ILO Director-General Guy Ryder calls for more regular migration channels in the EU

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder addressed a conference of the European Commission on EU labour law in a video message. Recalling the recent Lampedusa tragedy, he advocated joint efforts of the European Union, the ILO, governments, workers' and employers' organizations to create more regular migration channels.

Date issued: 21 October 2013 |

Transcript of the speech:

Commissioner Andor, Dear László, conference delegates, thanks for the opportunity to address your Conference today. You are part of a very important initiative to review the efforts to modernize EU labour law and ensure more equitable and inclusive labour markets for the world of work in the twenty-first century. The ILO and the EU have a common mandate to ensure minimum standards that strengthen workers’ rights and working conditions. But it has proven difficult to keep up with the rapid adjustment of labour laws intended to have an impact in rebalancing the significant social and economic challenges faced over recent years.

Many of these reforms depart from longstanding traditions of social dialogue and have given rise to modifications of prevailing collective bargaining models and shifts in employment protection. We have seen rising inequalities and little or no impact on unemployment and poverty levels.

As you deliberate future priorities, I would urge you to reflect beyond labour law and contemplate the role that complementary policy measures, such as social protection schemes and active labour market policies, can play in addressing the multiple causes of social and economic phenomena such as labour segmentation.

Besides the ever present challenges of job creation, market-based pension reforms introduced by some European countries are challenged by the financial crisis. We are thus seeing a new trend to renationalize these schemes. The timeliness and the relevance of the ILO’s Social Protection Floors Recommendation can assist even European countries in ensuring that all members of society and essentially the most vulnerable enjoy at least a basic level of social security throughout their lives, based on the principles of solidarity, adequate benefits and predictability.

We must also pay special heed to particularly vulnerable categories of workers who fall through the cracks in the legislative framework too frequently. Take the situation of domestic workers. Labour inspectors are often ill-equipped to deal with the special nature of domestic work. ILO Convention No. 189 on domestic work sets out the measures to fill these labour and social protection gaps and I hope that all EU Member States will follow the example given by Germany and Italy in ratifying the Convention and in so doing recognizing the economic and social value of domestic work.

We equally share the fight against undeclared work, which is an extreme form of social dumping, introducing unfair competition through low wages and the non-payment of social security benefits. Worse, undeclared work foments an environment in which workers’ rights and dignity can all too easily be violated with impunity. This is why the ILO has been proactive in assisting EU Member States to improve their labour inspection systems’ capacity to detect and address cases of undeclared work.

Yet, while labour inspection has a crucial role to play in combating the informal economy and ensuring the effective protection of workers, the role of labour inspectors should not be confused with the enforcement of immigration laws. That would defeat the very purpose of labour inspectorates intended to protect the exploited and, in the process, would make it even more difficult to bring undeclared work to the surface. The EU Directive on minimum standards for sanctioning employers of illegally staying third-country nationals provides a good starting point. The ILO can learn from its implementation and good practices - including positive incentives - to ensure that employers faithfully discharge their obligations -- such as the payment of wages and benefits for work done -- and that these workers have effective access to justice.

As with the Lampedusa tragedy, we cannot ignore the desperation of those seeking better, safer livelihoods and decent jobs. The onus is on us to create more regular migration channels in collaboration with the real actors of the world of work. And I encourage you to take the opportunity of this conference to meet this challenge head-on and propose a holistic road-map to fully address the many different angles to this global problem.

Increasing numbers of workers have been driven not only to accept substandard conditions of employment but to join criminal trafficking networks, that deprive them of their fundamental human rights and dignity while perpetuating the very poverty from which they seek to escape. Recognizing the need for greater protection and compensation for the victims of trafficking, the ILO has embarked upon the adoption of an instrument to complement its forced labour Conventions. It is yet another opportunity for our organizations to combine their efforts to achieve the elimination of forced labour. We can do this through bolstered anti-trafficking strategies coupled with development cooperation and labour policies that address mobility, subcontracting and informal work.

And finally, I would recall the important place accorded by the Oslo Declaration adopted by the 9th ILO Regional Meeting in April of this year to the fundamental freedom of association and collective bargaining rights that are key to internal adaptability and policy choices that correspond to the real economy and limit social unrest. Together, the social partners can facilitate the development of policy alternatives and mechanisms in case of conflict. And I trust that our joint research with the European Commission on the impact of the crisis on social dialogue will assist both our institutions in forging the way for the right policy choices for the future.

I wish you all success in your conference.