New Delhi

ILO Director-General statement to the 45th session of the Indian Labour Conference

Statement | New Delhi | 18 May 2013
ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder
Minister of Labour and Employment, Honourable Shri Mallikarjun Kharge

Secretary of Labour and Employment, Dr Sarangi
Ministers and representatives of State Governments
Representatives of Employers’ Organizations
Representatives of Trade Union Organizations
Ladies and Gentlemen

Dear Friends,

First, thank you for the opportunity to address this closing session of the 45th Indian Labour Conference. I am overwhelmed by your warm welcome. It is truly an honour to be here. I am told it is the first time that the head of the ILO has addressed your Conference and you are probably thinking it is about time!

Today, in the world’s biggest democracy, on the eve of the International Labour Conference, you give me the opportunity to participate in your country’s unique annual tripartite gathering. Let me say I can think of no more appropriate place for the ILO Director-General to be and I extend to you my respect, my thanks, my friendship and, if you still need it, my encouragement.

The parallels between this Conference in Delhi and the ILO Conference which will begin in the next fortnight or so are very striking. I see the workers, employers and governments conducting their work as they do in Geneva but you are doing it in two days, while it takes somewhat longer in Geneva - perhaps a reflection of good productivity in India!

The parallels between our Conferences reflect, I believe, the shared values and objectives of India and the ILO. If one takes the time to read the ILO’s Constitution and the remarkable document that is India’s Constitution, a product of your struggle for freedom, you will see this common historical commitment to social justice and human dignity.

India is pursuing those goals for all her people notably by placing accelerated and sustained growth at the heart of its 12th Five Year Plan and seeking to ensure that the fruits of economic progress are shared fairly.

Over and above this, India is playing a new, important role on the international stage. Let me be frank – the world of work is in crisis and the global economy is rebalancing – a process in which the emerging countries such as India are at the fore, their economic strength marked by growing influence in the international arena. This evolving scenario has vital implications for the ILO and we need to understand the reality of the rebalancing. It calls for a further strengthening of our excellent partnership – as Minister Kharge has said. Let me say we are committed to doing our part to achieve this objective and I am certain that through our joint efforts we will succeed.

Dear Friends,

When I was elected Director-General one year ago it was on a platform of reform to which I was strongly committed. I think you know well that reform is difficult. Mahatma Gandhi said: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” So the ILO is changing itself to have the decent work agenda advance more strongly in the world. Our values do not change but the way we work must change.

And to ensure that we better serve you our member States, our tripartite constituents, we have listened carefully to you. We have listened to the developing world – and I want to repeat this - we have listened to the developing world. We have sought to understand better your national realities, your needs and what you expect of us.

We have also focused on establishing clear priorities for the ILO and to align them with those of our member States. Next month the International Labour Conference will, I am confident, adopt eight priority areas for our future work.

I now want to highlight briefly how those proposed priorities correspond closely to the work of your Conference and the interests of India, its Government, its employers and its workers.

First, we are making policies for jobs-rich growth a top priority. India has an enviable record of high growth and has been resilient in the face of crisis even if the growth rate has been somewhat reduced by the crisis. But we need growth that generates enough jobs - decent jobs - and we know that today, the world is falling far short in that task.

Today there are more than 200 million unemployed in the world and the figure continues to rise. Some 67 million jobs have been lost since 2007. So the ILO must be a leader in developing policies which help to get the world back to work.

Second priority is youth employment. We must pay urgent attention to the situation of youth who are hardest hit by unemployment. India, with the world’s largest youth population is doing just this – equipping young people with skills and opportunities for a decent future. The ILO joins you in this most important struggle to win the future.

Then we are prioritizing the improvement of productivity and decent working conditions in small and medium-sized enterprises. Most of the needed jobs will come from SMEs and I know that India is also focusing on this area, including micro enterprises. The ILO must be able to support such enterprises and help ensure that they succeed and create jobs - and also that the employment they generate is of the right quality.

