Pacific high-level forum on climate change and decent work

"We have to work for a process of productive transformation that protects our blue ocean and gives us all a future"

Guy Ryder addressed the Pacific high-level forum on climate change and decent work during the first visit of an ILO Director-General to a Pacific Island State.

Statement | 26 July 2019

Acting Prime Minister, The Honourable David Stephen,
Minister of Labour and Industrial Relations, The Honourable Alfred Manase
And all ministers from the region here present,
President of the PNG-TUC, and all the workers representatives from the region here present,
Executive Director of PNG Employers Federation, all employers representatives here present,
My colleagues from all the UN system and from the ILO,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me begin by bringing you the warm greetings of the International Labour Organization and expressing to you, through the acting Prime Minister, my sincere gratitude to the Government and the people of Papua New Guinea for having convened here in Port Moresby this very important tripartite kind of a forum – I’m going to get it right- Big Ocean States of the Pacific, and for the very warm welcome that has been extended to me today.

I was really touched by the reception I received, Deputy Prime Minister. Touched, but not surprised, because coming as I do from the north of England, I knew that any country that has rugby league as its international sport is a place where I would feel very much at home.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am indeed delighted to be here not only because of the importance of this event, the importance of the issues that we are here to discuss, but also because – and this came as something of a surprise to me: This is a historic occasion in the sense it is the first time that a serving Director-General of the International Labour Organization has visited this region. And rather like my arrival in Port Moresby... we were all thinking, it would have been better if he’d arrived a bit earlier, but there we are, circumstances are such.

Now ladies and gentlemen, I think that it is important to recognize that the circumstances in which we come together demand of us practical responses. It may be that this visit, my presence, is making history but that's not what matters. I feel very uncomfortable with that thought. What is actually important is that our coming together here makes a difference. I think that we need to all be conscious of the need to make this event a moment when the International Labour Organization and our tripartite community of governments, employers and workers here in the Pacific reflect together in a strategic way about how we can do more, how we can do better to meet the very pressing challenges that come to us all from the world of work today.

Let me put it to you that the opportunity is here. I am aware that my visit comes shortly after the United Nations Secretary-General came to your region. It comes only a few weeks after the International Labour Conference, the Centenary International Labour Conference, which was attended by more than 6.000 delegates and representatives, by 34 heads of State and heads of Government. Just after that Conference adopted a very important, in my view, Declaration for the Future of Work which I will come back to. And we meet also just a few weeks before some very important summits take place in New York in September: The Global Summit on Small Island Developing States; UN summit on climate change; UN summit on the Sustainable Development Goals. These are the crucial rendez-vous of our times. These are the crucial issues which we need to focus upon. And I think here, in whatever way we can, we need to lever our presence, lever our coming together, lever our possibilities to produce results, to make a difference in all of these processes.

The ILO enters its second century at a time of dramatic transformative change in the world of work. We have never seen change taking place at such a pace, on such a scale. We have not seen changes which are so profoundly changing the way that work is performed. And it has been the proposition of the International Labour Organization at the time of its centenary, that we need to examine these changes, we need to understand them and we need to act in such manner that we’re able to shape those changes to meet the goals that the ILO was founded 100 years ago to promote. And those were the goals of Social justice. Those were the goals of peace in the world.

Now all of this of course involves us engaging and us addressing very big issues. But I want to relate these global questions to these specifics so your circumstances in this region. If we look at the record of cooperation between the ILO and your countries, we learn very quickly that the Pacific is perhaps the youngest area of membership of the International Labour Organization. Our relationship began 45 years ago when Fiji was the first member State in this region to join the International Labour Organization; PNG followed just two years later. But the fact of the matter is that eight of eleven member States in the Pacific have joined the organisation since the year 2000. So in the longer scheme of things, our partnership, our relationship is a young one. That is also reflected in the fact, let me say to you very clearly, that your member States have not ratified a large number international labour conventions --  I put that down, not to a lack of commitment, but to the fact that your membership is relatively new and these things take a certain amount of time. But I do want to call attention to the need to give attention to the international labour standards.

