International Labour Conference: ILO urges strong action on jobs

The annual Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) concluded its 2010 session with a strong call for placing employment and social protection at the centre of recovery policies. Meeting in the run-up to the G20 Leaders summit in Toronto, representatives of the “real economy” – government, employer and worker delegates from the ILO’s 183 member States – expressed broad concern that the global economic recovery remained “fragile and unevenly distributed, and many labour markets are yet to see jobs recovery match economic recovery”.

Delegates called for action to apply the ILO’s Global Jobs Pact. The Pact was adopted at a crisis summit held during last year’s International Labour Conference and received strong support during the G20 summit in Pittsburgh last September.

Speakers also backed Mr. Somavia’s call for a “balanced” policy strategy aimed at securing a “jobs-rich” economic recovery, and his warning that recent deficit reduction measures, mainly in social spending, could “directly affect jobs and salaries” at a time of weak economic recovery and continued high levels of unemployment.

The Conference reiterated its call to the ILO to place full and productive employment and decent work at the centre of economic and social policies to strengthen the social dimension of globalization. “It is urgent for the ILO to play its full role in the challenges posed by globalization,” said Mr. Gilles de Robien (France), President of the Conference.

Conference delegates called on the ILO to enhance its collaboration with the multilateral institutions, particularly the United Nations, the IMF and the World Bank, strengthening policy coherence across financial, economic, trade, employment, social and environmental policies.

The Conference took place against a backdrop of new concern over the continuing global jobs crisis, that has elevated global unemployment to more than 210 million, or its highest level ever recorded, according to the Director-General’s report Recovery and growth with decent work. Mr. Somavia noted that the ILO had seen no significant indications of a reduction in the global rate of unemployment this year, despite signs of an economic recovery.

Speakers from governments, employers and workers alike noted that the continuing lack of a jobs recovery placed a “terrible burden” on the unemployed, while at the same time hindering efforts to create “the right environment for enterprises to create employment’. Others cautioned against premature exit from stimulus packages, which would simply “make matters worse”.

“The message of this Conference is very clear – put jobs at the centre of the recovery. In terms of the G20 meeting in Toronto this means keeping the Leaders’ commitment, under the chairmanship of President Obama, in Pittsburgh to put quality jobs at the heart of the recovery”, Mr. Somavia said.

Swiss President opens Conference

“The crisis will not be over as long as unemployment and underemployment prevail,” said the President of the Swiss Confederation, H.E. Ms. Doris Leuthard, at the opening ceremony of the 99th annual Conference of the International Labour Organization.

Speaking to some 4,000 delegates gathered for the International Labour Conference, Ms. Leuthard stressed the importance of “cooperation and consistency not only between governments, but also with the social partners to address development challenges and to meet economic, social and environmental needs.”

“As the global economy seems to recover from the crisis, let us not be blinded by encouraging signals and indicators. Let us not succumb to the temptation to return to business as usual. Unemployment remains a major concern of governments, and we must strive to eliminate the damage caused by the crisis on the labour market,” Ms. Leuthard said.

Conference Agenda

Delegates also discussed a wide range of other issues, including employment policies, a new Recommendation on HIV/ AIDS, domestic work and the effect given to ILO labour standards.

On 17 June, Conference delegates gave overwhelming support to a new international labour standard on HIV and AIDS and the world of work. The Recommendation is the first international human rights instrument to focus specifically on HIV and the world of work. It contains provisions on prevention programmes and anti-discrimination measures at national and workplace levels, aimed at strengthening the contribution of the world of work to universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

The Conference also adopted a resolution on the promotion and implementation of the Recommendation that invites the ILO Governing Body to allocate greater resources to give effect to the new standard, requesting that a Global Action Plan be established to achieve its widespread implementation with regular reporting from ILO member States.

The Conference also held a first discussion on new international labour standards for domestic workers. The adoption of such instruments would present an unprecedented opportunity to facilitate access to decent employment conditions for this historically disadvantaged group, mainly comprising women and girls.

