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International Labour Conference
85th Session

Address by Mrs. O. Keltosová
President of the 85th Session
of the International Labour Conference
3 June 1997

It is a great honour for me, for my country and for the Government of the Slovak Republic that I have been elected as President of the 85th Session of the International Labour Conference. I would like to express my gratitude to the distinguished delegates of all regional groups as well as to the representatives of Workers and Employers for their support and the trust that was bestowed upon me. I would like to thank particularly all countries of Central and Eastern European regions for their support of my candidature, which enabled the Slovak Republic to preside over this year's session of the International Labour Conference. My thanks go also to His Excellency, Ambassador Zahran, Chairperson of the Government group, as well as to Mr. Sibanda, spokesperson of the Workers' group, and to Mr. Oechslin, spokesperson of the Employers' group for their expression of support on behalf of their respective groups.

I would like to assure you that it is both in my personal interest and the interest of my Government that the outcome of this session of the International Labour Conference will be for the benefit of the Organization as well as for its member States. I will do my best to achieve progress in issues which are on the agenda. I believe that the support you have given to me so far will continue for the whole Conference, and I am convinced that your participation in the work of various committees and in the plenary debate will be guided by the spirit of consensus which is the fundamental feature of the tripartite cooperation in the ILO.

The present world, heading towards global integration, stands at the threshold of the next millennium. It may be observed that this world is getting smaller, thanks to the modern communication and media links but, paradoxically, the distance from a man to a man is not changing. Modern technologies and facilitated communications did not lead to narrowing the gaps among individuals and countries; on the contrary, they widen those gaps, which then create tensions in the social, economic and political spheres. Our task is to mitigate these tensions and find ways and means of common understanding and cooperation for the welfare of all of us. This was the reason behind all major international conferences focused on various areas of our life, from the World Summit on Environment held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 to the Habitat II held in Istanbul in 1996. International organizations are another forum which contributes to the search for and formulation of mutually advantageous ways of cooperation. The first of them, the International Labour Organization, was established in 1919 as a direct consequence of the suffering experienced by humankind before, and especially during, the First World War.

From its establishment the ILO developed a system of international labour standards, represented today by 180 Conventions and 187 Recommendations of a remarkable historical value. The standard-setting activities of the ILO have always been the cornerstone of its activities. They inspired the domestic, social and labour legislation in many countries and contributed to the improvement of working conditions of workers.

However, the political, economic and social situation of the world has changed substantially over the last ten years. The end of the Cold War, failure of the centrally planned economy system, employment crises affecting all countries regardless of their economic and social development, and the process of globalization are the most important examples. International relations and international cooperation reached a new quality which should also be reflected in the future standard-setting activities of the ILO.

The conclusions of the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995 state the fact that employment is a precondition for the development of social justice. In the final Declaration countries committed themselves to include the objective of full employment as a basic priority of their economic and social policies, and they emphasized that the ILO has a special role in the employment and social development area. In the Declaration of the Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Singapore in December 1996, participating governments confirmed that the ILO is the competent organization to set labour standards and deal with them.

I mentioned just examples of support for standard-setting activities of the ILO and it is on us, the representatives of member countries, to respond to this challenge and to determine responsibly the future way so that this Organization will be able to meet the expectations put in it.

Standard setting is closely linked to the issue of implementation and supervision of commitments undertaken. The strengthening of the control mechanism and observance of the ILO fundamental human rights Conventions are the test of the readiness of member countries to find a mutually acceptable solution and to show the outside world that all commitments and declarations from various conferences, especially the World Summit for Social Development, were adopted with full political responsibility, and the will to pursue them in the future. Regardless of the different opinions it is clear that the process of globalization and the realization of ILO goals are interconnected. Globalization must be accompanied by progress in the social sphere and the protection of workers' rights. Every State, company, multinational enterprise and individual should receive his share from the benefit of globalization, otherwise the tensions arising from this phenomenon may endanger social stability which is the basis for the good functioning of each national society and its final result, of the whole international society.

