General Secretary speaks at the ILC in Geneva - 9 June 2017

13 June 2017 09:43


Thank you, President

Delegates, Observers and Guests

Good afternoon.

Last year, when I spoke at the Conference, I raised the case of Han Sang Gyun, President of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions who was in prison at that time. He still remains in prison as we meet today.

After a successful people’s movement an anti-trade union President was ousted on charges of corruption. We hope the recent election of Moon Jae-In as President will mark a new era of genuine democracy and an end to trade union repression in South Korea. The liberation of Han Sang Gyun and other labor leaders and the full respect of labour rights in keeping with ILO standards should be the first step the government takes to this new path.

In Australia, the Turnbull Government has brought back the controversial Australian Building and Construction Commission known as ABCC that is designed to attack construction unions engaging in legitimate organising work.

The ABCC creates new prohibitions on “unlawful industrial action” and “unlawful picketing” and significantly increases penalties for these activities. It removes the right to silence and protection from self-incrimination, restricts the rights to freedom of association and expression, enables certain officials to enter resident premises without consent or warrant. The BWI has submitted a letter to the Director General to be associated with a Committee on Freedom of Association complaint filed by the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

In another democracy, in the Dominican Republic, the Dominican Institute of Social Security was forced by decree to cancel all medical attention to temporary workers in construction agriculture and ports. These drastic measures were taken without consultation of workers and without regard to ILO Conventions adopted by the Dominican Republic.

We see the ILO, not only as the foremost institution on occupational health and safety, with associated instruments, services, and activities, but we also consider that the mission of protecting trade union rights is directly related to health and safety on the job. Simply put, workers who have trade unions are safer.

As to the discussion on health and safety standard in the committee of application, C155 and C187 are up to date. There is no need for further framework standard. Instead, what is required is to promote the ratification and implementing of these conventions.

Governments can lead the way through mandatory labour standards in public contracts for construction, which remove labour costs for competitive bidding as proposed in ILO Convention 94 on labour clauses in public contracts.

We do not want Private Compliance Initiatives such as ISO and CSR, which are devoid of Trade Union Rights and are wholly inadequate to prevent the shockingly high numbers of deaths and injuries in the construction sector.

There is a great deal of conjecture, and not just in the ILO, about the future of work. Much of the discussion has a futuristic flavour and a sense of inevitability.

One would think that the walls have to come tumbling down under a tsunami of precarious work. In this foreseen world of quiet desperation where all decisions are made by the market and/or by technology, there is no role for workers and their unions or for governments in the future of work.

What seems to be largely missing from this discussion is industrial democracy. Some concede that workers should be “taken care of”, but there seems to be little consideration of whether they should be able to take care of themselves.

It is vital that, in ILO exchanges, the essence of the history and mission of the organisation, freedom of association and collective bargaining, is front and centre.

Changes should not be accepted as certain or unavoidable without consideration of what such changes might mean for the rights to organise and bargain, not just on paper, but in practice.

Migrants and refugees are also the future of work. It is only through the protection of migrant workers’ rights that national workers’ rights can be secure. Making migration a success is one of the key measures of whether our societies succeed. The ILO has a central role to play in enabling migration to fully contribute to human progress.

In the process of greening the economy, our forestry workers will have both positive and negative effects of corrective measures, whereas for construction workers, reducing carbon emissions should have positive employment effects overall. However, that must be deliberate; by design. It will take enormous investment and strong leadership to make new, but also existing buildings energy efficient.

In his opening remarks to this Conference, the Director-General said, “decent jobs of the future will not be green by definition but by design”. That is also true for many other important matters.

None of these challenges will be overcome by just letting things happen, by a globalisation “untouched by human hands”. Social justice doesn’t just happen, democracy doesn’t just happen, a green economy doesn’t just happen. We must, together, have the courage to make them happen.