We are developing with member States in the region decent work Country programs. These are the Framework Programmes of cooperation. They are in place here in Papua New Guinea and in Samoa and I think they will come into place in the Cook Islands and Kiribati very shortly. And I hope that more will follow. But what I heard this morning - and Acting Prime Minister looked at me and said I hope your ears are open Mr. Ryder-- I have heard the call from the member States in this region to rethink the way we interact. You want your voices not only to be raised but to be heard. And having been heard to be acted upon and I understand -- my ears are open Mr. Acting Prime Minister -- I have heard that call and I think that we have opportunity and responsibility to act upon them.

I want to put a couple of anecdotes of my own into my presentation. When it comes to voices being heard, I was reminded arriving at 5 o’clock in the morning, I turned on my mobile telephone and there was a message from my wife sitting in Europe. And she said: “Guy, it is terrible here. It is 40 degrees Celsius. It feels like the end of the world”, -- we never had 40 degrees Celsius in our country. So Europe is having a little heat wave and all of a sudden it's the end of the world. The Pacific countries have been talking about rising sea level, El Niño, existential threats, for rather a long time. And you are quite right. -- Have your voices been heard? Well, my wife’s voice I’m obliged to listen to, but the fact of the matter is our voices are not equally heard and it is incumbent on the ILO as your partner on the international level but also  all of you to make sure that we combine to make sure that that injustice is pulled straight.

(Now Ladies and Gentlemen, Let me just say a few words about what happened at our International Labour Conference in Geneva last month and why I think it might help us to consider all of these challenges of the future. As I said, a very large number of people came together, a very large number of heads of State and government. We were very pleased to receive the President of the Marshall Islands as one of our guest speakers. And what we did was to adopt a declaration on the future of work which was a culmination of a very long process of reflection.

We had asked all of our member States to have tripartite discussions about the future of work, the challenges that you see coming from the changes I have referred to. We then established a Global Commission on the Future of Work. It was co-chaired by the President of South Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa and the Prime Minister of Sweden Stefan Lofven. It published a report in January and then last month we negotiated this Future of Work Declaration in Geneva.

To summarize what has come out of this very elaborate process. The first thing we did was try to identify what exactly it is because it is transforming our world. And there are four things really. New technology of course. All of the challenges of digitalization. Of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution which, on the face of it, should open up new and extraordinary opportunities for human beings. But the fact of the matter is this industrial revolution is more feared than embraced in most countries that I’ve visited. There is fear about the destructive effect on employment, on the impact it will have on our societies and the way we interact. So the first thing we have to do and it cannot be beyond human capacity -- is to impose our will and our management of shaping digitalization and industrial transformation for our benefit.

And the second challenge -- and of course here you know better than I about this – is that of climate change and let me say a couple of things about the challenges of climate change. Ten years ago when I first became, well just before I became Director General,  I think in the International Labour Organization there was the idea governments, employers and workers, that we had a problem. We had to choose either between promoting jobs growth and development or we had to look to protecting our environment and the planet. In a sense it was a trade-off. One or the other. And that's obstructed our thinking in the world of work for a long time.

But that attitude, what I regard as a false choice, has now been overcome. I think we all understand that this goes to for all three sides of the ILO’s tripartite constituency, that we can only safeguard and promote employment in the future by ensuring the sustainability of productive systems in its environment dimension. This is summed up well by the notion that our trade union friends have used that there are no jobs on a dead planet. But this just transition to environmental sustainability is not going to happen automatically… It cannot simply be left to the wisdom of the market. We have to work for a process of productive transformation that protects your blue ocean, big ocean environments and gives us all a future and the next generations a future.

The Declaration for the Future of Work that was adopted last month in Geneva points to that challenge as a fundamental responsibility of the ILO. And this has to be brought down to the national level, the regional level and worked upon. It is surely one of the most flagrant injustices of our international situation today that those countries which today stand most threatened and most exposed to the effects and the ravages of climate change are those countries who have done least to bring that situation about. And that requires that the financing to support the type of productive transformation that we need in a very short space of time is provided internationally and you are given all of the circumstances that you need to move in the direction that you must.