The Report of the Director-General contains a number of ideas, words of further reflection. In my opinion, it is not the role of this Conference to set up or agree on the precise definition of the future of standard setting and the control mechanism but rather to find a consensus on a future approach to these issues which then could be taken up by the ILO's Governing Body. It is not possible to deal with any issue from the legal point of view unless clear political consensus exists. I believe the discussions on the Director-General's Report will indicate possible solutions.

The ILO has identified seven Conventions as fundamental with respect to basic human rights. In this connection, let me mention that the Slovak Republic is bound by 58 ILO Conventions and responded positively to the initiative of the Director-General aimed at the universal ratification of those seven Conventions. Recently, a process of ratification of Convention No. 138 on the minimum age for admission to employment and No. 105 on the abolition of forced labour has started in the National Council of the Slovak Republic. Consequently, Slovakia will become another country which ratified all seven Conventions by the end of this year. At the end of this year, the Slovak Republic will also ratify ILO Convention No. 176 on safety and health in mines.

The important part of the agenda of this Conference is also a proposed amendment to the ILO Constitution which would provide for an option to abrogate those international labour standards deemed obsolete and are not used in practice. It is good that this constitutional amendment -- and consequently the amendment of the Standing Orders of the Conference -- are presented for adoption as the process of setting new standards will be accompanied by the possibility to abrogate those not reflecting the actual development of labour and social relations.

A very important area of ILO activities is technical cooperation and assistance. The process of changes in standard setting should be accompanied by a new approach to technical assistance especially for developing countries and countries in transition. We need more educational activities, particularly in the labour law, social security law, employment issues and working conditions areas. Within technical assistance, it would be advisable to increase financial resources for various training activities as well as for technical consultations on drafts of national labour and social laws. Measures to support the development of small and medium-sized enterprises should be aimed especially at the establishment of organizations and programmes for support of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Creation of conditions for improvement of labour and social relations with the aim of reaching social justice is a permanent goal of the ILO. The principles formulated in the Declaration of Philadelphia more than 50 years ago are still valid in today's world under the globalization and free trade conditions. In order to deal effectively with labour and social issues, it is necessary to involve both governmental and non-governmental organizations in individual countries.

Changes in Central and Eastern European countries aimed at the democratization of social systems require the formulation of adequate economic and social policy principles. Central and Eastern European countries are in the process of transition to market economies. Parallel to the economic transformation, a special significance is also given to the social sphere transformation, which motivates and stimulates economic changes and behaviour of subjects.

Development of the social sphere in Slovakia after 1989, especially in 1993, was formulated beside the economic development by new legislative standards which significantly affected the whole social sphere. They are summarized in the document Concept of the social sphere transformation in the Slovak Republic adopted by the Government of the Slovak Republic in 1995. This document is based on the conceptual and complex reconstruction of labour, individual and collective relations, social sphere (social security) transformation, transfer of employment problems and their solution, into individual parts of the economic policy. The State guarantees the right of the citizen to a relevant income replacing the labour income if the citizen has lost his job without causing it. The transformation intentions in the employment area were expressed in the employment policy concept, including the state policy, labour market policy and employment service concept, and finally in a new Act on employment, effective from 1 January this year. This Act especially determines objectives of the employment policy corresponding to the present labour market development in Slovakia. It transfers the competence of the labour market policy implementation to the National Labour Office, which is a publicly legal institution, strengthens the insurance principle at providing unemployment benefits. Development of conceptual issues of employment policy continues in the cooperation with the Research Institute of Labour, Social Affairs and Family in putting the emphasis on the more intensive links to labour market policy. The concept of the social sphere transformation in the Slovak Republic is based on a neutral relationship between labour and social relations, synchronization of labour relations, labour incomes and social insurance, complementary pension schemes, social assistance and state social support.

In conclusion allow me to express my gratitude to the Director-General of the International Labour Office, Mr. Michel Hansenne and also to all members of the Governing Body of the ILO for their work and efforts at preparing this session of the International Labour Conference. I wish you a lot of success in your responsible work. I believe that this Conference will be successful and will reflect the goals, ambitions and efforts of the International Labour Organization which we all want to enforce and support.

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