ILO Director-General's address to the 19th International Conference of Labour Statisticians

Statement | Geneva | 02 October 2013
I would like to welcome you to the ILO for this 19th session of the International Conference of Labour Statisticians. On more than one count, this is a special occasion. This year the International Conference of Labour Statisticians marks its 90th Anniversary. Since your predecessors first met in 1923, this Conference has over the decades served a unique role as the international body setting international statistical standards in the world of work. On all such occasions, labour statisticians from governments, workers and employers have worked together and have been able to reach consensus and to identify practical solutions to the challenges of measuring the dimensions of labour issues. The ILO is most happy and honoured to facilitate the work of this important body but in the end it is your expertise and your commitment that will achieve its results.

It is very timely that this ICLS is being held this year. I hear with increasing frequency and conviction from policy-makers and leaders from all parts of the world that the collection of statistics and processing of data on labour issues are of critical importance. I could give you numerous examples. Only one month ago I participated in the summit of the G20 in St. Petersburg where the Leaders jointly called for having better labour market information at hand together with financial and economic indicators. In the negotiations setting the agenda for post-2015 goals at the UN, the need for quantifiable and measurable indicators is at the heart of the discussion. And there are many other examples of why this conference is so important.

Strengthening the knowledge base in the world of work was a crucial pillar of my campaign last year to lead the ILO. Sound policy advice or support to our member states can only be provided properly on the basis of solid, empirical evidence. To this end, achieving accuracy in capturing the different dimensions of the complex world of work is one of our most important challenges as we proceed with the ILO’s reform agenda. We are all aware that this world of work is changing so fast, with new emerging issues with different characteristics, that these changes pose many new challenges for labour statisticians to try to cope with such rapidly evolving changes and developments.

For all of these reasons, and the realities of an Organization with a static resource base, we have taken the decision to strengthen the ILO Department of Statistics as part of a Knowledge Centre within the ILO that will enhance its research activities. We cannot afford not to. We are committed as well to enhancing our database with internationally comparable data from our member states, to boosting our technical support to countries needing to produce better labour statistics, to building capacities to create sustainable statistical systems at the national level, and, of course, to keeping and extending activities in supporting statistical standard setting in the areas which you would guide us to focus upon.

I am very well aware having studied your agenda that you will be working in many different areas during these days. In the Plenary sessions you will be discussing the various activities undertaken since the 18th ICLS. Of course that covers a wide array of topics on decent work, and also some emerging topics which will be in your focus in the near future. We will be looking very closely at the outcome of your decisions and at your guidance and opinions on how to move forward.

In Committee, you will be discussing an innovative and forward-looking resolution that proposes effectively the first international statistical definition of Work, in its various manifestations. Inter alia, that will help us move forward to meet the challenges of the post 2015 agenda for more inclusive, sustainable development, with decent work at its heart, in a way that should remain relevant over the coming next two decades. Let me share with you that at the United Nations in New York last week, many speakers commented on the importance of good-quality statistics in order to help devising the right policies to achieve results. One Minister commented that making policy without statistics was like trying to move around in a dark room: it leads to mistakes and that leads to accidents.

I understand that this draft resolution has been discussed widely in regional meetings and in a tripartite meeting of experts. It has been the first time that the ILO has promoted such regional events in order to have the regional aspects fully taken on board. They have been successful and we would seek to do the same again in future.

I note that this proposal provides a more refined measure of employment that should enable member States and the international community to focus their attention and policies on job creation and job-led growth. It is also encouraging that the statistical community will be discussing a set of new measures to more broadly assess labour underutilization and lack of integration into labour markets. This will complement the traditional measure of the unemployment rate as such that has long been criticised and has been recognized by the UN and others as not reflecting the full picture of the difficulties faced by a large part of the work force in making a living.

I am glad to see that important specific groups have been highlighted in the draft, in particular, youth and subsistence workers. Policymakers need statistics that capture those workers fully in order to adequately address their needs, access and integration into labour markets. We need this evidence in order to develop appropriate measures to facilitate their labour market entry in ways that equip them with the necessary skills. It is essential to have information as well on apprenticeships, on internships and on traineeships. Also we need to understand how to promote jobs in rural areas, how to promote entrepreneurship, and to obtain information on the conditions and requirements needed to support agriculture and development in rural areas. What is encouraging and needs to be kept in mind is that many of these coincide with the priority areas the Governing Body has fixed for the ILO. Indeed, it is not a coincidence but indicates that these are shared priorities.

Finally in regard to the draft resolution you are going to discuss, it is an important landmark for gender justice. It provides a common framework to measure paid and unpaid work, and so make unpaid work more visible, a long-standing challenge for our organization. For the first time, it will give international recognition of all unpaid services provided by family members in households as productive work. In addition, it will bring to light the work done by volunteers that contributes not only to the non-profit sector but also to community development.

Dear Colleagues,

Your decisions today will help shape the statistics that are needed to better understand how different forms of paid and of unpaid work contribute to livelihoods and to well-being, and to inform the design of policies that promote job-led growth and more inclusive development. All of this is an important step to move from macroeconomic models of development towards socioeconomic models that take fully into account their real impacts on people and their households.

I want to conclude as you begin this Conference by thanking you all, as labour statisticians coming from all over the world, not only for your contributions here in Geneva but for your daily contributions to this huge endeavour. You and each of you, gathered in this room today are the actors entrusted with the task of bringing statistical knowledge in line with what it is meant to be observing, and asked to describe it so that we can be better equipped to have relevant and effective responses to the challenges of the coming century. We are of course very aware of the problems and constraints you very often face in your countries, but you should be proud of the high quality work that you and your predecessors have been achieving in these 90 years of existence. We are looking forward to your deliberations and conclusions. I don’t see this as a sideshow in the future dynamics of the ILO. I see this as a central element. For our part, we are honoured to be hosting this highly qualified body and we are ready to keep on joining you in your efforts in the future.

Although I have to leave Geneva this afternoon, my Deputy Director-General for Policy Sandra Polaski and the Secretary-General of the Conference, our Chief Statistician Rafael Diez de Medina, will keep me abreast of the advance of your work throughout.

Thank you.