The third factor that is driving transformation at work, often ignored, is demographic changes. I come from a part of the world that is getting old. Papua New Guinea I think stands out as an extraordinary example of a country with a very youthful population. We have different demographics in different parts of the world. And this requires us-- and the international community is not doing a good job in this regard -- to look to the governance of human labour mobility in migration regions in a much more effective way than we have done up until this point. This difference in demographics around the world will mean that migration labour mobility will be a key feature of the future of the world of work. And we have to set about the task of making sure that we govern that mobility to the benefit of sending and receiving countries alike.

And the last factor change has to do with globalization. For the last 30, 40 years in the world --and it’s been my personal experience -- has been operating on the assumption that the future of work will in the backdrops of accelerating and deepening globalization deeper into penetration of markets, labour markets, product markets around the world. Today that is not the safe assumption. If we seek the geopolitical stresses around the world if we see the trade disputes that are dominating the headlines internationally, we know that the forward path of globalisation is an uncertain path.

So these, ladies and gentlemen, are some of the issues that we have to deal with. What do we do about all these challenges? Well, the Declaration adopted by the International Labour Organization’s conference last month calls for a human centred agenda for the future of work, for growth and development. An agenda that proposes three steps of investments. And I want to challenge you to think how these three levels of investment play out in your circumstances here in the Pacific.

The first set of investments is in the capacities of people. Faced with change we need to invest in the skills of working people - to offer them the chance of lifelong learning and training opportunities. Changes so quick that what you learn at the beginning of your life will not last you for a whole working life. We need to invest in skills. We need also to invest in social protection. Social protection is not a break from change, it's a way of facilitating people's capacities to change. And yes we need to invest in gender equality and I want to thank the employers’ representative for stressing this so effectively. That convention adopted at our conference on violence and harassment truly matters. It matters to every country in the world, it matters to this region. Please give it your attention.

Secondly we need to invest in the institutions of labour, the laws, the regulations and procedures that over decades we put in place to govern labour markets. Sometimes those laws and regulations look very out of date in the new circumstances that we confront. Very often our laws have been adopted in the 1960s and the 1970s around independence, succession in some cases. Let's look at those again and let's see if they meet the needs of our time.

And finally we need to invest in the jobs of the future. The most frequently asked question at least in my experience is where are the jobs coming from? Where will my kids work? Where will their kids work in the future, in the face of digitalization and much else? Well we have to invest in the green jobs of the future. We have to invest in care activities, we have to invest in the rural economy. We have to invest in the development of infrastructure. That's where the jobs of the future will come from.

And it seems to me -- and I’ve argued the need for a strategic approach -- that the ILO needs to partner with its member States and our Pacific Big Ocean States to work out what the development agenda looks like for this region in the future. Here is my second anecdote to make my point. On my way here to Port Moresby -- it was a long somewhat perilous journey-- I stopped in Bangkok. I stopped in Thailand and I visited a project for the fishing industry. I visited a tuna processing factory in Bangkok that processes 300 tons of tuna fish every day. And I learned that the tuna industry earns Thailand 7 billion dollars a year. I learned also that most of that tuna is not fished in the waters of Thailand. And I learned that your big blue oceans provide I think 30 percent of the tuna catch in the world. I learned as well, only 10 percent of that catch is processed in your countries. My conclusion, with every trawler that leaves your big blue ocean to go to Bangkok, you're not just exporting tuna, you're exporting jobs. You are exporting prosperity. And surely that is to be reflected upon.

It is an anecdote, it is an example but I think it shows what potential is in your hands. We are here as friends to work out what it might be, not what it is but what it might be, for the prosperity of your resource-rich, big ocean life in these countries. I could go on at much greater length but I think we are over running badly. Can I just repeat my gratitude to the government of Papua New Guinea for bringing us here, my gratitude for the welcome. But my call to us all that let’s not let this event pass as a ceremonial celebration of a centenary or a visit. Let's make this a moment when we do make a difference and we start to build that future of work that your people, that your member States want to see.

 I thank you.