335th Session of the ILO Governing Body

ILO mandate of extraordinary importance and relevance to people everywhere

Opening the 335th Session of the Governing Body, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder set the scene for key tripartite discussions on the future of work and the ILO, as the organization marks its past one hundred years and prepares for the next.

Statement | 18 March 2019
Madam President,

Let me, at the outset, congratulate you on your election – and assure you of the full support of my colleagues and I as you assume this new responsibility, and then welcome you and all members of the Governing Body to this its 335th Session.

This session meets a particularly important moment.
We have been waiting for it, preparing for it, and finally the ILO Centenary is here. And two months and half into it, I believe we can take encouragement from the very good start that has been made.

The report of our Global Commission on the Future of Work was launched in this building on 22 January on a day which also marked the official start of our Centenary year.

What is truly exciting is that the report has been so widely and positively received. It has attracted great attention – not only among our tripartite constituency – but also in academic circles, in the media and in the rest of the international system.

So, I believe we owe a debt of gratitude to all Commission members, and to its co-Chairs President Ramaphosa of South Africa and Prime Minister Löfven of Sweden, for having provided the ILO with such an impactful, high quality report. It is a valuable asset as together we tackle at this Governing Body session and then in June at the International Labour Conference the challenges and opportunities of the future of work which we have decided should be the focus of our efforts this year.

What the experience of the last few weeks tells us – or better said, what it confirms – is that the mandate and the priorities of our organization are of extraordinary importance and relevance to people everywhere: an opportunity for decent work; a workplace and a society which feels safe and fair, where each individual’s contribution is valued and their views are heard and considered; where the prosperity that work generates is shared.

These are things that people will mobilize and vote for. Indeed, that is what we learn from the history of the ILO which, in the end, is the aggregation of the individual efforts of millions of people, some of them heroic and historic, others less visible and mostly lost from memory. But what unites each one of them is that they thought that building a better, a brighter future of work, placing their own piece in the edifice of social justice was worth doing. In their own interest, and to advance our common good.

One of the things we are doing then, through the opportunities of our centenary is making the ILO much better and more widely known. I see that happening through our own communications work, through the Future of Work activities taking place in your countries, many of which I and my colleagues are enjoying being a part of, and I saw it in the cinema full of Geneva citizens with whom we celebrated international women’s day just a week ago.

And as we do these things we gain energy, support, engagement and momentum.

Madam President,
Members of the Governing Body,
I say this because it is the context for the work in front of us at this Governing Body session. And notwithstanding the magnitude and complexity of the problems that so many people face in their working lives, and in part because of them, it is a remarkably supportive context for the ILO. Because we are dealing with the right questions, and working for concrete and credible answers to them. We are tapping into that basic human hope that tomorrow can be better than today, and the conviction that if we all work together in good faith and with the necessary energy, then it will be better. These are the shared instincts that bring us to our social contract for social justice.

Members of the Governing Body will, I am sure, agree with me that these are noble sentiments, high ambitions. But they may also think that the Director-General’s rhetoric, while maybe appropriate to a Centenary moment such as this, is a bit high flown when set against the “feet on the ground” nature of the agenda we have to deal with for the next two weeks. So where is the connection?

Well, clearly, there are some items on our agenda which have far reaching implications for what the ILO will be doing in the future and how we will be trying to meet people’s expectations of us. Later today, I will be introducing proposals for the Programme and Budget for 2020-2021 which we will adopt at the Conference in June and the substance of which we will flesh out further in November, and it is not my intention to dwell upon them now.

Let me rather turn to our discussion on the Centenary Conference. Here, the Governing Body is called upon to provide further guidance on the outcome document we want it to adopt. The consultations already underway seem to confirm that this should be in the form of a Declaration, and that ambitions for this exercise should be set unapologetically high. The Declaration needs to be able to stand comparison with the historic Constitutional texts of our Organization.

So let me urge everybody to take a couple of minutes, during our session, that’s all it takes, to read again the Declaration of Philadelphia. It is now 75 years old. But today’s reader knows exactly what moved its authors, what they wanted the future to look like, and how they thought it could be brought about, and she or he cannot fail to be inspired by the clarity, and nobility of language and intent. The equivalent test for our Centenary Declaration would be to canvass the views of its readers - 75 years on from now - in 2094. That’s not something many of us are going to be in a position to do. But it is the image we should keep in mind. Because those who this year share the responsibility of negotiating this text will want to set themselves the same demanding standards as those by which their efforts will be judged by the generations which follow them.

And if we broaden our thinking beyond the immediate horizons of the ILO’s own activities we are confronted with another reality which is that the success of our organization is highly dependent on the success of the multilateral system as a whole. That’s a reality which is currently thrown into sharp focus both by the pressures acting on multilateralism and by the United Nations Reform process which is well underway and which has been much, and sometimes heatedly, discussed in this room. So let me say again what I have said before: that every member of the Governing Body, whatever the Group in which they sit, has a stake and an interest in making the ILO an active and leading player in the reform process and in leveraging that process to the maximum advantage of the mandate, tripartism, and normative functions of this house. No organization is an island, entire of itself, and we would be mistaken to think otherwise. Just as we would be mistaken to ignore the fact that the best case for tripartism is made by the example of tripartism functioning constructively and productively to bring the type of results that are visible to and valued by all, inside the room and outside it too.

Madam President,
I refer to these three matters, the next ILO Programme and Budget, the Centenary Declaration, and UN Reform because of their great significance for our organization, but also because they serve to illustrate the wider point that I want to close by stressing and which applies to every single issue on this as always dense and demanding agenda.

It is simply this. That just as the future of work is not decided for us in advance but is for us to construct as we want it, so the future of the ILO is not predetermined but depends on our will and capacity to work together to move it forwards. That is something that previous generations of Government, employer and worker representatives understood and acted upon. They certainly defended the interests of those they represented with the same skill and passion as all of you do today. But more than this, they did so respecting and taking into account the legitimate interest of the other parties. In this place, there is no obligation to agree always and on everything; but there is an obligation, I think to reach out and strive for agreement. That is the minimum pre-condition for the success of this Governing Body, for this Centenary and for our Organization.

And in this respect, we do not just stand on the shoulders of those who went before us. We are responsible to them – and to those who come next – to honour the principles they established and to uphold the manner in which they made tripartism the locomotive of social justice for 100 years.

That is no small responsibility. But it is a responsibility that nothing prevents us from taking up – unless it is our own shortcomings of capacity, of will, or of vision. Nobody here I am sure will want to be found wanting in their regard and the secretariat I lead will do all it can and must to be equal to your expectations.

So I wish you all success in this more than usually auspicious and significant Governing Body session.

Thank you.