People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 26

July 06 , 2008



Ploy To Turn ILO Into  A Non-Entity

Swadesh Dev Roye

Some notable features of the 97th session of International Labour Conference (ILC) held at Geneva from May 29 to June 13, 2008 can be traced by the inclusion in the report of the Director General (DG) of International Labour Organisation (ILO) important facts and figures concerning the current economic crisis that has engulfed the capitalist economies and the imminent danger of global recession. The other important aspect of the session was the special discussion on food crisis and the spiralling rise in prices of essential commodities and consequent sufferings of the poor.  

A total of 4838 accredited representatives attended the conference as compared to 4657 in 2007. The break-up amongst the tripartite constituents were: governments - 1366; workers - 739 and employers - 590. They were representing 168 member states of ILO. Amongst the participants were 171 ministers from different countries.

The worker members of the Indian delegation consisted of Swadesh Dev Roye, CITU,   S B Kar, AITUC, Sankar Saha, AIUTUC, Thompan Thomas, HMS, N M Adyanthaya & Rakesh Pandey, both INTUC and H Dave & C K Sajinarayanan, both BMS. The Indian delegation included the union labour minister and the labour ministers of the states of Delhi and Andhra Pradesh.

Apart from the standing items -- Reports of the Director General of the ILO, follow-up items under ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, information and reports on the application of Conventions and Recommendations etc -- the agenda included many important items. They were: (i) Promotion of rural employment for poverty reduction (ii) Skills for improved productivity and growth and development (iii) strengthening the ILO's capacity to assist its members' efforts to reach its objectives in the context of globalisation. A special plenary session was also held under the title: “High-level Panel on the Food Crisis: Production, Investment and Decent Work.” This year the Global Report was on Freedom of Association and the Effective Recognition of the Right to Collective Bargaining. A separate meeting was organised to express solidarity with the fighting people of Palestine.


In his speech while introducing the report to the conference the DG said that the ongoing policies of 'unfair' globalisation is “generating growth without enough quality jobs, with rising informality … a steady increase in productivity, but no rise in wages, no advances in combating extreme poverty, but deepening inequality.”  The DG could not but mention about the rising inflation, economic slowdown moving towards recession and the rise in unemployment, and of course, the question of world food crisis and the spiralling price rise.

The main thrust of the report of the DG this year has been 'Decent Work: Some Strategic Challenges Ahead'. It noted that, “we are in the midst of global financial turmoil, soaring food prices and economic downturn.”  Narrating the impact of the crisis in the world of work, the report has mentioned that unemployment has started to increase in the USA and spectacle of cutting jobs in Europe has resurfaced. In the developing countries the financial crises and economic downturn has been contributing to the increasing poverty and informalisation of employment and skyrocketing of food prices - all further adding to the distress of the poor people.

The current economic crisis has been termed in the report as the “most severe since the Great Depression.”  It has identified the period between the end of Second World War until the 1970s as significant for falling unemployment, widening participation, sharing productivity gains, supportive state policy, expanding rights and dialogue. Listing the series of crises it said “Since the 1970s over 100 systematic financial crises of various kinds have been recorded. Since 1997 we have experienced the Asian crisis, followed by crises in the Russian Federation, Turkey, Brazil and Argentina, the bursting of the “dot-com” bubble in 2000 and now the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the United States and its reverberations throughout the world. Saying that this is a lot in just ten years the report hinted that there are fundamental imbalances in the mechanisms of the new global economy that need attention if recovery from the current crisis is to be durable.  


Noting that “export to the United States and other industrialised countries have been an important component of developing countries' recent surge in growth and further that the US economy, in the face of the present economic crisis, may not resume the role of 'spender of last resort', the United Nations has recently argued that, 'A global demand stimulus will be needed if the slowdown in the United States economy is not to slip into a recession and spill over to the rest of the world.' (United Nations: World Economic Situation and Prospects, 2008).  The steps suggested by the UN inter-alia are “stepping up public spending on social security, health and education services, especially those geared to the rural population in countries like China and an end to monetary tightening in Europe and Japan.”  The report continued to say, “[…] to counteract the spill over effects (of  the current  economic crisis in the US)) on developing countries an important role could be played by reducing dependence on exports as a driver of growth by stimulating domestic consumption and job-creating investment […]”

However, the DG did not forget to discharge his act of balancing amongst the tripartite constituents: “Inclusive labour markets also call for effective labour institutions which support enterprises and the market economy in ways compatible with demands for freedom, equity and dignity. The issue is to seek out the right balance between democratic voice, State regulation and the power of the market to promote efficiency and production.”

It is very important to note that many workers representatives attending the conference from developed countries and most of the worker representatives from developing countries and even the government representatives from many of the developing countries unanimously pointed to the increasing sufferings of workers due to pursuit of neo-liberal policies under imperialist globalisation. They gave vent to their feelings while participating in the deliberations on the report of the DG and/or in the different committee sessions. For example, Brother Sunmonu, general secretary of Organisation of African Trade Union Unity in his speech on the report of DG said, “the present neo-liberal economic paradigm puts profit before people, and market before welfare. Today, financial speculation has replaced productive investment […] In other words, what we are witnessing today is “Casino Economy”, an economy based on financial speculation, jeopardising decent work and the livelihood of millions of workers and peoples all over the world.”

Rural Employment for Poverty Reduction

In course of the tripartite deliberations on this subject certain alarming facts came into focus. The share of agriculture in total employment worldwide is declining although in many countries agriculture continues to be the mainstay of rural livelihoods, a major contributor to GDP and an important source of export earning. Agriculture is also the second greatest source of employment in the world - after services - with 1 billion people employed in the sector, but earnings from agricultural wage labour are low and volatile and casualisation of employment is constantly increasing.

