International Labour Organisation – Centenary Report

This year is the centenary of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The ILO is the oldest specialist agency of the United Nations, founded following the First World War as part of the Treaty of Versailles. It is the largest multinational organisation in the world to employ a Tri- Partite system that brings together representatives from governments, employers and workers groups from its 187 member states.

The ILO meets annually for the International Labour Conference in Geneva to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes to promote “decent work for all”. The main aims of the ILO are to promote rights at work for everyone, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and justice, strengthen dialogue on work-related issues and to maintain its Internationally recognised standards (conventions). For example, the first agreed standard was the Hours of Work (Industrial) Convention, 1919 that established the 8 hour working day and the 48 hour working week.

Workers and volunteers of Moral Re-Armament (MRA) and Initiatives of Change (IofC) have attended the International Labour Conference almost every year since the formation of the United Nations, in various capacities. They have written press reports on conference activities, introduced key people and encouraged dialogues between peoples in a spirit of friendship and international co-operation. In years gone by coach trips were organised for ILO delegates to visit Mountain House, Caux as a means to introduce them to the work of MRA / IofC and to encourage them to see things from an elevated perspective.

Attending the 108th session (centenary conference) were UK Journalist Luke Addison and UK Engineer Michael Murphy who make the following report: –

Being a Journalist, an Educator and a regular participant at various United Nation youth conferences, meant to attend for the first time a conference at the ILO in its centenary year was an opportunity not to be missed. In an ever-changing, globalised working world, it was fascinating to see for myself the range of issues being discussed internationally, such as artificial intelligence, zero-hour contracts, self-employment within the gig economy, employment within trans-national supply chains and the strong stance being taken on all forms of harassment in the workplace.

Whilst learning about the history of the ILO, I can only marvel at the extent of the international involvement it has had in the last century. Of particular interest was a speech delivered by former UK Prime Minister Theresa May focusing on the issue of modern slavery. She told delegates they had a “moral duty” to “address a relic from the past”. She described it as a global epidemic that “reaches into every corner of our lives” and concluded, “a future in which modern slavery becomes a thing of the past … that is the future of work we can and must deliver”.

One of the most important areas of the ILO is the Committee on the Application of Standards, whose role it is to call countries to account for violations and breaches of the agreed conventions of the ILO. Attending meetings on the Application of Standards in 2015 and 2016 Michael Murphy followed with interest the case of Mauritania struggling to meet one of the eight Fundamental Conventions of the ILO, the Forced Labour Convention (No.29). Returning this year, he was encouraged to discover that positive progress was being made in Mauritania to develop its Fishing and Construction industries where the ILO has played a significant role in providing training and development for the young people within these industries.

The ILO has a strong history of creating and organising vocational and educational training programmes which still remains very strong today, with an International Training Centre in Turin, Italy.

Guy Ryder, the current and tenth Director-General of the International Labour Organization was previously General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation. He said that the world of work is facing the “most profound and transformative” changes seen in 100 years, and he consistently urged delegates to take responsibility for addressing this “defining challenge”. He emphasized that the conference was dedicated to the future of work and that the ILO owed its unique longevity to three things; its mandate for social justice, its tripartite composition, and “its constant capacity to adapt and turn toward the challenges of change, rather than away from them”.

With reference to an interview with Guy Ryder in the UN magazine for International Civil Servants, he summarises that the two words we need to keep in mind about the future of work are “Sustainability and Inclusiveness”. He states that we have to put the world of work on a sustainable development path, environmentally, socially and economically whilst tackling the problems of growing inequality and marginalisation.

For more information about the ILO and IofC’s involvement there, email Michael Murphy.

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