104th International Labour Conference

ILO Director-General closing remarks to the 104th International Labour conference

Déclaration | 13 juin 2015
Madam President,
When we began this Conference session two weeks ago, I think we were all aware that it would take a considerable effort from everybody to reach the positive results that we can celebrate now as we reach the end of our work.

All the more so because of the innovations of this reformed and shortened Conference. And this is the first point I want to make. Together we have demonstrated that the two-week Conference can work. It makes demands on us all – delegates and staff alike – but we have been equal to them. And not only that. Because following the debates, and listening to delegates I have come to the conclusion that our new working methods provide a better framework for concentrated, focused and results-oriented debate. So the quality of our work has benefited at the same time as we have made welcome economies of time and resources. We will of course need to make a systematic evaluation of this year’s experiment and the necessary adjustments but I think that we can already see this Conference as an example of how reform at the ILO can marry effectiveness and efficiency with improved substantive outputs.

Video highlights

And Ladies and Gentlemen, as we all contemplate the no doubt welcome prospect of returning to our homes, I think that you will not find it difficult when you get home to explain – to your families, to your colleagues, to the media, to the general public – what you have been doing during your stay in Geneva.

You worked to produce an international instrument which touches on the lives of that nearly half of humanity where livelihoods depend – precariously – on informal activity, an instrument which offers hope for the transformation of that reality. You worked out how Governments, employers and workers can optimize the decent work potential of small and medium-sized enterprises. You looked very hard at the challenges we all face on the fundamental issues of wages, working time, health and safety, and maternity protection and then mapped the way forward. As always, you examined how member States are doing in their obligations to apply ratified Conventions. You were clear as well that the plight of workers in the occupied Arab territories imposes a common responsibility of solidarity.

Not just this. You received vibrant messages from two Presidents and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. You admitted a new member State into the ILO family. And – not least, from my point of view – you adopted a Programme and Budget for the next two years with not one single vote in opposition.

That’s not bad for two weeks’ work.

These achievements can be taken as symptoms of an Organization in good health. An Organization which has a clear idea of its own role and the direction that it wants to take to fulfil its purpose and its mandate. They are evidence of multilateralism functioning well and, above all in this house, of tripartism at its best.

Consider this. There was not one single vote taken in any of the technical committees of this Conference. On each and every occasion decisions were taken by consensus. I personally cannot remember that happening before. And when we have voted in plenary it has been because our Constitution has required us to do so and majorities have been overwhelming.

And this triumph of tripartism – because that’s what it is - has been the doing of you, delegates of Governments, Employers and Workers from around the world. You defended principles and interests as you must - and you did so in the spirit of dialogue and of compromise on which the work of the ILO depends.

So congratulations on all of this – there is justifiable reason for pride in your achievement and also optimism for the future.

And, Madam President, it was the future – the future of work, in fact – which was the subject of my main Report to the Conference and of our plenary debate; 297 speakers took part in that debate –the bad news is that only 19 per cent of them were women. But these interventions provide very valuable guidance for our Future of Work Initiative.

The Governing Body will need to supplement this, but already Conference has delivered a number of very clear messages about how we should move ahead.

Firstly, and most importantly, as I think has just been confirmed, the Conference gave strong and unequivocal support for the Initiative. There was no opposition. An in-depth reflection on the future of work was considered relevant and necessary – for the ILO but also for the global community more widely. And so the question is not whether we implement the Initiative, but how we implement the Initiative.

Everybody agreed that the Initiative should not have purely symbolic or ceremonial objectives but very concrete and practical ones, these revolving around how best to equip the ILO to deliver on social justice in its second hundred years.

There was widespread interest and support for the concept of a Centenary Declaration for adoption at Conference in 2019, but this again was subject to clear understanding of its very political purpose. Previous ILO Declarations are historic documents. Those Declarations have stood the test of time. One has just been cited from this lectern. And the Declaration to be adopted in 2019, if we are to do so, must not fall short.

Many delegates underlined the need for the Initiative to be carried out at a level of ambition which would give it the impact it needs to have. Two thoughts arise from this.

The first is that wide outreach to all interested actors is justified and is needed. But that needs to be undertaken in ways which serve and which bolster tripartism and which in no way diminish or displace it. I believe this message is crucial and I want to assure Conference that it has been heard.

The second is that to make this Initiative work, member States and our tripartite constituents are going to have to adopt it as their own, to take ownership of it, and to take responsibility for it. There were many encouraging signals given by speakers in this regard about planned national and regional initiatives and I hope that these will multiply as we move forward.

It was also stressed that this Initiative will not be implemented in a vacuum. Critically important international processes will be underway – not least the Post-2015 Development Agenda and follow-up to the Paris Climate Change Conference. And the changes transforming the world of work will not be put on hold while we work out what to do about them. And so our efforts must take due regard of all of these factors and weave them into the Initiative itself.

President, I think that the four areas outlined in my Report as the subject of the four centenary conversations – work and society, decent jobs, the organization of work and production, and governance of work – were seen as appropriate, but many specific items were referred to by speakers for inclusion within them. Foremost among those mentioned were the issues of skills and training, and also of migration. And all of this is understood. Indeed, the four conversation headings provide space for discussion of all of these issues considered relevant to the future of work. It is an inclusive conversation.

And what I want to underline as well is that the other Centenary Initiatives being undertaken concurrently with the future of work Initiative are highly relevant to it and need to feed into it. Remember, we have a total of seven of those Initiatives, and I want to simply highlight the obvious and crucial linkages of the women at work Initiative, the green Initiative, the end to poverty Initiative, the standards Initiative and the enterprises Initiative.

So Madam President,

Turning to the question of the next concrete steps, I think we must be mindful of those who said that we cannot wait until 2019 to act, because change is here and now. I agree. And it is precisely for that reason that implementation of our Initiative must start as soon as this Conference ends. And it’s been suggested as well that this Conference may need to return to this subject before 2019.

On the basis of Conference discussion, I intend to launch Stage One of the Initiative, the four centenary conversations immediately. We will make the necessary arrangements in the Office to undertake outreach and to mobilize member State engagement. Inevitably, the scale of our own efforts will depend on the resources that we can mobilize and I use this opportunity to appeal for your help in this as well as your substantive engagement in the Initiative.

The proposed second stage– the establishment of a high-level world commission – was very widely supported in plenary and my own view is that it is fundamentally important to the success of the Initiative. But I recognize that important and entirely reasonable questions were asked about its functioning – not least in relation to the strengthening of tripartism. The sequential order of the three stages of the Initiative means that we have the opportunity of further discussions of this issue – the working of this Commission - as well as that of a Centenary Declaration in the Governing Body, and we can start that at its next substantive session in November.

Madam President, Delegates,

It remains only for me to thank you once again for having made this Conference the real success that it has been. You have done great work. Permit me to express also my appreciation for the job done by all of my colleagues in the Office who have, I hope you agree, served you with commitment, skill, courtesy and sheer hard work.

But with all of this it has required the leadership of the Conference President, Mme Ieva Jaunzeme, to bring the vessel of Conference safely into port. You have been the most effective, competent, engaged, collegiate and friendly of Presidents and you have enjoyed the cooperation of a really great team of Vice-Presidents – Ambassador Modest Mero for the Governments, Ronnie Goldberg for the Employers and Bernard Thibault for the Workers.
To you all, our warmest appreciation and thanks.