GENEVA (ILO News) - The 92nd annual Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) concluded its work today following an extensive and constructive debate on the social dimension of globalization, as well as the adoption of a new plan of action designed to provide a fair deal for the world's migrant workers.
The International Labour Conference also took a step forward in efforts to forge new labour standards aimed at improving the working conditions and safety of the world's 35 million workers in the fishing sector, and it adopted a new Recommendation on human resources development with a strong focus on education, training and lifelong learning.
In other business, the Conference adopted a Resolution on gender equality, pay equity and maternity protection, reviewed the state of fundamental rights of workers and employers in a discussion on this year's global report on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and discussed the situation of workers in the Occupied Arab Territories, forced labour in Myanmar and rights at work in other countries.
The Conference President was Mr. Milton Ray Guevara, Secretary of State for Labour of the Dominican Republic. The Conference elected as Vice-Presidents Mr. Youssoufa Wade (Employers) of Senegal, Mr. Guillaume Attigbe (Workers) of Benin and Mr. Maatough Mohamed Maatough (Governments) of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.
The President of the Government of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, addressed the Conference stressing the importance of giving a "social dimension to globalization" and establishing decent work as a universal goal. "My reflections on the globalization of the economy and its social consequences are based on the assumption that decent work has to become a global goal, and not only an ILO goal", he said.
Heads of state and government, as well as nearly 300 speakers from member-State delegations, broadly endorsed the conclusions of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization and ILO proposals for its follow-up during a special session of the Conference on 7 June and in subsequent plenary discussions. The leaders and delegates generally expressed the view that the Commission report, launched in February following a two-year study, provided a firm foundation for new, more coherent policies aimed at making globalization fair and termed the report "balanced", "thoughtful", "valuable", "rich", "providing an in-depth analysis" and "innovative".
Speaking to the tripartite delegates at a special sitting of the annual conference on 7 June were President Tarja Halonen of Finland and President Benjamin W. Mkapa of Tanzania, the co-chairs of the World Commission, President Georgi Parvanov of Bulgaria and Prime Minister Helen Clark of New Zealand. Also addressing the Special Sitting of the Conference were Employer Vice-Chairperson of the ILO Governing Body Daniel Funes de Rioja, and the Worker Vice-Chairperson of the ILO Governing Body Sir Roy Trotman.
In concluding remarks today, ILO Director-General Juan Somavia welcomed the broad support for the ILO's follow up to the Commission report. The Director-General said the ILO needed to be "judiciously ambitious" in meeting the challenges posed by the Commission, adding that the conference had produced a blueprint for future ILO actions on globalization, including the establishment of "priorities, strategizing about where we fit into the emerging global governance structures, refreshing our international standards and tackling the central issue of our generation: how to shape a fair globalization".
Mr. Somavia also acknowledged that many speakers had said globalization needed a strong social dimension and that the ILO role in making it fair should be based on universal values and should be beneficial for every country, without exception. Mr. Somavia noted many speakers agreed with the assessment of speakers who said the report, and ILO actions, would lay the groundwork for "creating a fair globalization".
The Conference adopted a new plan of action designed to ensure that migrant workers are covered by the provisions of international labour standards, while benefiting from applicable national labour and social laws. The plan of action calls for the development of a non-binding multilateral framework for a rights-based approach to labour migration and the establishment of an ILO dialogue on migration in partnership with international and multilateral organizations.
The framework will comprise international guidelines on such aspects as agreements between host countries and countries of origin addressing different aspects of migration, promoting decent work for migrant workers, licensing and supervision of recruitment and contracting agencies for migrant workers, preventing abusive practices, migrant smuggling and trafficking in persons, protecting their human rights and preventing and combating irregular labour migration.
The plan also addresses specific risks for all migrant workers - men and women - in certain occupations and sectors with particular emphasis on dirty, demeaning and dangerous jobs, and on women in domestic service and the informal economy. It also seeks to improve labour inspection, create channels for migrant workers to lodge complaints and deals with policies to encourage return migration, reintegration into the country of origin and transfer of capital and technology by migrants.
The Conference also adopted a Recommendation on human resources development. The new instrument replaces ILO Recommendation No. 150 on Human Resources Development, which was adopted in 1975.
The Recommendation recognizes human resources development as a key component of the response needed to facilitate lifelong learning and employability and calls for the involvement of social partners and a renewed commitment of governments, the private sector and individuals to education, training and lifelong learning.
In his response to the discussions at the Conference, ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said the new Recommendation on Human Resources Development is "critical to the ILO goal of creating greater opportunities for women and men to obtain decent work and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity".
