility to put our policy proposals on the table of international decision-making. As a result, the Decent Work Agenda, the social dimension of globalization, the objective of working out of poverty, the Global Jobs Pact, the social protection floor, together with the 1998 Declaration have all been backed internationally.

The national and international promotion of our policies is a responsibility that, aside from current realities, was placed on us by our Constitution, especially the Philadelphia Declaration, and reconfirmed by our 2008 Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization which gives us global guidance for the future. And yet you know how much is still pending; how many workers and small enterprises need the ILO to persist in its task.

Dear friends,
You gave me the privilege of leading the Office and together with you, taking the ILO into the 21st century. Thank you for this remarkable experience.  As I take leave of you, allow me to draw on the perspective of these 13 years of experience and share with you some thoughts on the global challenges that the Organization will be confronting in the future.

Let me begin with the financial crash of 2008 – it was not just an unfortunate accident on a safe road. It was a pile up caused by several features of the growth and globalization model whose values were shaped in the 1980s and picked up increasing speed from the 1990s onward.  Until it went out of control.  And that’s where we are today.  Suddenly, the beginning of the end of this cycle is abruptly upon us but a new model for fair, sustainable and inclusive growth and globalization has yet to be shaped.

Nobody today can safely say where the global economy is going and who is responsible for guiding it towards a fairer, more stable world. (closing cycle – uncertainty –creativity- no ready-made new cycle) We find ourselves in what could be a prolonged period of uncertainty but also a potential period of creativity. The prospect of several more years of lingering crisis or feeble recovery, and the consequences it would have on our societies and politics, is opening minds.

I believe there is a growing conviction of the need to change course stimulated by social movements and protests in many countries, themselves fuelled by the growth of inequality and intolerable levels of youth unemployment. It is time for a policy rethink. I believe the ILO has a vital contribution to make at this critical turning point.

Rethinking policies

Dear friends,
The risks of inaction are huge.  In my report last year, I called for a New Era of Social Justice. I described why present growth patterns are inefficient and how they could be turned around. I pointed to a set of policies that were reasonable and feasible.  Let me develop further these ideas.

This new cycle, this new era, can be conceived and implemented. It is a realistic hope. Above all it requires a redefinition of priorities; linking policy agendas with basic standards of fairness; and above all political conviction to overcome the dogmas of the past and respond to people’s concerns. There has been too much ideology in defining policies, and too little human sensitivity to the individuals, families, communities, ... Too many single policy solutions and too little understanding of the need for policy coherence and policy integration, Too much financial, too little social.

Let me suggest that growth, however indispensable, can no longer be the key criteria for macroeconomic success. I suggest the following additional macroeconomic objectives to judge macroeconomic success:
  • Quality job creation – growth of decent work, particularly for youth
  • Reduction of poverty and informal work and growth of middle classes
  • Fair access to opportunities.
There are of course other more traditional ones – but these 3 symbolize the need for a basic shift in present mindsets.

The ILO’s essential values and its multiple instruments including the Global Jobs Pact, help in this process. They can open the way to a new cycle putting decent work at the heart of policy convergence as the foundation of a new vision of growth and globalization:
  • A conducive environment for a significant growth of investments in sustainable enterprises; a productive view of a new era of social justice
  • A fair relationship between productivity and wages and between higher and lower wages (1-20)
  • Better sectoral policies to enrich the employment content of growth;
  • Coherent trade, investment, social and employment policies; including promotion of start-ups and protection of infant industries
  • Financial regulations giving priority to the real economy; (cholesterol, blood flow, financial flow)
  • Labour market systems that foster protection, mobility and adaptation on the one side and competitiveness and productivity on the other
  • Social dialogue and collective bargaining as a regular feature of work relationships and enterprise development
  • Social protection floors that give a strong footing to step out of poverty and the informal economy;
  • Just transition to cleaner and more efficient energy use and a greening economy;
  • Respect for fundamental principles and rights at work and international labour standards.
All of this is possible. However much more is possible in a context of coordinated global action.

