104th Session of the International Labour Conference

Opening Address by Maria Helena Andre to the Workers'Group Meeting

Statement | Geneva, Switzerland | 31 May 2015
Maria Helena Andre, Director of ACTRAV
Dear Colleagues,

On behalf of the Secretary General of the ILC, the Director-General Guy Ryder,
on behalf of ACTRAV,
to welcome all delegates and other participants to 1st meeting of the Workers’ Group.

Working languages for this meeting will be English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, and Arabic.

Sitting arrangements this afternoon are by country in alphabetical order in French.
Colleagues from ACTRAV will distribute the forms to be filled in and returned again to us indicating the choice of the ILC committees each of you will follow. Some of you have already done that on line, but many have not reacted to our request.

From next meeting onwards it will be free sitting.

This is the first regular meeting of the Workers’ Group during the ILC: They usually take place every second day from 9.00 to 10.00 am. So the next meeting will be on Tuesday, 2 June at 9.00 am.
For those who have been here before there are no novelties. But for colleagues who come for the first time I would like to tell you that the ILC is intensive work, the programme is very charged, we are testing a two-week conference for the first time and so one may expect long working hours. It will also depend on how efficient work in the committees will be.

There will also be a number of side events in the course of the two weeks. They will be announced every day.

Anna Biondi will shortly guide you through the different aspects of the Conference and the ACTRAV colleagues will always be at your disposal to assist on any questions you may have.

I would like to draw your attention to the importance of your participation in the Workers’ Group meetings. This is the place where the cohesion of the group and the spirit of solidarity will be tested.

Discussions will be held and decisions will be taken regarding the work in the different committees – what goes well, what goes less well and what is the position of the Workers’ Group.

Even more important, this is the place where eventual differences within the group regarding some of issues at stake should be discussed and explained. But once a decision is democratically taken by the majority of group, it is very important that the group acts single voiced and moves forward together and in unity.

The ILC represents a golden opportunity for:
  • the ILO constituents to work together, to discuss their points of agreement and their differences;
  • the trade union movement to work together;
  • more important, for advancing together the rights based agenda, as spelled out in the Decent Work Agenda and to build fairer workplaces.
  • the daily lives of workers throughout the globe are showing that the wind is not blowing in their direction. 
  • the raise in inequalities;
  • the casualization of work, the unstable employment relationships and the low quality in working conditions and work organisations;
  • the constant attacks against human and trade union rights;
  • the obstacles to the legitimate action of trade union organisations; 
  • the assassination of trade unionists in several parts of the world; and
  • the weakening of democracies have a clear impact on ILO’s work and on the workers’ agenda.
And what is most worrying is that the situation does not seem to be about to change:
  • unemployment remains stubbornly high, with youth unemployment and long term unemployment taking the lead;
  • wages remain stubbornly low, with no correction in the unfair distribution of revenues across the globe.
This is the result of the low level and quality of social dialogue and constant attacks against collective bargaining that has become the target of many employers and governments across the globe (no matter how much lip service is paid to their importance in the official discourse).

We all thought that the Rana Plaza or the Soma mine disasters were the worse one could witness. That governments and employers would understand, amongst other actions, that the non-ratification or the non-compliance with ILO conventions has huge costs in human lives or in economic terms. That lessons would be drawn regarding the use of the tremendous potential offered by the International Labour Standards. But we were wrong. The recent fire in the Philippines, on the Kentex factory is the proof that little or anything has been learned.

And unfortunately give reason to the Workers’ Group and on its crusade for more and better international labour standards, but also on the need for higher levels of ratification and for better compliance.
I would like to request One minute of silence in the memory of all those who have lost their lives in the course of their professional activity, lives that in many cases could have been spared.

Let me now turn to the Agenda of the Conference very briefly, in order to draw your attention to some of the challenges ahead of you in the course of the next two weeks.
Regarding the Standing items:

The Report of the Director-General on the Future of Work, one of the Centenary Initiatives. There is a great expectation around the discussions on this Report. What should be the central role and leadership of the ILO in shaping this discussion will certainly be at the core of the discussions and launch the preparations for the celebration of ILO’s Centenary in 2019. But also what are the expectations and proposals of the Workers’ Group around an issue that is too wide, too complex but is intimately related to the Social Justice Agenda and to the values that are the bread and butter of workers’ organisations no matter where in the globe.

