Some extracts from the speech given by Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Ostend, Belgium, 24 April 2015
Indeed Belgium is a country with one of the highest trade union density rates in the world, not an accident but due in no small part to the hard work that this Confederation and the rest of the Belgian trade union movement has done for a very long time. So let me start by recognizing and commending you for those achievements.
The fact that union membership is so strong in Belgium attests to unions’ effectiveness in representing workers’ interests and to the range of work you do for all types of workers – for manual and for white collar workers; for young workers and old workers; women and men; and also for the inclusion that you bring, helping migrant workers and the children and grandchildren of migrant workers in your efforts.
Here is the point: what trade unions do is good not only for your members and for workers but good for the whole of Belgian society, its coherence and its fairness. Some don’t want to understand that, and don’t want to recognize that, but it is true.
The global crisis has cost the world over 60 million jobs lost. The average unemployment rate in the European Union stands at 10 per cent, a third more than when the global crisis began in 2008. Half of the unemployed have been without a job for more than a year. The youth unemployment rate is more than twice as high as the average. Worldwide, nearly 75 million persons under the age of 25 are out of work.
First among these is the complex phenomenon of global supply chains. They mean that today, as someone recently said to me, goods are no longer made in Belgium, or in China – they are made “in the world”. Just think of the clothes we are wearing, or the smart phones you may be surreptitiously looking at now and then.
This phenomenon can of course be a force for good, and it is true that because of them millions of workers around the world have found better work than they could have had otherwise.
But, sadly, sometimes the consequence has not been as positive.
Today is 24 April. Exactly two years ago today, on 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka collapsed, killing more than 1,100 garment workers, most of them young women, with many more injured.
Those victims were making the goods that we purchase – the T-shirts we buy for the kids for 5€ in the Rue Neuve in Brussels or De Mayr in Antwerpen. Yet the workers concerned had no trade union representation, they had no basic protection of the law, there was nothing to ensure the place where they were working was not a risk their lives – by the way, the building they worked in had been audited under different corporate social responsibility initiatives and had been given the green light.
This preventable tragedy is yet another sign that we need global action on local working conditions. The ILO sent a mission to Bangladesh in the days after the tragedy, and within one week we brokered a tripartite agreement covering legislative change, factory safety inspection, reinforcement of the country’s labour inspection services, and worker education. And a Trust Fund was established for compensating Rana Plaza survivors and the families of victims.
Internationally, the ILO also helped support an Accord that brings together global companies, global trade union federations and NGOs such as Clean Clothes Campaign – which you know very well here in Belgium – to achieve Workplace Safety in Bangladesh. As a result, more than 2,500 factories in Bangladesh have now been subjected to real inspection.
Two years on a lot of good work has been done – but very much more is required to make supply chains drivers of safe and decent work.
That’s why one of the themes of the International Labour Conference in 2016 will be a discussion of how to achieve decent work in global supply chains.
There are more than 52 million domestic workers in the world. Undervalued, invisible, usually working in private residences, overwhelmingly women or girls, many of them migrants or members of disadvantaged communities, they are massively vulnerable to exploitation and to abuse.
Therefore I am really quite proud that the adoption of the ILO’s Domestic Workers Convention, No. 189, provides a valuable if belated response to this flagrant deficit of decent work. One person in this audience who contributed greatly to achieving adoption of this Convention was Jeanne Devos, whom I want to thank on behalf of the ILO for her tireless efforts to attain rights for what has been one of the most powerless groups of workers in society.
Adoption of the Convention is the first step. It needs now to be ratified to give it effect. In Europe, this Convention has been ratified so far by Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Switzerland and I hope that it will soon be ratified by Belgium as well, to provide a basis for domestic workers’ rights to be respected, for trade unions to be able to represent them, and for them to be offered the basics of social protection.
And speaking of social protection, congratulations on the campaign the CSC/ACV has been carrying out here in Belgium, together with the FGTB/ABVV and the ACLVB/CGSLB, with World Solidarity and other NGOs, to support global social protection around the world. Just recently, the ILO adopted a formal Recommendation on social protection floors. It has boosted the efforts to attain such protection for citizens everywhere, with the support of the United Nations system as a whole.
Let me be clear. A social protection floor is more than a safety net. It means that even in the poorest of countries there will be at least basic social security guarantees, such as health care for children, older persons and those who are unable to work. We use the term “floor” so that storey upon storey can be gradually built upon it as a country develops so that when it is able to afford more protection, and ultimately to attain full respect for the ILO Convention on Social Security, No. 102, it will do so.
And yet an astounding three quarters of the world’s population lives without adequate social protection coverage. This is of course a basic human rights issue. But it is an economic one as well, because well-designed social protection systems support household incomes and domestic consumption, build human capital and increase productivity. They make our economies turn and grow.
• We have a green initiative. We need to put our global economy on the road to environmental sustainability. We now understand it is not a choice between jobs or environment – it is bringing both together; and there are jobs in protecting the environment. As we go towards the Paris Climate Summit in December, we need to ensure that a low carbon future with a just transition is part of the agenda.
Ostend, Belgium, 24 April 2015
by Guy Ryder, Director-General
International Labour Organization (ILO)