Rethinking global governance

Today’s multi-polar world economy means that no one country or region, can lead on its own. Countries were affected differently by the crisis and have differing priorities in building recovery.  Policy coordination is more complicated just at the time it has become even more important.  Yet the nation state remains the primary source of legitimacy and accountability. It is where laws are adopted and implemented and public finances managed.  Yet, the crisis makes them inward looking.

I believe that in this extremely difficult task, global political concern over jobs can be a unifying theme for international cooperation. All countries are concerned by it. It can help the international system meet the challenges of generating recovery and transitioning into a sustainable strong and balanced path of global development. This is valid at the United Nations, in regional agreements and the G-20.

Not only is it time for a policy rethink, we also need to reconstruct the institutions of global governance and how they connect to national systems. And I think the multi-polar world will need to rely quite heavily on the international organizations to offer broad-based advice on how a new policy approach could fit together. I say broad-based because it will need to blend employment and macroeconomic policies, social and environmental policies, trade and development policies in a sustainable development vision.

We face the challenge of constructing a policy consensus in which countries make commitments internationally which both add up to a global strategy and make sense nationally. Another way of putting this is to ensure that countries have the policy space to act according to nationally specific circumstances but that such actions are mutually supportive.

Beyond dealing with the crisis, what is the wider context in which all of this will take place?
  • By 2020, developing Asia will account for one-third of global consumption, up from 14 per cent in 2008. Increasingly, most of the growth will come from emerging economies and developing countries.
  • By 2025 half of all goods will be sourced globally, up from one-fifth in 2000.
  • By 2050 the size of the working-age population (15-64 years) will have increased by 30 per cent, nearly all in emerging and developing countries.

Let me also mention some trends underway that will shape the world in which the ILO works and operates.

First, there is what I believe to be an inexorable trend to complement representative democracy with participatory democracy.
Increasingly, the diversity of voices in society want to be heard and be part of decision-making from the local to the national level. But also in relation to international organizations.  I think that the 46 country consultations we held with youth organizations and the Global Youth Forum in Geneva shows the ILO understands this evolution.

Second, there is a growing movement towards regionalization. What are the implications?
Fewer global trade agreements, more regional and interregional economic cooperation agreements.
It is probable that progressive steps towards more financial and monetary cooperation will be taken in the course of the next decade among some Asian countries. And is not excluded in other regions. A new global financial design will emerge,

Third, the role of public-private partnerships will grow.
For example, in dealing with energy and environment issues, making the financial system service the real economy, transport and infrastructure development, education and capacity building and transition to new forms of growth and globalization.

Fourth, the issue of social justice, fairness and reduction of inequalities will expand
as the feeling of disconnect between citizens and governmental and private governance grows. Protest, disquiet linked to an unresolved crisis will continue to impact on the political process with the danger of extremist reaction.
In this process public policies will be reinforced.

Why is all of this relevant to the ILO?

We were born out of the social struggle of the end of the 19th century/beginning of the 20th century.  The life of the institution follows the heartbeat of real societies, and the changes ahead offer an incredible opportunity for the ILO policies to be relevant.

In the world that comes, there will be a premium on creativity, innovation, new policies based on human values, on respect for the individual, on ways of looking at policies through the eyes of people. We are certainly not yet there – but the crisis has opened the door for the tripartite ILO to be a key actor.

We can help define what a more stable, balanced, fair world would be like on the basis of our mandate and our values.

So let me conclude by recalling passages in our Constitution:

“Universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice;
And conditions of labour exist involving such injustice, hardship and privation to large numbers of people as to  produce unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world are imperilled; and an improvement of those conditions is urgently required.

So this is the bottom line. We are peace workers.

What the ILO does is about the peace and harmony of the world. That is our mission. That’s the sense of our activities. That’s the essence of our identity.