GENEVA (ILO News) - The 83rd International Labour Conference of the ILO concluded its work today with the adoption of a Convention to protect home workers and calls for ILO member States to renew the struggle to achieve full employment and intensify the battle against child labour.
In a speech to the 83rd International Labour Conference, the Director-General of the ILO, Michel Hansenne, called attention to arguments for increased international efforts to humanise globalisation by reconciling the demands of social justice and economic competitiveness. He applauded the Conference delegates' decision to endorse the goal of full employment and derided those "who claim that technical progress can only result in growth without jobs or those who believe that the nature of work has changed to such a point that the concept of full employment has become obsolete."
On the topic of trade and labour standards, the Director-General said that "liberalization of trade concerns the ILO in the sense that it can impinge upon the ability and political will of member States to pursue the social goals laid out in ILO's constitution." He dismissed as "unfounded" the fear expressed by some countries that respect for fundamental labour standards would affect the performance of their economies: "Our concern, I would say, even our duty, is to protect the fundamental rights of workers in order to ensure that social progress and economic progress proceed apace." He urged ILO member States to eschew "artificially inferior labour standards and social conditions" in order to gain an unfair competitive advantage and instead to work toward devising mechanisms to ensure "the equitable redistribution of the benefits of trade liberalization."
The Director-General called for a renewed commitment to tripartite cooperation at an international level, insisting on the view that tripartism is more important than ever not only for effective control of wages, but also for maintaining the competitiveness of enterprises and promoting the flexibility and quality of jobs. He underscored the view that one of the requirements for successful tripartism is the will of all parties to engage in a dialogue and a sense of responsibility that moves them beyond a simple defence of their own interests.
He called for increased ratification and implementation of ILO standards, particularly fundamental human rights Conventions, and deplored "the often regrettable gap between the ratification of Conventions and their translation into acts." He welcomed the results of an informal session on women, which "has become one of the outstanding events of the Conference." The theme of this year's meeting was "The Promotion of Working Women: National Plans to Follow-up the Fourth World Conference on Women." The ILO was asked to integrate the follow up to the Beijing Conference into its programmes and activities on behalf of women with the priority in three areas: promotion of productive employment, the struggle against poverty and respect for international labour standards.
The Director-General noted 12 recent and 60 impending ratifications of the seven fundamental human rights Conventions Endnote1.
The 83rd International Labour Conference adopted a Convention and a Recommendation on home work Endnote2. These instruments are the first comprehensive international standards in favour of homeworkers, a growing and often invisible workforce that is largely unrecognized in labour statistics and unprotected by legislation.
The Convention would oblige any ratifying member State to "adopt, implement and periodically review a national policy on home work aimed at improving the situation of homeworkers." The policy is to be developed in consultation with employers and worker organizations and other organizations concerned with homeworkers. The national policy on home work shall seek to "promote equality of treatment between homeworkers and other wage earners" in such areas as the right to organize, protection against discrimination, remuneration, occupational safety and health, social security and maternity protection, and training.
Delegates to the Conference agreed that home work can yield substantial benefits to employers, workers and national economies alike. For many workers, particularly women, home work provides an opportunity to earn an income while attending to domestic needs. For some professionals, working at home may be even the preferred option.
However, home work is an activity that largely escapes administrative control. The ranks of the low-paid and frequently clandestine force of homeworkers are growing in developing and industrialized countries alike. Women account for the vast majority of homeworkers (as much as 95%) and child labour is often associated with home work. The ILO Convention also calls on governments to include homeworkers in labour statistics and labour inspection systems. An ILO Convention, once ratified by a member State, creates a binding international obligation.
The Convention on Home work is supplemented by a Recommendation, which sets out specific internationally agreed provisions designed to serve as guidelines as to how the national policy on home work should be implemented. The provisions in the proposed Recommendation call for equal treatment and registration of homeworkers. Collection of data on homeworkers and employers of homeworkers, are mainly intended to provide a basis for the national policy on home work. Finally, member States are called upon to promote and support programmes, which provide direct assistance to homeworkers. A whole range of such programmes are enumerated and they cover a wide range of means to improve the social and economic situation of homeworkers.