The Programme and Budget proposals for 2016-2017 also require action by the conference. This has been under discussion since last November and one may say it has been a detailed, constructive and inclusive process both from a formal and an informal point of view. Many of the proposals presented by the Workers’ Group in the course of the process have been taken on board and thus the principles of the Decent Work Agenda well incorporated. This programme will guide the actions and the allocation of resources of the office for the next biennium in its joint work with stakeholders including workers’ organisations. It will be a merger between the old areas of critical importance and the outcomes planned for the next two years. It will also be a transitional programme.

And finally on the Standing Items list, the Information and reports on the application of conventions and recommendations.

The General Survey concerning the right of association and rural workers’ organisations instruments has allowed the Committee of Experts to identify a number of obstacles that will have to be addressed such as the informality of the sector or the heterogeneity of the existing labour relations, leading to unacceptable disadvantaged situations, be it in terms of wages and benefits, the situation of women or access to education, as well as the prevalence of child and forced labour and discrimination. So the challenge will be what replies can be found to address this situation and how existing standards applicable to these issues can be better implemented or consolidated in a broader and more comprehensive manner.

There are high expectations that the CAS will come back to normal functioning and to deliver its mandate. The CAS will have to consider 24 cases and there was a consensus on the importance of adopting conclusions on all cases. Such conclusions should be short, clear and specify the action expected of Governments and whenever applicable to activities provided by the Office.

Moving to the items placed on the agenda by the Conference or the Governing Body, there will the three under discussion.

The General Discussion on Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises and Decent and Productive Employment Creation. This is a very relevant topic since we know that the vast majority of jobs created across the world are in SME or even micro enterprises.

This discussion will have as a starting point the conclusions of 2007 discussion on sustainable enterprises and to take stock of the Office’s work in the promotion of SMEs, what has worked and what needs to be improved. The sustainability of enterprises is fundamental, not only from an economic, productivity or competitiveness point of view but also from an employment, social and environmental dimension. This implies building this work on the Decent Work Agenda, including on International Labour Standards and thus the need to address questions such as the quality of jobs, of working conditions and work environment, the role and place of workers, their representatives and trade union organisations.

Facilitating transition from the informal to the formal economy, with the second discussion of this standard-setting exercise.

13 years separate us from the 2002 debate at the informal economy and decent work Committee of the ILC.

Two main challenges around this negotiation: the first one regards the need to put in place strong, clear and efficient policies to promote transition to the formal economy in order to achieve decent work for all, including the exercise of the right to organizing and bargaining collectively; the second ones lies on the clarity of the Recommendation to be adopted.

Being a stand-alone instrument it will have to be comprehensive and clear enough to provide guidance to Member States and the social partners and also include a follow up agenda for promoting effective application of the Recommendation at the national level.

The work done last year and the discussions in between the two ILC have helped to pave the ground to what we hope will be good conclusions.
Colleagues the challenge will then be how to put these conclusions in practice.

And finally the recurrent discussion on the strategic objective of social protection (labour protection) The 2008 ILO Social Justice Declaration foresees regular ILC discussions on how best to reduce decent work deficits and to advance greater social justice. This year, discussions will turn around wage policies; working-time arrangements; occupational safety and health (OSH); and maternity protection. The objective of the recurrent discussion is to better understand member States’ diverse realities and needs with respect to labour protection, as well as to discuss ILO action to address these needs, in order to respond more effectively to them through a coordinated use of all the ILO means of action including Standard setting. As a result of its work the Committee is to adopt conclusions and the main elements of a plan of action on labour protection to guide the work of the Office and the constituents in the coming years. Questions like working time and non-standard forms of employment will be key in these discussions form a workers’ point of view.

Colleagues, the menu is long and sometimes with issues that are difficult to digest. But I am certain of the engagement of all in all debates.

We have a bit of housekeeping to do.

I would like to welcome the representatives of the Nordic Folk High School, maintaining the tradition that dates from 1931 with the visit of trade unionists from all five Nordic countries as a part of a training programme aimed at increasing the awareness of the ILO and how it works among Nordic workers and their unions. During their stay, they will write papers on issues relating to trade unionism and the conference. Any cooperation extended to the group will be most welcomed.

We will elect the chairperson of the Workers’ Group. But before that I will give the floor to Anna Biondi, who will give you some technical background about the ILC.