2019 marks the centenary of the International Labour Organisation, the only surviving agency of the League of Nations. It is also the only international organisation to be tripartite, with voting participation from representatives of employer and trade union organisations. It is that structure and a clear mission to defend the rights and conditions of workers that has made international labour standards the best supervised standards protecting human rights in the UN system.
In his remarks Yuson stressed, “the values and standards of the ILO are central to the work that we do every day” In addition to using the complaints procedures of the ILO, labour standards, particularly those protecting organising and collective bargaining and health and safety on the job are points of reference for the contents of global framework agreements, for discussions with governments, and for interventions with companies concerning their human rights policies. They are also essential to BWIs work in mega-sporting events.
Insisting that the values of the ILO are modern and more important than ever, he said, “the centenary is not a time to adapt values to today’s fashions, to accept that the labour of a human being has become, once again, a commodity or to decide that human dignity should belong only to those who can afford it. It is, rather, a time to renew the social contract that spawned the ILO.”
The domination of the market and market actors in today’s form of globalization has put pressure on human rights standards, some of which are designed to protect people from government, but also apply to business. This is particularly the case for labour standards, where violating the basic rights of workers may look good in the bottom line. Yuson linked these dangers to threats to democracy and human rights for all, observing that, “progress and better lives for all depend on collective action and solidarity. In no area is the embrace of decent, constructive conduct and practices more urgent that in the acceptance of migrants and refugees. Their human rights, including workers’ rights, must be fully protected or the rights of all workers are threatened.
Yuson discussed the future of work, a major topic in BWI and other sectors, by focusing on the report by the Independent Commission on the Future of Work established by the ILO. He stated,
“The Independent Commission on the Future of Work set up by the ILO argued for a human-centred approach to the future of work and …, they addressed issues that rob workers of rights, of security and of dignity. It is vital that other multilateral institutions, who are having great impact on the lives and rights of workers participate in this discussion and are influenced by ILO labour standards.”
“The Commission…said that without action to correct the course of the global market, ‘we will be sleepwalking into a world that widens inequality, increases uncertainty and reinforces exclusion, with destructive political, social, and economic repercussions’”.
Yuson reaffirmed the strong support of BWI for the right to strike, which has been under attack by the ILO Employers’ Group in recent years, as well as supporting a new standard being considered in 2019 on violence and harassment in the workplace, an issue with particular impact on women. He also recognised the thousands of women workers on strike that day in Switzerland demanding gender equality, equal pay, respect, and dignity.
Yuson closed by calling for determination and action. He said, “If we are to measure up to our values for the future of work and for the future in general, we must take inspiration from those who built the ILO. They were not cynical nor were they afraid of their own shadows.” He went on to say that today, a century later, we must mobilise and act with “the same will and sense of urgency that had made it possible to survive 100 years”.