Why the ILO is central to social justice, now more than ever


In a few weeks’ time the International Labour Organisation (ILO) will celebrate its 100th anniversary.

Now more than ever the ILO needs to strengthen the unique role it plays within the United Nations’ system, so to ensure the effective fulfillment of its tripartite mandate for true social justice.

The Centenary comes at critical times for working people and for the trade union movement around the globe.

The social, economic and environmental impact of unregulated globalization has been exacerbated by many governments’ wrong policies in the aftermath of the financial crisis. This situation has generated growing inequalities and has worsened working and living conditions of the many, affecting trade union rights’ enforcement.

This is why it is urgent to reassert the centrality of the ILO in the world of work and, from a trade union perspective, to ensure the full respect of freedom of association and of the right to collective bargaining, the two fundamental labour standards.

In the global sphere the ILO is the only international institution that holds this primary role and – given its exclusive tripartite nature as well as its standard-setting and enforcement mechanisms – this UN agency can represent a real forum for shared answers to the new demands and challenges faced by the workers.

The international trade union movement feels the need of such a forum. We have been receiving constant and well-coordinated attacks not only across the globe but also within the ILO itself, hindering our capacity to oppose the growing power of multinational companies and of the private interests that often set the agenda of public policies.

In the last six years the Employers and the Governments groups, the two other constituents of the ILO, have shown regressive and aggressive attitudes against the ILO’s standard-setting mechanism and against the labour movement. They managed to re-discuss the scope and the existence of some fundamental rights that would have been unquestionable only a few years ago.

The ITUC and the Workers’ group could not counter those attacks adequately and lost some in crucial conflicts.

It is no news that the Employers succedeed in undermining the very existence of the right to strike as an intrinsic corollary of Freedom of Association and of the Protection of the Right to Organize, Convention 87.

More recently – in March 2018 – the ILO Governing Body adopted a resolution to implement the ILO’s staff pay cut with the full support of the Workers’ group, that turned its back on ILO staff workers – whose representatives were not consulted nor had the possibility to engage in any form of dialogue with ILO management – and betrayed the Organization’s own foundational principle of social dialogue.

Furthermore, in the very same Governing Body the creation of a Commission of Inquiry against the Government of Venezuela was approved with the favorable vote of the Workers’ group whose internal positioning was not homogenous and whose ultimate stand was made on a complete top-down approach that should never pertain to the workers and even less to their representatives.

Those episodes reveal a lack of cooperation, of solidarity and democracy among the global trade unions that is most certainly harming the interest of workers worldwide: in this fight we need to be inclusive, united and democratic in all the decision-making processes.

No one should be left out and every decision – especially when it’s about crucial issues – needs to come out from a debate among peers and not from top-down oligarchic decision-making processes.

The Workers’ group needs to regain its unity and true representative nature in order to constitute a real counterforce against those attacks perpetrated by the Employers and the Governments in the Governing Body, which are increasing in number and worsening in the tone. It is necessary to avoid further “accidents” with potential serious consequences.

We believe that an urgent discussion to address these issues will recreate a strong link between the ITUC, the Workers’ group and the ILO Office, reinforncing the work of the Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV).

The protection of the rights of the workers and of the trade unions is a core activity of the ITUC. These rights are human rights and therefore inalienable. They cannot be waived.

This approach must be fully used in the standard-setting and supervisory mechanisms as the only real mean to defend, promote, develop and enforce labour standards (developing new standards, promoting new spaces for social dialogue and collective bargaining, making better use of the supervisory mechanisms and enhancing their authority at national and regional levels).

We still have hard work ahead to have ratified and implemented the ILO fundamental conventions – in particular of the crucial Conventions 87 and 98 which lay behind the others for number of ratifying member states.

Time has come to provide the ILO with a sanction power so to induce Member States to ensure ratification and implementation of all ILO conventions and in particular of the eight fundamental ones.

Now we will fight for the recognition and promotion of the right to strike as an intrinsic corollary of ILO Convention 87, as it was in the past and as it should be.

The ITUC must defend with more resolution the effective recognition of the founding principles of freedom of association and collective bargaining, as well as the profound interdependencies existing among the two.

We need to take a clear stand to claim the primacy – among International Labour Standards – of collective bargaining over other forms of dialogue (such as workplace cooperation).

Such principle has been too often endangered by projects carried out by the ILO itself in the field as well as in the headquarters. The agenda must be set in close collaboration with the ILO Director General and other constituents so to support public policy making, affecting in a positive way the lives of workers around the globe and to strengthen supervisory mechanisms and a governance that fits the global world of work.

100 years on its foundation, this is today’s mandate for the ILO and this is a task that cannot be left to other agencies, nor to private compliance nor to other bodies such as ISO.

We need to start a debate within the ITUC, about the position of the Workers’ group and activities inside the ILO to be carried out in cooperation and coherence with ACTRAV and to be characterized by transparency, accountability and inclusiveness.

We need an ITUC that claims and plays for policy coherence between the work at the ILO and actions in other spheres, including a critical and clear dialogue with the International Financial Institutions, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation, the United Nations, the G20, etc.

In addition to this, the ITUC and its regional organisations should also develop a more effective and cohesive policy that seeks to have an influence over decision-making bodies.

On the eve of the ILO Centenary, this is the world of work we expect, this is the ITUC we want.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *