104th International Labour Conference

Guy Ryder: Anticipating the Future of Work essential for advancing social justice

The 104th International Labour Conference closes with a consensus to move ahead with a major Initiative on the future of the world of work.

News | 13 June 2015
GENEVA (ILO News) – A far-reaching enquiry into the impact of transformations in the world of work has been launched by the ILO, following strong tripartite support for the Initiative on the Future of Work at the 104th International Labour Conference (ILC).

It will focus on four major areas – work and society, decent jobs, the organization of work, and production and the governance of work.

Following a phase of intensive debate and research, a high-level commission on the future of work will prepare a report to the ILO’s centenary Conference in 2019. This exercise is expected to define how the ILO will realize its mandate on social justice as it enters its next century.

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said that this exercise would link up with important international processes that will be underway – not least the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the follow-up to the Paris Climate Change Conference.

Nearly 4500 delegates from 169 ILO member States attended the 104th ILC, including 160 ministers. The Conference was presided over by Madam Ieva Jaunzeme, State Secretary of the Ministry of Welfare of Latvia.

During the two-week conference, the Cook Islands was admitted as the ILO’s 186th member State and Niger became the first country to ratify the 2014 ILO Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention (CO29, 1930). Many delegates spoke of the plight of workers in the occupied Arab territories, where unemployment among Palestinians has increased by more than 25 per cent.

The President of France, François Hollande, the President of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela and Kailash Satyarthi, 2014 Nobel Peace Prize co-Laureate and President of the Global March against Child Labour all addressed the Conference at the Summit on Climate change and the World of Work.

The 104th International Labour Conference unanimously adopted a programme and budget for the 2016-17 biennium of US$797 million.

Specific labour issues

In terms of specific labour topics, four issues were discussed this year:

Transitioning to the formal economy

In a major step forward, on 12 June, the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted a new, historic labour standard with massive support. The Recommendation provides an international framework which is expected to help hundreds of millions of workers and economic units move out of informality into the formal economy.

Application of standards: 24 cases and rural workers

The Committee on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations of the International Labour Conference (ILC) adopted conclusions on 24 individual cases related to issues arising from the implementation of labour rights. This discussion was based on the annual report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, which is an independent body composed of legal experts and is charged with examining the application in law and practice of ILO Conventions and Recommendations by ILO member States.

The Committee also discussed a General Survey concerning the right of association and rural workers’ organizations instruments, including the Right of Association (Agriculture) Convention, 1921 (No. 11), the Rural Workers’ Organizations Convention, 1975 (No. 141), and the Rural Workers’ Organizations Recommendation, 1975 (No. 149). The Committee reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring the application in law and practice of freedom of association for all workers and employers in the rural economy.

SMEs vital for sustainable economic growth and decent work for all

The discussion on 'Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and decent and productive employment creation' reached broad agreement that SMEs are vital to achieving decent and productive employment. It concluded that:

SMEs account for two thirds of all jobs globally and create the majority of new jobs. Well-designed SME policies help create more and better jobs and contribute to sustainable economic growth. In view of the heterogeneity of SMEs, interventions need to take into account enterprise characteristics such as size, sector, growth or age.

Going forward, the ILO should maintain its current portfolio of interventions focusing on: entrepreneurship development, including access to finance; an enabling environment for enterprises; improvement of productivity and working conditions; value chain development; and promotion of cooperative enterprises.

The ILO should also do more on formalization of informal SMEs. The ILO's actions need to be strategic and measurable, and attention needs to be given to generate rigorous analysis on the impact of interventions to orient governments and social partners on what works and what does not in the area of SME policies.

Social (labour) protection

The Committee for the recurrent discussion on social protection (labour protection) agreed that progress had been made in advancing labour protection among ILO member States. Nonetheless, too many workers still do not benefit from such progress, as they are either excluded from the scope of the law, the law is not applied in practice, or the level of protection is inadequate.

The Committee insisted on the necessity for laws, regulations and institutions that govern labour protection to keep pace with ongoing transformations in the world of work. Regulation of working conditions in the areas of wages, working time, occupational safety and health, and maternity protection is central to effective and inclusive labour protection.

The Committee stressed the importance of reinforcing the gender dimension, and extending labour protection to all workers. It also emphasized that effective systems of social dialogue and collective bargaining contribute to achieving such protection.

It identified the following priorities for action: working time and the balance between work, family and private life; the extension of labour protection in SMEs; the effective protection of workers in non-standard forms of employment; the psycho-social risks and violence at work, and related stress and mental health problems, which may originate from changes in work organization; and the promotion of labour protection through responsible public procurement practices.