ILO Statement to the Third Committee of the 71th General Assembly

Labour rights are workers’ human rights

Agenda Item 68: Promotion and protection of human rights

Statement | 19 October 2016
Madam Chair,

At the core of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) mission to promote social justice are the internationally recognised human rights as expressed in the world of work.

Protecting peoples’ rights under the categories of freedom of association, discrimination, child labour and forced labour are these human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child confirm these rights as human rights.

The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in his report (A/71/385) recalls that “labour rights are workers’ human rights”.

His report highlights the importance of “freedom of peaceful assembly and association (as) foundational rights precisely because they are essential to human dignity, economic empowerment, sustainable development and democracy. They are the gateway to all other rights; without them, all other human and civil rights are in jeopardy.”

A majority of the world’s workers today are still unable to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and of association in the workplace. This situation is often bleaker for groups working in vulnerable circumstances, including migrants, refugees, women and domestic workers, as well as those engaged in work in informal and rural economies.

As the ILO approaches its centenary, against a background of significant changes occurring in the world of work, it is timely to reflect on global progress of these human rights, these fundamental rights at work.

Looking towards the horizon there are a number of disruptive changes taking place in the labour market impacting on the future of work. Our efforts to achieve decent work for all might be an elusive goal if we do not ensure that international standards are applied fairly across the globe in our pursuit of this new development vision.

The ILO’s historic mission and experience in tackling violations as well as the promotion of these rights at work will be essential in reaching this goal. But we will also need to address these new challenges arising at different stages and levels in the global economy through effective partnerships and innovative action to make decent work for all a reality.

Workers’ and employers’ organizations are the ILO’s social partners. These actors of the real economy, and the unique entry-point provided by world of work, are important catalysts and have important contributions to make in achieving the SDGs.

Our research and experience show that improving conditions at work and creating dialogue among people at work are key drivers in achieving decent work, reducing poverty and increasing resilience to conflict. Freedom of assembly and association are essential to achieving these goals.

These fundamental rights at work are the globally accepted baseline for fair treatment in the workplace and a starting point for addressing labour conditions and sustainable development. And although widely ratified, these human rights need to be promoted and protected by all member States.

We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s support for the ILO’s mandate in highlighting the importance of freedom of peaceful assembly and association and take note of his suggested actions for governments, businesses and their supply chains, trade unions, civil society and the wider UN system.
In the pursuit of decent work for all, the ILO continuously engages workers and employers to develop these standards and contribute to building better labour market governance structures for the very future of decent work.

The centrality of a rights-based approach to the SDGs provides tremendous opportunities to use the international standards and rights at work to revitalise inclusive and equitable growth.

As echoed in the report, we must enable people to have a voice, at work and in society, to advocate for their interests in conditions of dignity and respect. This is a human right.