Menu Close

Reassessment of agency direction sought as world leaders gather in Geneva


MAY 27, 1994

Reassessment of agency direction sought as world leaders gather in Geneva


GENEVA-The International Labor Organization, which observes its 75th anniversary this year, will host the 81st session of the International Labor Conference here starting June 7. It is an occasion for looking back with pride on the organization’s accomplishments and

for sharpening the ILO’s focus, according to top officials.

In his report for the Conference, entitled “Defending Values, promoting change,” Director General Michel Hansenne underscores the ILO’s raison d’etre, “Does the ILO-which was set up to contribute to world peace by promoting social justice-still fulfill its mission’? If so, what should its objectives be?” In a world undergoing enormous political, economic and social change, a reevaluation of international institutions, many feel, is a much needed exercise, particularly within the United Nations system.

The ILO was founded in 1919, along with the League of Nations by the Treaty of Versailles and is built on the constitutional principle that universal and lasting peace can be achieved only if it is based upon social justice, respect for human rights, humane working conditions, employment opportunities and economic security for all.

“I think the achievements that the ILO can be most proud of,”  Hansenne said in an interview, “is the body of Conventions that have been ratified by the member states and implemented over the past 75 years. This body of Conventions make up an international labor code and is a general framework of reference for all those  who are involved in labor issues throughout the world.”  With 170 Conventions and over 5,000 ratifications, and a unique tripartite structure where governments, management and labor decide on recommendations, the ILO has made a significant impact on international labor standards for 75 years.

As Hector G. Bartolomei de la Cruz, Director of the International Labor Standards Department, points out, “From the outset the founders of the ILO were conscious of the fact that the best piece of legislation is useless unless you have effective supervision and controls for implementation and the ILO developed one of the best implementation processes, which was later followed by other United Nations’ organizations.”

In 1946, the ILO became the first specialized agency associated with the United Nations and in 1969 on its humanitarian work throughout the world.  With a membership of 170 countries, a biennial budget of $466.5 financed by member states and a cadre of 3,000 professionals from different countries, the demand on the ILO’s services has been increasing with several new countries joining the market economy.  Rene Kirkszbaum, Director, Bureau of Programming and Management said, “We believe the best way that the ILO can serve its member states is by assisting them to build up their own capacities and help them help themselves.  All our resources are geared toward doing what is relevant, has an immediate impact and has sustainability.”

In order to meet this need in technical cooperation, the Active Partnership Policy was launched.  The aims of the policy are to bring the ILO closer to its tripartite constituency in member states and to enable it to respond better to their priorities and concerns.  A key element of this approach is the creation of 14 multi-disciplinary teams – in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe and Eastern Europe and the Arab States –geared to deliver technical guidance on policy issues, a higher level of involvement in the field and a swifter response to problems.

According to Francois Tremeaud, Assistant Director General, “We will be able to be more focused.  The directors of our field offices will be able to judge where the countries stand vis a vis technical cooperation and to ascertain where the ILO can be most effective in helping a country’s needs in the area of creating employment, training workers, and working with management to be more competitive in the global economy.”

Tremeaud also spoke about the need to integrate financial and economic policies handled by the Bretton Wood institutions with the social dimensions. “The social clause is very much on the map, “said Teemeaud, “Developed countries are worried that lower wages in developing countries will out price the competition and developing countries feel threatened by anti-dumping laws and certain forms of protectionism followed by the industrialized nations.”

On the challenges facing the ILO, Padmanabha Gopinath, Director, International Institute for Labor Studies, said, “Trade Unions have weakened and the very nature of employment has changed.  ILO stands for social justice and for protection of the rights of workers but it is no longer adequate to be solely concerned with rights we have to go beyond to employment and a crucial goal for the ILO in the years ahead will be to handle employment as an adjunct to growth and look at types of growth paths.

Two items on the agenda of the Conference in June point to the changing trends in the global  employment scene. The issue of part-time work and the role of private- employment agencies in’ the functioning of labor markets. According to Chantal Paoli-Pelvey, of the ILO, part-time employment is an increasing reality today and it is estimated that 60 million people are employed part-time in OECD countries. Even though a number of sectors depend on part-time workers they tend to get less benefits, are not protected against dismissal and usually earn much less. The ILO will put up a proposal at the Conference to set new standards for this group.

