Statement by Ms. Tarja Halonen, President of the Republic of Finland, at the opening of the 100th International Labour Conference

In an address at the opening of the 100th annual Conference of the International Labour Organization, Finnish President Tarja Halonen cited the "absence of social justice" in the world, and said the ILO’s values and policies are needed more than ever to create "a world with fewer tensions, greater fairness and strengthened security."

Statement | Geneva | 01 June 2011

The establishment in 1919 of the International Labour Organisation stemmed from the political desire to create common international rules for reducing unhealthy competition between countries on working conditions and terms. The tripartite system has proved its strength and viability. Before the 100th International Labour Conference – which starts today – the ILO has adopted a total of 188 conventions.

The principles of the Organisation are based on the Declaration of Philadelphia. In today’s global economy, these principles are even more topical than over 60 years ago.

The Declaration of Philadelphia also stated that the ILO should promote social security programmes in order to provide a basic income to all who need such protection. This year’s Labour Conference will discuss on how social security could be guaranteed to all – not only to those in gainful employment, but also to those millions of people who have been excluded from the labour markets or are otherwise trapped in the grey areas of the global economy.

At the beginning of the new Millennium, you, Director-General Somavia, appointed an international commission on the social dimension of globalization. I had the pleasure – and the challenge – of co-chairing the World Commission together with then President of Tanzania Benjamin Mkapa. The members of the World Commission represented – in accordance with ILO principles – the various dimensions of society. By recognising these different starting points and by listening to each other, we were able to produce a unanimous report – which was then published in 2004.

I am happy that our work led to results at the United Nations’ World Summit in 2005. Also, in 2008, the International Labour Conference adopted the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization. This now defines the strategic objectives of the ILO.

On this basis, it has been possible to address the impacts of globalization including the requirement of access to decent work. For example by the regional organizations such as the European Union and the African Union. The ILO has been active to ensure that issues of working life are taken into account in the debate on the global economy – and now also in the work of the G20 countries.

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The recent events in Northern Africa and in the Middle East have once again opened our eyes to see that conflicts are emerging due to – not only lack of democracy, human rights and the rule of law –but also the absence of social justice.

In the report to this Labour Conference, you, Director-General Somavia, emphasise that Organisation’s values and policies are needed more than ever. In your words, “ILO policies contribute to a world with fewer tensions, greater fairness and strengthened security.”2

Implementation of the trinity of sustainable development – economically, socially and ecologically sustainable development – would be most effective work for security. At the global level, the UN has aimed to enhance positive development – in spite of the increased number of conflicts that the World Organization is requested or expected to resolve. Truly sustainable development would be a much better solution – both in terms of reduced human suffering and the economy.

The UN High-level Panel on Global Sustainability, which I currently co-chair with President of South Africa Jacob Zuma, aims at finding models for global cooperation. We hope that sustainable development could have a genuine impact on people’s everyday lives – and hopefully as soon as possible.

The ILO has a global role in promoting human rights and establishing safer social and working life norms. The core conventions adopted by the Organisation remain highly topical. Still, a great deal remains to be done in their national implementation in many parts of the world. Especially, more work is necessary to eliminate the forced labour and the worst forms of child labour. And, workers’ right to association and negotiation must be further promoted. These basic rights must be respected when we look for means to advance the global economy.

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This year’s Conference will discuss a report on equality at work. The report shows that many countries have made progress in increasing gender equality – especially in the public, political and institutional sectors. Nevertheless, women – especially those belonging to minorities and immigrant women – are still far too often the first to face the negative impacts of various crises and conflicts.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the ILO’s Equal Remuneration Convention. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the International Women’s Day. The equal status and remuneration of women at work – however – continues to demand our full attention. Yet, achieving sustainable development would simply require that we fully utilise the potential and resources of all people.

Gender equality is a human rights issue. The same is true for the elimination of work discrimination and the eradication of racism. It is good that these topics are among the agenda issues of this year’s Labour Conference.

Governments alone cannot implement the ILO objectives. The tripartite system is the special nature and strength of the Organisation. As all three parties have committed themselves to ILO decisions, it is easier for all parties to support and promote the national implementation processes in their own countries.

The report of the ILO World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization – which I mentioned earlier – contained several recommendations. One of them was that the work towards a fairer globalization begins at home. My own country, Finland, and the other Nordic countries, too, have based our system on the welfare society model. Still, all these countries are among the most competitive countries in the world.

Governments, labour market organisations and other key partners should agree on national measures which guarantee that the benefits of globalization can be fully utilised and that the challenges caused by globalization are addressed. If we fail to act at home, we cannot expect progress at the international level.3

Close cooperation between different international organisations is essential so that we can create a strong direction for development. I consider that an intense interaction between such organisations as the ILO, the UNCTAD and the WTO would provide a solid basis for global solution. At the global level, we need a better coherence among different objectives and actions and a common understanding on how to achieve our goals.

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I wish the 100th International Labour Conference, and all the participants, great success in your work during the coming days and weeks. The International Labour Organisation has a key role in the family of the World Organisation – people and decent work agenda are at the centre of your work.