The proposed instruments would set out some minimum protections for domestic workers worldwide, taking into account the specificities of domestic work and its heterogeneity.

A second discussion on the proposed instruments will follow in June 2011.

The Committee for the Recurrent Discussion on Employment concluded that the ILO and its social partners have major roles to play in advancing the objective of an employment-centred macroeconomic framework, and asked the ILO to improve and coordinate its technical and analytical capacity to examine macroeconomic policies from the perspective of employment outcomes.

During the plenary, delegates addressed the latest ILO report on the situation of workers in the occupied Arab territories which shows some improvement in the economic situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory although the latter remains precarious, particularly in Gaza.

Delegates also discussed the ILO’s Global Report on child labour on 11 June. The Report shows that global efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour are losing momentum, and warns that unless they are significantly stepped up the 2016 target will not be reached. (For further information see page 4 of this issue.)

The role of the International Labour Conference is to adopt and oversee compliance with international labour standards, establish the budget of the Organization and elect members of the Governing Body. Since 1919, the Conference has served as a major international forum for debate on social and labour questions of worldwide importance. Each of the 183 ILO member States has the right to send four delegates to the Conference: two from government and one each representing workers and employers, each of whom may speak and vote independently.

International labour standards

The Conference Committee on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations examined 25 individual cases covering the whole range of concerns addressed by the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations in its report submitted to the Conference (for more information, please go to: Report of the Conference Committee on the Application of Standards

The Committee again held a special sitting on the application by Myanmar of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), following up measures taken in the context of Article 33 of the ILO Constitution.

The General Survey discussed by the Conference Committee this year was on employment instruments, in light of the ILO’s 2008 Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization. The Survey was intended to promote greater coherence between the normative and economic and social policy work of the Organization through an analysis of the laws, practices and policies of countries in the field of employment.

Two high-level panels were convened at the ILO’s International Labour Conference amid growing concern over unemployment, which remains at its highest point ever, and the impact of the sovereign debt crisis and recent moves to reduce deficits, impose austerity measures and take other steps towards fiscal consolidation.

The two panels were convened to discuss ways of forging a job-rich recovery and fostering more sustainable and balanced growth through making employment a macroeconomic objective of the same order as low inflation and deficits. They also discussed the contribution of productive employment and social protection to realizing faster progress to achieve internationally agreed development goals such as the MDGs.

“The ILO has helped lead the way with the Global Jobs Pact which is moving job creation up the priority list,” said United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in a statement prepared for the discussion. “Now is the time to go even further. A recovery is not meaningful if people learn about it in the newspaper. Working women and men need to see it in their own lives and livelihoods. Simply put, a real recovery must reach the real economy.”

At the same time, a number of speakers cited examples of balanced economic and social policies in response to the crisis. Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said that a strategy of strengthening the real economy while prioritizing social justice had helped mitigate the impact of the global economic crisis in Brazil, adding that “peace, cooperation and fair trade will be the new name of development”.

US Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, speaking in a video message, presented the conclusions of the G20 Labour and Employment Ministers’ meeting last April in Washington, noting that the meeting had highlighted the role of the ILO’s Global Jobs Pact and Decent Work Agenda as “valuable resources for governments as they design further measures to address employment and social protection systems”.

Other speakers also stressed the role of social protection as an essential part of the response to the crisis. Gilles de Robien of France, President of the Conference, said the succession of crises had shown that “social protection is both a social stabilizer and a stabilizer for the economy, at least in countries where such protection exists”.

Panellists also warned that the accelerating sovereign debt crisis, coupled with government policies designed to squeeze public expenditures at the expense of job creation, also threatened to stall or reverse progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty and promoting development by 2015.

Mr. Valentin Mocanu, Secretary of State, Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Protection, Romania noted that the Conference had just concluded ground-breaking discussions on employment issues that underscored that the ILO and its social partners “have major roles to play in advancing the objective of an employment-centred macroeconomic framework. We have asked the Office to improve and coordinate its technical and analytical capacity to examine macroeconomic policies from the perspective of employment outcomes.”