The concluding call of the discussion has identified issues in concrete term and recommended action programmes such as strategies to promote decent and productive employment in rural areas; economic policies to support rural employment for poverty reduction; develop skills, technology and employability; and sustainable enterprise. The most significant achievement for the trade union movement has been the incorporation of the strategies to extend rights at work for rural workers which included extension of national labour laws to all rural workers, including agricultural workers as well as its effective implementation. Another major achievement was the focus on the Right to Freedom of Association and Right to Collective Bargaining. An effective system of labour inspection was also underlined.


The employers' representatives obviously have been repeatedly hammering on the areas of business interests like sustainable enterprises, good business climate, focus on not just skills development but equally on other structural policies on technology, trade, labour market and investment. They mainly focused on - meeting skill demands, adjusting to change and mitigating pain and costs and sustaining a dynamic development process.

The workers group forcefully put forth that skills development should not be viewed in the too narrow confines of enterprise productivity improvement. For workers the major concerns are how skills development benefits them and their families and enables them to improve their lives and find jobs if they are displaced. Higher skills and productivity growth do not automatically ensure better working conditions, as promoted by Decent Work Agenda. Case in point was the EPZs in different countries, which “shows that higher productivity could be accompanied by poor working conditions and violations of core labour standards.” The major thrust from the workers' group was that, “skills development will not automatically lead to improved productivity or more and better jobs unless there is a conducive economic and social environment to translate productivity improvement into employment growth and development. Other critical factors include: respect for workers' rights, gender equality, health and safety standards, good labour relations, effective social protection, good leadership and a high standard of organisational processes and effective and active labour policies and employment services.”


The agenda of 'strengthening the ILO' was a continuation of the discussion carried out at the 96th session of the ILC. It would, therefore, be relevant to recall what was stated in our report on the session in these columns last year, “This item has got worrisome linkage with the ongoing ominous exercise of UN reform vis-à-vis the ILO. The entire exercise is designed to dilute and derail the ILO from its aims and objective as enshrined in its Constitution and in then Declaration of Philadelphia as annexed to the Constitution and as complemented by the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and reflected in then Decent Work Agenda.”  We had further said, “The key features of the reform at country level involve the merger of the different UN agencies and the establishment of the “4 Ones”  - One Leader, One Programme, One Budgetary framework and One Office. Under such reform the ILO  is poised to loose its separate entity in all respects.”

The outcome of this year's exercise has been the adoption of an authoritative declaration titled: “ILO Declaration on Social Justice For a Fair Globalization” accompanied with a resolution on “Strengthening the ILO's Capacity to Assist its Members' Efforts to Reach its Objectives in the Context of Globalisation”. Camouflaged under such attractive language and deceitful declaration, the conference has directed that “the Governing Body and the Director General of the International Labour Office will have the responsibility for establishing appropriate modalities for the expeditious implementation of Section II of this Declaration” which inter alia directed to, “developing new partnerships with non-State entities and economic actors, such as multinational enterprises and trade unions operating at the global sectoral level […]” Further the resolution called upon the DG to submit on priority basis “an implementation plan to the Governing Body in November, 2008.  The danger of turning the ILO into a non-entity is rather evident.

Special Sittings  on Food Crisis

The prime minister of the kingdom of Lesotho addressed the session and a panel consisting of Philip O'Reilly, employer representative from New Zealand, Oswald, general secretary, IUF (International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations) and Bage, president, International Fund for Agricultural Development presented three separate papers. Facts and figures relating to the current global food security crisis, price rise, profit, plight of rural workers, hunger, victims of starvation, small holding farmers etc. emerged from the session. The DG, ILO made the concluding remarks.

Yet another special plenary sitting on Global Report titled: 'Freedom of Association in Practice: Lessons Learned' was held for a full day. Making a presentation in this plenary the CITU representative noted that, “It is a matter of deep indignation that even after 60 years since the adoption of ILO Conventions (No. 87 and 98), millions of workers around the world are deprived of the fundamental rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining.” He also dealt the issue from the angles of dismal rate of ratification of these conventions, percentage figures of workers covered by collective bargaining all over the world, imperialist globalisation and barbarous attack on right to association and collective bargaining, the plight of workers in EPZ and call centres, privatisation etc. Sukomal Sen in his capacity as the general secretary of TUI (Public & Allied Employees) also addressed the conference on the General Report and the Global report of the DG.

WFTU  Activities

The activities of WFTU at the Geneva office have improved manifold.  This year the presence of WFTU was quite visible. Several meetings of the affiliates and friends of WFTU took place during the period. Mavrikos, general secretary, WFTU visited Geneva twice during the conference and conducted meetings. WFTU representatives have forcefully raised the demand for proportionate and rotational representation in the Governing Body of ILO in the full workers group meeting on two occasions. In the main plenary sessions many participants have raised this matter. An official meeting between a delegation of WFTU and Director of ILO Bureau for Workers' Activities (ACTRAV) on the issue also took place and the latter has responded positively.

The year 2009 will mark the ILO's 90th anniversary. It has been declared that ILO “should make progress towards its goals of social justice and decent work, and look forward to the decade leading up to the ILO's centenary in 2019.”   Recalling that the last week of April 2009 will be the 90th anniversary of the final approval by the Versailles Peace Conference of the ILO's Constitution, the DG report has invited, “all constituents to hold high-level tripartite events and debates within each country on issues of interest within the general framework of Social dialogue for decent work and a fair globalisation.”