15th ETUC Congress

Statement by ILO Director-General to European Trade Union Confederation

ILO Director-General Gilbert F. Houngbo highlighted the urgent need for a Global Coalition for Social Justice and the critical role of the European Trade Unions in championing workers' rights, addressing inequalities, and promoting decent work amidst global crisis and technological transformations.

Statement | 24 May 2023
President and General-Secretary,


It is a great pleasure to address you today, as you celebrate your 50th anniversary.

Over the last 50 years, the European Union has grown considerably. While this has brought new challenges, it has not prevented the 27 Member States from working together, and with the social partners, to defend the European Social Model. Quite the contrary.

You now meet at a time when the world of work is facing multiple challenges. Mega trends like demographic change, climate change, technology, and automation are profoundly transforming our economies and our societies.

The Covid-19 pandemic and other crises have exposed and exacerbated vulnerabilities and inequalities in the world of work. Women, young workers, migrants, workers in a-typical employment, just to name a few, have been particularly hard hit.

The unilateral aggression of Russia against Ukraine is posing grave challenges, most directly and tragically for the people of Ukraine.

It has also exacerbated a global cost-of-living crisis. With food and energy prices rising, many working people, especially the poorest, struggle to feed their families and heat their homes.

This is why increasing wages to keep up with inflation and avoiding real income losses for workers must be one of the top priorities.

Our latest data show that in the first half of 2022 alone, real wages declined by 2.2 per cent among advanced economies, while wage growth in emerging economies slowed considerably to 0.8 per cent.

This greatly drives poverty and inequalities.

Dear colleagues,

After decades of globalization and trade liberalization that have led to a fundamental shift of production from developed to developing countries along global supply chains, a truly sustainable global economy that takes social and environmental factors into account still eludes us.

In this context, the realization of social justice as a condition of lasting peace must become a political imperative.

Social justice helps societies, economies, and households become more resilient to socio-economic and environmental shocks, geopolitical instability, and global health crises.

This is why we need a Global Coalition for Social Justice.

This Coalition will create a platform to bring together a broad range of international bodies and stakeholders.

It will advance social justice through joint actions aimed at reducing inequalities, promoting decent work, eliminating gender-related and other forms of discrimination. It will, in addition, focus on human rights including labour rights. And it will also focus on access to basic needs and essential services, such as health, education, food, water, housing, and social protection.

The European Union must be at the forefront of the fight for social justice.

I have followed with much interest the recent proposals by the EU on banning goods made by forced labour. Holding industries in Europe accountable to ensure due diligence throughout their supply chains, based on fundamental principles and rights at work, is crucial. We look forward to, hopefully, a prompt adoption of such important legislation.

Another example of the transformations shaking the world of work is the impact that digital labour platforms have on workers’ wages and working conditions.

The misclassification of dependent contractors and labour rights’ violations has driven a larger conversation of how to extend labour protection to those not covered.

The ILO Governing Body recently placed a standard-setting item on decent work in the platform economy on the agenda of the 2025 International Labour Conference.

The European Union with the adoption of directives on data protection, the negotiation of regulation surrounding artificial intelligence and directives on the platform economy has in many ways led the way towards better regulation on technological changes.

Dear friends,

While much remains to be done, I count on your strong cooperation and support in the negotiations of this important instrument.

I stand firmly with you in advocating for “a fair Deal for workers” both in Europe and in the rest of the world.

The value added of social dialogue, at all relevant levels, to formulate targeted policies and govern the way labour markets function is more important than ever.

This in turn demands that the rights of workers to associate freely and bargain collectively be respected, by governments and employers including in global supply chains.

Dear colleagues,

The history of the labour movement has been marked by the struggle for social justice. The ILO needs trade unions in Europe to retain their strong voice to shape a more sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth that delivers decent work for all.

The ILO, under my leadership, will work tirelessly to support you all in this endeavour.

Advancing social justice and the need to forge a Global Coalition are the focus of my report to the International Labour Conference. They will also be at the centre of the World of Work Summit that will take place on 14 and 15 June. Your contributions to this debate are essential and I look forward to seeing many of you soon in Geneva.

I wish you successful deliberations and thank you for your attention.