GENEVA (ILO News) Promoting universal respect for core labour standards, harnessing the employment-generating potential of small- and medium-sized enterprises, modernizing the regime governing fee-charging employment agencies and adopting the ILO's Programme and Budget 1998-99 are among the main agenda items of the 85th International Labour Conference, which opens tomorrow in Geneva.
Also on the agenda is a proposal to amend the Constitution of the ILO to enable the Conference to abrogate Conventions that it would, after due consideration, judge to be out of date. Delegates will, in addition, debate proposals for adopting standards for regulating contract labour and examine the state of labour administration systems worldwide in relation to ILO Convention No. 150 and Recommendation No. 158.
The opening session, at 11:00, Tuesday 3 June, will see the election of the President of the Conference in the Assembly Hall of the UN Palais des Nations. The various meetings of the Conference will be held in the Palais des Nations and at the International Labour Office.
The Conference is expected to draw nearly 3,000 delegates including labour ministers and leaders of workers' and employers' organizations from most of the ILO's 174 member States. Each formal delegation is composed of four delegates, two representing the government and one each representing employers and workers plus advisers.
The guest of honour at this year's Conference is His Majesty King Hussein of Jordan, who will address a special plenary session on Friday, 13 June at 11:00.
Another distinguished guest, Mr. James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank will address the plenary on Thursday, 12 June, at 10:00. In an informal meeting afterward, he will speak with ministers of labour and employers' and workers' delegates on the topic, Social progress: Common Concerns and strategies in a globalising world.
Plenary sessions will begin on 10 June to discuss the Director-General's Report on standard setting and globalization. In his 1997 report, ILO Director-General Michel Hansenne examines the great potential of globalization to promote economic progress while addressing the fears it inspires of potentially negative social consequences and urges member States to take steps to ensuring that trade liberalization goes hand-in-hand with social progress.
In addition, the report sets out the ILO Director-General's vision of a revitalized system of international labour standards which encompasses:
Universal respect for fundamental human rights at work as addressed in the seven core Conventions of the ILO: Freedom of association and collective bargaining (No. 87 and 98); Forced labour (No. 29 and No. 105); Non-discrimination (No. 100 and No. 111); Minimum Age (No. 138). In recent years, the ILO has conducted a global campaign encouraging States which had not already done so to ratify these core Conventions. The drive to increase ratifications will continue.
A solemn Declaration, to be adopted in 1998, which would reaffirm the commitment of all ILO member States, by virtue of their membership in the Organization, to abide by the principles of the above-mentioned Conventions, whether or not they have ratified them, while establishing a mechanism to monitor this commitment.
Committee work begins on Tuesday afternoon for the Committee on Application of Standards on Tuesday evening for the Finance Committee and on Wednesday, 4 June for the Conference's four other Committees: Revision of Convention No. 96 (on fee-charging employment agencies), Job Creation, Contract Labour, Constitutional Amendment and Standing Orders.
The Committee on Application of Standards will call directly upon Governments to respond to a wide range of human rights and other labour issues examined in the 1997 Report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations. The report cites an array of abuses, including restrictions on freedom of association, the use of forced labour and the persistence of widespread discrimination in the workplace. The deliberations of the Committee run until 14 June and its report is scheduled to be adopted by the full Conference on Tuesday, 17 June.
The Finance Committee is set to examine the ILO's proposed programme and budget for 1998-99, amounting to US$ 557.8 million, which was approved by the Governing Body at its most recent session in March 1997. Though covering a wide range of activities, the Programme places special emphasis on four major areas: the active promotion of fundamental labour rights and strengthening of the related supervisory mechanisms, the fight against child labour, promoting more and better jobs for women and improving occupational health and safety worldwide. The Finance Committee meets from 4 to 10 June and its report is scheduled for adoption on Friday, 13 June.
The Committee on Revision of Convention No. 96 (on fee-charging employment agencies) meets from 4 to 13 June with the goal of updating a Convention to meet the needs of today's labour market. Adopted in 1949, when nearly all employment agencies were public entities, the Convention fails to recognize the role of private employment agencies and does not provide adequate protection against abuse in the present situation. A new ILO standard would fully recognize private employment agencies as actors on the labour market, on the condition that they complied with the general interest and labour law and regulations. A revised standard on private employment agencies would also protect labour markets against poor and unethical practices. The revision is subject to a plenary vote by the Conference, which is scheduled for Thursday 19 June.
The Committee on Job Creation will undertake a first discussion on general conditions to stimulate job creation in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with a view to elaborating a new instrument in the form of a Recommendation to be adopted in 1998. SMEs generate more than 80 per cent of all new jobs in the world today. However, while SMEs are generally more flexible and less-capital intensive than large enterprises, they are rarely able to provide the same levels of social benefits and security as large firms. The Committee debate will, inter alia, examine ways to reconcile the undoubted economic efficiency and job creation potential of firms in this sector with adequate social standards, working conditions and social protection.
The Committee on Contract Labour will undertake its first discussion on the development of possible new standards to regulate the use of contract labour. A report prepared for the Conference notes that increased competition, globalization, new technologies and restructuring are dramatically affecting relationships between employers and workers. Traditional, long-term, formal employment is increasingly giving way to the use of contract workers, with a parallel growth in new approaches to the rights of workers as well as social and safety factors.
Employers are using contract labour to increase productivity, reduce fixed costs and gain flexibility. Workers are concerned that contract labour risks limiting access to such benefits as pension and sick-pay benefits and note that contract labourers are especially prone to occupational accidents and diseases.
The Committee will examine reports prepared by the ILO with an eye to improving understanding of the phenomenon of contract labour in order to determine if new international instruments are needed.
The role of the International Labour Conference is to adopt international labour standards, establish the budget of the Organisation and elect members of the ILO Governing Body. Since 1919, the Conference has served as a major international forum for debate on social and labour questions of worldwide importance.