The new Recommendation also deals with some contemporary challenges such as the issue of "brain drain", which is causing concern in many developing countries. The new ILO instrument calls for international mechanisms that would mitigate the adverse impact on developing countries of the loss of skilled people.
Tackling the severe problems of poor, indebted countries was also an important issue for the Human Resources Committee, with the result that the new Recommendation calls for new, innovative approaches to release additional resources for education, training and lifelong learning to assist these countries.
Delegates took a significant step toward improving the safety and working conditions of some 35 million people who work in the global fishing sector, one of the world's most dangerous. The ILO Committee on Work in the Fishing Sector concluded a first discussion aimed at establishing new international legal instruments revising existing ILO standards (five Conventions and two Recommendations) adopted between 1920 and 1966.
If adopted following further discussions next year, the new standards would reflect changes in the fishing sector that have taken place over the past decades. The new labour standards under consideration would extend the coverage of ILO standards to more than 90 per cent of workers in the world's fishing sector. Currently, the existing Conventions cover only about 10 per cent of them.
The new standards would apply broadly to workers in the fishing sector, including the self-employed and those paid on the basis of the share of the catch; have the flexibility to ensure wide-scale ratification and implementation; and include new provisions on safety and health to reduce the high rate of accidents and fatalities highlighted in earlier ILO reports. The standards would also include new provisions on compliance and enforcement of the standards, strengthening the role of both flag States and port States.
Application of standards
The Committee on the Application of Standards held discussions on a wide variety of issues. As part of efforts to end the use of forced labour in Myanmar, the Committee again held a special sitting on the application by that country of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29). Following up measures taken under article 33 of the ILO Constitution, this was the fourth time such a special sitting was held.
The Committee discussed events that have taken place in Myanmar since its December 2003 session. It noted with "deep concern" that the three main recommendations of the 1998 Commission of Inquiry had yet to be implemented, and that in spite of the Government's assurances of its good intentions, in actual practice forced labour continues to be exacted in many parts of the country.
The Committee expressed grave concern that three persons had been convicted of high treason on grounds of contacts with the ILO and called for their release. At the same time the Committee welcomed the Government's continuing cooperation with the ILO Liaison Officer in the country, though the practical results had remained limited. In particular, the Committee underlined the need for legal guarantees that citizens wishing to approach the ILO to complain of forced labour practices could do so without any hindrance or fear of prosecution.
In addition to this special sitting, the Committee carried out the examination of 24 other individual cases covering freedom of association, forced labour, discrimination, child labour, employment policy, labour inspection, wages, and maternity protection and workers with family responsibilities - the whole range of concerns addressed in ILO standards.
The General Survey by the Committee of Experts, discussed by the Conference Committee this year, was on employment policy, and on the contribution of ILO standards on human resources development and on small and medium enterprises (SME) to achieving full, productive and freely chosen employment. The Committee agreed that employment creation had to remain a central aspect of governments' policies, that the work created had to be decent work, and that human resources development and SME's make a real contribution to creating decent jobs.
Finally, the Committee had before it the report of the joint ILO/UNESCO Committee of Experts on the Application of the Recommendations concerning Teaching Personnel.
During a special sitting, delegates held an in-depth discussion on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining based on this year's Global Report " Organizing for social justice", under the follow-up to the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. This ILO report showed that despite continued threats to workers and employers seeking to organize, the global picture of respect for fundamental rights at work is on balance improving. Concrete proposals for an action plan to promote freedom of association were made, and will be decided upon by the ILO Governing Body in November.
On child labour, the Conference marked the third World Day Against Child Labour on 11 June with a panel discussion on child domestic labour. According to a new ILO report presented on World Day, child domestic labour is a widespread and growing global phenomenon that traps ten million children or more - mostly girls - in hidden forms of exploitation, often involving abuse, health risks and violence.
As part of ILO efforts to update international labour legislation, the Conference also decided to withdraw 16 international labour Recommendations adopted between 1919 and 1953. An ILO Convention or Recommendation is considered obsolete if it appears that it has lost its purpose or that it no longer makes a useful contribution to attaining the objectives of the Organization.
The annual Conference of the ILO drew more than
3,000 delegates, including heads of State, labour
ministers and leaders of workers' and
employers' organizations from most of the
ILO's 177 member States. Each member country
has the right to send four delegates to the
Conference: two from government and one each
representing workers and employers, each of whom
may speak and vote independently.
The role of the International Labour Conference is to adopt and oversee compliance with international labour standards, establish the budget of the Organization and elect members of the Governing Body. Since 1919, the Conference has served as a major international forum for debate on social and labour questions of worldwide importance.