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International Labour Conference
85th Session

Statement by Mr. Bill Brett
Workers' Vice-Chairperson of the Governing Body
of the International Labour Office
3 June 1997

On behalf of the Chairperson of the Governing Body, Mr. Arrate Mac Niven, who is not able to be with us today, as Vice-Chairperson of the Governing Body I have the honour to present this report which covers the work of the Governing Body during the past year but not matters otherwise before the Conference. I will briefly touch on the main points.

First, in monitoring follow-up on the World Summit for Social Development, the Governing Body examined progress in the work of the ACC Task Force on full employment and sustainable livelihoods, which decided to carry out country employment policy reviews on the ILO as a lead agency for this work.

The Governing Body welcomed the adoption by the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) of the Habitat agenda, and, in particular, the recognition given by the Conference to the role of the ILO in employment-related areas. It requested the Director-General to ensure that the ILO was actively involved in follow-up.

As regards the highly topical issue of child labour, the Governing Body examined a detailed report on the progress in the elimination of child labour and related international developments. In particular, it noted the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on child labour with more than 20 member States, in the search for a long-term solution to the child labour problem. It noted the donations and total contributions pledged since 1992 and for the next five years to the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), as well as the Letter of Intent signed by the ILO and UNICEF to guide their joint efforts. The Governing Body has also requested the Director-General to report to it annually on the operational aspects of IPEC.

Through its Working Party on the Social Dimensions of the Liberalization of International Trade, the Governing Body discussed a recent OECD publication on Trade, Employment and Labour Standards, which, in particular, lent support to the ILO's role, mandate and means of action. That role was further re-affirmed at the first Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization in Singapore in December 1996. The Governing Body discussed developments at that meeting and noted, in particular, the many statements that were made in support of the ILO's role and welcomed the inclusion of a section on labour standards in the final Declaration adopted by the meeting, which referred to the internationally recognized fundamental labour standards. This was considered of particular significance as it represents the official point of view of the WTO as expressed by ministers of trade.

The debate on the ILO's role concentrated on two issues. The first was the improvement and strengthening of the ILO's supervisory system and normative action more generally. The role of technical cooperation in promoting core labour standards and the question of how to focus technical cooperation more effectively on such core labour standards was also stressed. The second issue was how to improve the ILO's research capacity and knowledge base. It was agreed that a more strategic approach was needed and this will be discussed further in the coming year.

You may recall that during last year's Conference a questionnaire was distributed to obtain views on current development in globalization and the liberalization of trade and their impact on social standards. This exercise met with mixed success and it was difficult to draw conclusions, but one outcome was that the Office was requested to prepare a short factual document on voluntary codes of conduct and labelling schemes for the Working Party's next meeting. It was also stressed by the Governing Body that the impact of globalization differed greatly between countries and sectors and it was desirable to develop methodology and criteria for judging objectively, on the basis of national enterprise-level data, both the extent and social impact of globalization.

Turning to international labour standards, the Governing Body reviewed progress on the ratification and promotion of the ILO's fundamental Conventions and considered further papers on the strengthening of the ILO's supervisory procedures. These set out a catalogue of possible methods and opened debate on the specific standards concerned, namely, those on discrimination in employment and occupation and forced labour, including child labour.

As regards the revision of standards, the Governing Body continued its examination of the needs for the revision of Conventions and this work will continue in the coming year. On the question of abrogation or termination, you will note that a set of amendments to the Constitution and Standing Orders of the Governing Body and the Conference are before the Conference at the present session.

As regards the complaint on non-observance by Myanmar of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), which was made by delegates to last year's Conference under article 26 of the Constitution of the ILO, the Governing Body has referred that complaint to a Commission of Inquiry.

The Governing Body reviewed progress in the implementation of the active partnership policy, ILO technical cooperation activities and the ILO strategy of technical cooperation during the previous year. It noted the stabilization of the resources situation and requested the Office to prepare proposals for an innovative strategy to enhance the resources available to the technical cooperation programme. This will be examined in the coming year. The Governing Body has decided to conduct an internal evaluation of the active partnership policy and a Working Party will meet three times in the coming year and will visit various regions before adopting its findings.

The Governing Body also reviewed strategies to enhance women's employment and income opportunities in the light of experience from technical cooperation. The Governing Body included on the agenda for the 1999 Session of the Conference a general discussion on the role of the ILO in technical cooperation, as well as an item on the revision of the Maternity Protection Convention and Recommendation.

The Governing Body evaluated practical experiences with the new sectoral meetings format, drawing conclusions on the desirable size of meetings and the level of participation and the structure of panel discussions, as well as on various other minor aspects.

The Governing Body also undertook an assessment of the reforms in the functioning of the International Labour Conference. It decided that all the measures applied in 1996 should be continued at the present session. It also discussed various proposals concerning possible changes in the manner of selecting items for future sessions of the Conference.

Finally, many of you will have noticed that the Governing Body now has a presence on the Internet on the ILO's site. This is an important innovation designed to improve access to documents and information and to accelerate the distribution of documents to members of the Governing Body.

Before concluding I would like to offer my sincere thanks to my two fellow officers, Mr. Jorge Arrate Mac Niven, the Chairperson of the Governing Body, who will be joining us next week, and Mr. Jean-Jacques Oechslin, Employer Vice-Chairperson of the Governing Body, for both their friendship and cooperation over the past year and I should also like to thank the Director-General and his staff for their constant support and assistance.

Finally, Madam President, allow me to congratulate you on your election and to wish you every success in your work and in the work of the Conference.

Updated by VC. Approved by RH. Last update: 26 January 2000.