At the recent BWI World Council which took place 29-30 May in Brighton, United Kingdom, a report was given on the recent ILO Tripartite Sectoral Meeting on Decent Work and Safety and Health in Forestry. The tripartite meeting was held on 6-10 May 2019 at the ILO in Geneva, Switzerland. This was the first such engagement since the “Guidelines for labour inspection in forestry” were agreed in 2005. Prior to that, in 1998, a code of practice on occupational health and safety in forestry was agreed.
The meeting was Chaired by Ms. Toni Moore from the BWU of Barbados and from the Workers’ Group. The Spokesperson of the Workers’ Group was Bob Wallis from the IAM of North America. Other members of the Group were Mark Asante, Leon Mebiame, Reinaldim Pereira, Engrit Liaw, Denis Zhuralev and Jorge Gonzalez. There were observer representatives from Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Georgia, India, Malaysia, Peru, Serbia, Sweden and Turkey.
The Spokesperson of the Employers’ Group was John Beckett and the Government Group Spokesperson was Vibha Bhalla from Canada.
This year’s meeting reached substantive conclusions on the contributions of the global forestry sector to combat climate change and proper, sustainable management of change, including through Just Transition measures, where necessary. There was agreement that the very real risks of work in the sector can be mitigated through social dialogue and labour-management engagement.
There was also agreement with the employers to develop joint initiatives to address the high rate of informal work in forestry, much of which affects migrant workers. In that connection, BWI welcomed the reference to the conclusions of the Tripartite Declaration concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy.
There was also a consensus that the ILO should more actively work to implement existing tools. They should be reviewed, not because they are outdated, but because new technology, migration and climate change are affecting working conditions. The ILO office was also urged to support the parties develop in innovative forms of social dialogue built around collective bargaining.
Prior to the meeting and at its beginning, it was difficult for the workers’ and employers’ groups to reach agreement. BWI had to accept not involving or mentioning any secondary industry. This includes, for example, pulp and paper and furniture, important business relationships of forestry employers with major and influential multinational firms.
Despite those initial difficulties, the meeting went smoothly. The major disappointment for BWI was the absence of all references to the international voluntary forest certification schemes. However, that was not due to employer opposition. It was because of government efforts to limit compliance to national laws and requirements rather than business obligations to respect international labour standards.
A draft report, which was prepared prior to the meeting by the office, outlined the fragmentation in the industry, the participation of smack and micro enterprises, the high level of informal, unprotected work, the low level or union density and persistent high rates of fatalities and injuries. As pointed out in the blog from the General Secretary there is, unfortunately, little new in that document.
BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson thanked the Workers’ Group for their success, saying, “based on our starting position, our good results were due primarily to the passionate efforts of leaders of BWI member organisations in the Group to defend workers in forestry as well as their ability to develop good relations with the Employers’ Group and reach agreements.” He added, however, “we would hope that the ILO would place a higher priority on forestry and on those who work in the industry. Those workers, and the full respect of their rights are not only important for the ILO, but it will help them, and the world’s forests make a greater contribution to the fight against global warming.”