Full Employment Policy
The Tripartite Committee on Employment Policy endorsed the concept of full employment, insisting that " the objective of full, productive and freely chosen employment through higher, sustained economic growth should remain a major goal of economic, social and employment policies as governments, employers and workers organisations adapt to a rapidly changing global market".
In spite of rising unemployment and deepening concerns about solutions to poverty and social exclusion, the Committee members agreed that "full employment remains an achievable goal despite anxieties over the possible job-destroying effects of rapid technological change and intensified international competition". It underlined the importance of creating "an economic environment which provides clear incentives to enterprises for investment and job creation". Among the elements of an enabling environment, the Committee cited "economic and financial stability and the absence of excessive price inflation and abrupt exchange rate movements".
The Committee report defines full employment as a "level of employment where all those available, able and actively seeking work, can obtain it". It acknowledges that any definition of full employment needs to take account of structural changes in employment patterns which include, "higher job turnover and a growing trend toward shorter and more flexible work hours." In response to these challenges, the ILO calls for measures to enhance "employability security" by providing "expanded opportunities for training and retraining, continuous skill upgrading and the matching of skills with emerging labour markets."
The Committee insisted that the concept of full employment was valid for all countries while acknowledging that "the concept may have to be interpreted differently for developing countries." For developing and transition countries, the report said that promoting job creation in competitive new private sector and viable public sector activities is a "vital element of employment policies." It also called for "a comprehensive legal framework for the operation of small and medium enterprises and the reform of labour law in line with ILO standards."
A full employment strategy perforce involves "implementation of macroeconomic policies aimed at securing an adequate framework for faster growth, fiscal equity, job-creating investment and a more stable balance between supply and demand." This would involve, wherever possible, "a reduction in real interest rates, fiscal deficits, public debts and governments' debt-servicing burden."
It also calls upon ILO to work with its constituents and with Bretton Woods institutions to examine:
the impact of trade and financial liberalization on the level and quality of employment;
appropriate forms of government support for infrastructural development and training;
forms of support for the development of small and medium sized enterprises;
the design of labour market institutions and regulations which can best satisfy the twin imperatives of higher employment growth and competitiveness.
The Committee also stressed that the goal of full employment had been reaffirmed by the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen. As a major support of employment generation, tripartite forms of social dialogue among governments, workers' and employers' organizations should become a "priority item on the national policy agenda".
Resolution targets child labour
The Conference's Resolutions Committee welcomed the increased involvement of the ILO in the fight against child labour, including the launching of the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), increased technical cooperation and efforts to increase ratification and implementation of relevant ILO Conventions.
The Committee called upon governments and, where appropriate, employers and workers organisations to develop formal policies and set priorities so as to immediately put an end to the most intolerable aspects of child labour, namely bondage and child slavery, dangerous and hazardous work, the commercial sexual exploitation of children and the exploitation of very young children.
It encouraged development of national legislation to prohibit the exploitation of children at work and called upon governments to establish educational policies, including day-care centres, schools and training centres in order to promote access to basis education for both girls and boys alike on an equal basis, a move which is "crucial to the success of any effort to progressively eliminate child labour."
It also called for measures to "raise public awareness of the human and economic costs as well as the long-term non-viability of using child labour."
An informal meeting at ministerial level on 12 June at which more than 60 ministers spoke out against child labour highlighted the ILO's commitment to its eradication. Work on a possible new Convention prohibiting the most intolerable forms of child labour is slated to begin soon, with a first discussion of it set to take place at the 1998 Conference.
The Conference President was Mr. Saif Ali Al-Jarwan, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, United Arab Emirates. The three Vice-Presidents of the Conference were Mr. David S. Boateng, Minister of Employment and Social Welfare of Ghana (representing governments); Mr. Jorge De Regil Gómez Muriel, of Mexico (representing employers) and Mr. Madia Diop, of Senegal (representing workers).
No. (1930) - Forced Labour Convention; No. 87 (1948) - Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention; No. 98(1949) - Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention; No. 100(1951) - Equal Remuneration Convention; No. 105 (1957) - Abolition of Forced Labour Convention; No. 111 (1958) - Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention; and No. 138 (1973) - Minimum Age Convention.
Vote on the Convention: Yes - 246; No - 14; Abstentions - 152 (most of the employers' delegates abstained).
Vote on the Recommendation: Yes - 303; No - 4; Abstentions - 111