Linked to the focus on job creation and job quality, is the importance we will give to strengthening labour inspection and administration – for what purpose will good laws and good regulations serve if we are unable to enforce those laws and regulations effectively?

The ILO will also be working diligently to fulfill its commitment to support member States’ efforts to establish social protection floors for all their citizens, according to their national conditions.

Let me pause to pay tribute to the extraordinary achievements of India in this field of social protection. The future action which you have discussed at this Conference will be instrumental in ensuring further progress. You have moved from high ambitions to practical achievement for which you have won global recognition.

A further priority reflects the ILO’s determination to reach the very large numbers of workers who, too frequently, fall outside the scope of our work but who need our help badly. That is why we intend to make formalization of the informal economy a priority activity. In India, the majority of working women and men are in the informal economy. We need to find ways in which we can help to make a positive difference in their lives.

Similarly, the ILO will be refocusing on the rural sector – a sector which has received insufficient attention from the Organization in recent years. In our action to make rural work decent work, we will also be inspired by India’s experience with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme which has reached many millions in a massive process of social inclusion and social betterment. Around the world people have spoken to me of the achievements of that programme.

And finally, as it must in pursuing its social justice mandate, the ILO is rededicating itself to the elimination of unacceptable forms of work. Here too our cooperation with India will stand us in good stead. We have collaborated to put an end to forced and bonded labour and trafficking and to advance the fight against child labour. As Minister Kharge has said we must reinforce our cooperation. It is important and must continue.

In this regard, permit me to say that the ILO looks forward eagerly – and with some impatience - to the day when we can celebrate India’s ratification of Convention No. 138 on the minimum age for employment and Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labour. I hope that day is not far away. Equally, we want to help remove any obstacles that may still stand in the way of ratification of Conventions Nos. 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining respectively. With those ratifications, India would join the group of our Members who have ratified all eight of our fundamental rights Conventions. That will be a great day.

Dear Friends

Among the challenges upon which we must reflect are two issues which recent events compel me to emphasize very strongly.

The first concerns dangerous work which I know you are addressing at this Conference. The recent Rana Plaza tragedy in neighbouring Bangladesh and the loss of more than one thousand lives calls for urgent action from all of us. I want you to know that the ILO is taking such action – in Bangladesh and internationally - with the buyers who source garments in that country. There must be no more Rana Plazas – and I think there is a shared responsibility to prevent a repetition of such events. Let us join our efforts to that end.

Secondly, and sadly, recent crimes committed against women have renewed our awareness of the need to act to ensure – in India as elsewhere- that women are able to live and work in conditions of respect, security and equality. This is a world of work issue. We must not close our eyes to it. There is need for women to participate more, and on the terms I mentioned above, in the world of work. Allow me to repeat this: there is need for women to participate more in the world of work on these terms, including in the work of the Indian Labour Conference!

Dear Friends,

I have been deeply moved by this occasion and I want to close on a note of genuine optimism. I look to India’s future with enormous optimism. When the Prime Minister addressed this Conference yesterday, he gave a resounding message of endorsement for tripartism. He said that cooperation between the three parties represented here was the right way to tackle issues and disagreements. And he gave the assurance that demands that had been made, including through strike action, would be carefully considered by the Government.

I want to applaud that spirit and the spirit of tripartism of this Conference. Let me say that I regret that in some parts of the world such a tripartite spirit is not being used to find effective ways of tackling the social and labour dimensions of the crisis - indeed tripartism has sometimes fallen victim to the crisis. I know it will not happen in India.

The spirit of this Conference is the right road and it sets an example. I appeal to you my Indian friends, to take that spirit beyond India where you can make such a valuable contribution to a world struggling with multiple challenges. You can do so in the G-20 as a leader of the emerging world; you can do so through the BRICs as well as through the IBSA Summit being hosted by India next month.

More than anywhere else, you can bring that spirit to the ILO where India speaks with authority. I urge you to do just that and ask you for all your support and solidarity with the ILO. In return I offer you all the ILO’s support and its solidarity with your great country.

Thank you.