Sergio Ricca of the ILO spoke about the role of private employment agencies and how employers and industrial firms have come to rely on them for recruitment in a complex and versatile labor market. Labor unions however feel that such agencies are

harmful and tend to turn labor into a commodity. The ILO study presents facts which will be put before the Governing Body. In the US alone private employment agencies have a

$60 billion business annually as compared to the public employment system which has a budget of a billion dollars. The ILO hopes to propose an acceptable viable alternative to state monopoly whereby labor market management can be shared by both private and public organizations.


Another significant issue facing  the ILO is the role it will play in the World Social Summit Conference in Copenhagen in 1995. The agenda for the Social Summit which includes poverty,  jobs and social integration forms the core of the ILO mandate. Jack Martin, who coordinates inter-departmental projects at ILO, said that the Australians at the PrepCom in February had asked the ILO to prepare a paper for the Summit on the international dimensions of the employment problem, how trade and finance were affecting employment and what changes could be made in the system to make it more employment intensive.

The French also asked for a paper on employment at the micro level, on what governments could do to create jobs by promoting work sharing and in socially useful occupations. These two distinct areas were combined in one paper entitled, “Toward Full Employment,” which will be presented at the next PrepCom in August. “Prior to that the paper will be put before a high level meeting at our Conference on the 10th of June, where ministers of labor,  representatives of workers and employers and the IMF, World Bank and GATT will review it,” said Martin. One of the major concerns regarding the Social Summit at the ILO is that there should be a proper follow up mechanism.

Hansenne feels that the ILO should be involved in this, particularly in the area, of employment as the organization has the experience and the tripartite structure, “You cannot have a successful employment policy  on a national or international scale if it does not involve employers and unions.”

Hansenne also said that it would . be imperative to have a new form of cooperation between the Bretton, Wood institutions, the United Nations and the ILO, “Because you cannot contemplate social problems, labor problems without taking into consideration economic and financial problems.”


MAY 27, 1994


A re-evaluation of international institutional is needed

Michel Hansenne, the director general of the International Labor Organization, met

with The Earth Times in his Geneva office recently for an interview. Exce1pts:

In the last 75 years, what can the ILO be the most proud of?  And what are the problems you think need addressing for it to be a truly effective organization in the 21st  Century?

I think that the greatest achievement that the ILO can be most proud of is undoubtedly

the body of conventions that it has managed to get through the conference, and then ratified by member states, and implemented over the past seventy-five years. This  body of conventions make up an international labor code, a general framework of reference for all those who are involved in labor issues throughout the world. We have over one hundred and seventy conventions and over five thousand ratifications. Each year, at the International Labor Conference, we review the implementation of member states of these conventions. And we issue a number of recommendations. Every year, there are hundreds of improvements that are introduced in national legislation. So the International  Labor Organization has become the reference organization for all countries that want to promote social justice in the labor field.

Another point which I would like to highlight in this same field are worker’s rights.  We endeavor to promote the right of association, the right to form trade unions. We exert pressure on governments, so that they accept workers rights. And I think, perhaps, one of the greatest victories we’ve won over the past years was the part we played with Solidarnosc, with Lech Walensa. I think that what we did enabled Solidarnosc

to remain alive on the international field. And it probably had a great bearing on other

consequences and events in the rest of Eastern and Central Europe. I believe that

the world today is radically different to the world we knew five or six years ago, and it

will continue to change rapidly. The main features for me are that the whole world has

opted for market driven economies. With the conclusion of the Uruguay Round, there is

also the liberalization of world trade, in general. So how can we promote social

justice in that new world context? There are two basic challenges, and these are the axes

around which debate will be focusing during the conference. First of all, we can no longer consider labor legislation without considering the right to work. We cannot deal with the quality of work without volume of work. So how can we be dynamic in promoting employment, whilst protecting the rights of workers? Everybody is striving for greater flexibility, and deregulation. A greater number of jobs are therefore created, but

often in unacceptable conditions … conditions that don’t even abide by minimum standards of human dignity. So that’s one set of issues. And another facet is, how can we ensure that the world economy abides by a set of rules? Particularly in the social field. And this is the debate around the social clause, which is prompting a broad and lively debate.

In order to’link  standards, and trade practices, do you have any formula, is ILO working  on a social clause?

