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Make social justice a priority issue on the global agenda, says ILO Director-General

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GENEVA (ILO News) – The Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Gilbert F. Houngbo, stressed the need to “systematically integrate the social agenda into all major international, regional and national” policies and actions to fight growing economic disparities, as he addressed the opening of the 111th session of the International Labour Conference (ILC).

“My message is simple. No one should bury their head in the sand” when it comes to facing the challenges shaking up the world of work, Houngbo said.

“The fourth industrial revolution which promises a radical transformation of production methods, the demographic upheavals, and the imperative need to decarbonize the economy are opportunities for a better future for us all,” said the Director-General. “But at the same time … 4 billion of our fellow citizens have no social protection and 214 million workers earn less than the poverty line…. A large number of job-creating micro and small enterprises have gone bankrupt. And how can we explain the fact that women earn on average 20 per cent less than their male colleagues?” he said.

To position social justice as the keystone of the global recovery and ensure that the future is human-centred, the Director-General stressed the need to launch a Global Coalition that will bring together a broad range of international bodies and stakeholders.

The Global Coalition for Social Justice would aim to, “balance environmental, economic and social considerations in the global conversation, including in the reform of the international financial architecture” and “advocate policy coherence and investment in social protection and decent work,” Houngbo said.

Presenting his report, Advancing Social Justice, the Director-General said, “faced with the risks of division, the risks of entrenchment and the risks of polarisation of different opinions, we have a duty and a moral obligation to maximise the use of diplomacy to bring the points of view of different groups closer together.”

Talking about his report, The situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories, Houngbo underlined that the poverty rate in Gaza had risen from 59 per cent to 65 per cent.

The conference, which brings together worker, employer and government delegates from the ILO's 187 Member States, fully face-to face for the first time since 2019, will run until 16 June. Delegates will address a wide range of issues that have a long-term impact on the world of work. The agenda includes:

  • A second standard-setting discussion on quality apprenticeships.
  • A recurrent discussion on the strategic objective of social protection (labour protection).
  • A general discussion on achieving a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all, including consideration of industrial policies and technology.
  • A proposed Convention and Recommendation concerning the partial revision of 15 international labour instruments, following the inclusion of a safe and healthy working environment in the ILO’s framework of fundamental principles and rights at work.
  • Achieving equality between women and men at work, which is the focus of the General Survey of the Committee on the Application of Standards.
A World of Work Summit will take place on 14 and 15 June, with the theme of “Social Justice for All”. The Summit will include addresses and panel discussions that will bring together Heads of State and Government, the ILO Director-General, and high-level representatives from the United Nations, other international organizations, and employers’ and workers’ organizations.

The first day of the Conference saw Ali Bin Samikh Al-Marri, Minister of Labour of Qatar, elected President of the Conference, which will run from 5–16 June. The Conference also elected as Vice-Presidents Corina Ajder (Governments) Minister of Labour of Moldova, Henrik Munthe (Employers) from Norway and Zahoor Awan (Workers) from Pakistan.

“As we move forward over the next two weeks, we must remember that achieving tripartite consensus is the foundation both for fair and equitable outcomes and for effective implementation, since it creates ownership for all actors concerned. It should therefore guide our discussions. Diversity and the resulting divergencies can and must be bridged with good will and in a spirit of consensus based on respect for all constituents of this organization,” said Renate Hornung-Draus, spokesperson of the Employers’ Group.

“We can expect many tough discussions during this conference, but we must never lose sight of the challenges outside these walls that workers are facing in everyday life, as well as challenges before employers and governments to achieve just transitions to a peaceful and prosperous future that sometimes still elude us,” added Catelene Passchier, spokesperson of the Workers’ Group.