I am pleased that you put this question after your first question.  Indeed, I do think that the social clause, as an issue, has to be seen in a broad contemporary context. We have to look at what are the rules that the international community will have to follow and apply in this globalized economy? In other words, is there a set of rules in the social field that we all accept to follow? This would be a major achievement, if we are going to establish a system that will be valid for all. If we go along that road, we must be sure that these rules do not become obstacles for development. This is part of the whole issue which has arisen today.  Different countries level criticisms against other countries, some say that they’re practicing dumping.  So we have to break out of this deadlock situation.  Now, what kind of rules should we consider?  A few ILO conventions could come into play.  In particular, the conventions on the Right of Association.  We must make sure that the benefits are passed on to the broadest possible number of workers.  The right to exist and to have a job is the very basis, which is why the right of association and the right to collective bargaining are the two basic conventions that I’d wish to refer to.  If we can control and monitor the implementation of those two standards, then we’ll make sure that the actual countries and the workers are ensured and guaranteed that these conventions to abide by certain basic rules.  Within the framework of the procedures of the ILO, we could agree to review international trade from a social justice point of view, setting aside any form of sanctions.  So there are two ways of envisaging the social clause, What I would call the social framework for international development.  So you’d have a hard core, a commitment around a few international conventions that all would agree to apply strictly.  I’m referring to freedom of association, and collective negotiations, And then there will be another packet to examine the developments in international trade in the framework of these agreements.

Do you think the ILO is should have a major role in the World Trade Organization that is being set up?

The ILO’s role would be to make sure that states abide by collective  bargaining and freedom of association.  We could add also forced labor.  There would be a committee of experts within the conference that could examine cases. And then we could monitor member states violations, and abidance by these conventions.  And then, the WTO would have to make the necessary decisions.  So there would be a direct cooperation between ILO and WTO.  In the second case, it would only be the ILO alone, on the basis of agreements concluded in the WTO in a nonbinding, noncompulsory framework that cases would be examined.  So there would be two flows of cooperation.  From the ILO to the WTO.  And then from the WTO towards the ILO.  I do think we’d have to try to make sure that we set up cooperation mechanisms that are well adapted.  There would be new mechanisms to cooperate between international institutions.

The ILO  was the one of the first international institution to involve nongovernmental organizations.  Do you see this involvement expanding, especially since the United Nations has recognized the importance of their role in the implementation of policies?

Yes.  I think that’s what is most outstanding for the ILO isn’t the implementation.  It is, in fact, that they’re taking part in decision-making.  The tripartite decision-making system dates back to 1919.  We are the only international organization that applies this system for decision-making. Nobody else has this system.  We are the only organization in which civilian grassroots representatives can participate in the decisions that are taken.  It is often extremely difficult to make it clear within the UN system that the ILO has a specific commitment, a  specific role to play, because trade unions and the employers are part of the governing body.  And a number of the decisions that are taken depend on this tripartite system.  We’re well ahead of many other agencies of the UN system.  And I’m often surprised that this isn’t out in broad daylight.  And people are not fully aware of this.  It is often difficult to make others acknowledge that unions and employers organizations play a quite different part from other NGOs that are also involved in the UN system.  I hope this won’t be the case in the Social Summit. I hope that these unions, and the employers organizations will be able to play a part in the preparation process and during the conference and in the follow up.

The informal sector is a growing section of the Third World economies in Africa and South Asia.  How does the ILO plan to deal with this, since the informal sector doesn’t really fall within the circumference of the tripartite structure?

Well, we’ve been studying the issue for many years now.  You have to recall that the very concept of the informal sector is a brain child of ours.  We invented the term.  And the term was coined here at ILO.  So this shows you that it’s a problem that we are fully aware of.  And there are no unions and employers organizations for that sector.  However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t pay any attention to them.  And one of the last International Labor conferences was devoted specifically to that problem.  Now, what is of greatest concern to us is to ensure that the development of the informal sector occur in such a way that it doesn’t turn into a kind of cancer, that it isn’t the only solution for people to survive.  The proliferation of street vendors in Third World countries is not a satisfactory solution in our opinion.  We want to deal with the informal sector.  If it is going to be part of a dynamic growth towards development, whilst respecting the essentially rights of workers.  So what we will try to do is to study the informal sector.  But with  a view to bringing it toward a contribution, both to economic development, and to a greater respect of worker’s rights.  In the future, we have a major program on the informal sector.  We will pursue these activities naturally.  As I was saying, our responsibility lies in finding optimum balance between the workers’ rights, the availability of jobs, and the respect for social justice and economic development.

Turning to  the Social summit.  The core issues of the Social summit are the same as the issues that the ILO has been dealing with for the last 75 years.  Do you see a role for the ILO to play at the Social Summit?

Those who have been responsible for preparing the Social summit decided to focus on three problems.  The alleviation of poverty, productive employment, and social cohesion.

Obviously, we will be involved in all three areas.  However, we’ve claimed a specific responsibility for the second area, employment.  Because we think that within the UN family, we have the broadest experience in this field.  And we also feel that it is through the issue of employment, that we will be able to develop a true policy in order to combat poverty.  And this will lead to improvements in social cohesion as well.  So from the very outset, we have worked very hard, and the governing body has claimed a right to eb responsible for that area.  The secretariat has received a special task.  The second preparatory committee will be discussing a document that will have been prepared by the International Labor office.  A very important decision has been made recently.  In the framework of the conference, we have decided to invite all of the ministers of labor to come here to discuss our document, the preparatory document.  So on the 10th of June, all ministers of labor of the world, plus a number of union and employer leaders will debate on this document.  Therefore, the document that the office, the International Labor Office will be sending officially to the PrepCom will be, n the end, a true reflection of the concerns on this issue of the politicians and those who have a real part to play.  We have a feeling that the problem of employment implies national responsibilities, and national policy, and an international policy. So we’re trying to do our utmost in order to involve the national leaders with whom we cooperate in the work we’re dong in preparation for the Social summit. We hope that this contribution will be a substantive one.  The second concern, here at the ILO, is also to be involved in the follow up action to this Social Summit, particularly in the are of employment.  Not only regarding our skills, but because and on account of our tripartite structure.  You cannot have a successful employment policy o a national scale if there isn’t a national debate on the topic, an international debate on this topic, and if it doesn’t involve both employers and unions.  We hope to be able to discuss this during the conference.  But I think we have to think about a new form of cooperation between different international organizations, Bretton Woods Institutions, and the ILO, because you cannot contemplate social problems, labor problems, without considering also economy policy problems.  The G7, when it met in Detroit, for the first time, the ministers of finance and the economy met with the ministers of labor. Now, if the richest countries in the world are now convinced that they have to meet at that level, it’s obvious that it also … within the UN, family, and the Bretton Woods Institutions have to meet also, joining concerns of  economic and finance with the labor leaders of the world.

What kind of mechanism would the ILO like to see emerging from the Social Summit that would be really effective, as far as follow up and implementation is concerned?

We won’t be the only ones thinking about this question. But I believe that this is a

problem for the United Nations system as a whole, and for the Bretton Woods system.

We have to think along two axes. The first is the technical axis the bureaucratic element.

How are we going to get around a table? And who will get around the table to prepare

recommendations. I believe that quite obviously, at any rate, there are four organizations which I feel should be part and parcel of this type of common secretariat, this mechanism. Or should I say, the pool of concerns. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the future World Trade Organization, and the International Labor Organization. I am not excluding other possibilities. It won’t be’ up to me to decide. But I do believe that we should think in terms of what organizations should better coordinate their actions. And I think that those four should form the nucleus. I think also that there is the development pillar, in the precise sense of that term.

Then these organizations should . coordinate their efforts, so that every year, they can make recommendations too – and here, you have the other axis – the political axis. I believe that undeniably, this should take place at the ministerial level. One could  imagine a variety of formula. One may imagine that you could have a mixture between the interim committee of the International Monetary Fund, which includes finance ministers, along with other representatives who could be ministers of trade, and ministers of social affairs, or ministers of labor. I believe that the member states should have thought this. What is important, as far as I’m concerned, is that, in the field of politics, economics, and in a social field, we have to take account of two axes. There has to be one axis coordinating

secretariat type of responsibilities, which will make proposals to the political axis.

Developing countries have a large population under the age of 25. And experts predict that this will lead to massive unemployment, which could result in social unrest, rioting, terrorism, and drug trafficking. What is the ILO doing to address these issues, and help governments and industry, as far as this huge pool of labor that’s going to be coming in is concerned?

Well, you know, I don’t think we can talk about the problem of unemployment amongst youth, without asking questions about economic policy and employment policy at large.

First, you have to extend the possibilities of employment in general. That is the whole point at issue in the Social Summit. How can we better ensure coordination amongst concerns regarding development, and concerns regarding the international market in order to increase the possible employment base? There are some who believe that it’s possible to solve the problem of youth unemployment, irrespective of economic and social policy in general. They are wrong, and they are misleading other people.

Because, obviously, what can be done by one group will be done to the detriment of the others.  For instance, youth, to the detriment of the elderly, youth to the detriment of women, I think that is not a solution.  I think that will just increase tension and conflict.  I believe that today, we are faced with a major question. How can we master the economy internationally for it to give us maximum result? Including maximum results for employment amongst young people.