Amid the worst financial and jobs crisis since the Great Depression, the International Labour Organization (ILO) is marking its 90th anniversary in the week of 21-28 April. During this period, there will be a global convergence on the common theme of social dialogue on decent work for a fair globalization in commemorative events in more than 100 countries across the world. This launches a global dialogue aimed at fostering hope and action for an embattled world of work (1).
Local events will take many forms, from dialogues involving labour, employers and governments to heads of state, parliamentarians, academics, and civil society. These will include ratification of international labour standards, the launch of Decent Work Country Programmes, and technical workshops exploring solutions to the financial crisis, to job fairs and the award of government decent work prizes. A new volume entitled “The ILO and the Quest for Social Justice, 1919-2009” will also be launched on this occasion.
The events are being held against what ILO Director-General, Juan Somavia, in a statement issued for the anniversary, describes as “a backdrop of rising unemployment and underemployment, business closures, deteriorating conditions of work and the undermining of respect for rights at work, along with growing inequality, poverty and insecurity.”
“We mark this anniversary at a time of profound economic and social upheaval,” Mr. Somavia said, adding that “the universal message, the mandate and the method of the ILO will be expressed locally.”
For the ILO, crisis has always announced change. The Organization was founded in the aftermath of World War I on the principle that “universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based on social justice”, as expressed in its Constitution. In the nine decades since then, the ILO has responded to many crises through the world of work with timeless values, consistent policy messages and practical action aimed at the pursuit of social justice.
The instruments developed within the tripartite ILO – with the direct representation of governments, employers and workers - have been the basis for much of the world’s labour legislation and have guided key developments in the world of work. They cover conditions of work, occupational safety and health, social security, employment promotion, human resource development and the fundamental goals of freedom of association and collective bargaining, abolition of forced and child labour and non discrimination, The ILO’s instruments have also focused on specific groups including indigenous peoples, migrant workers and disabled workers.
The ILO engages with constituents in its 182 member States in diverse activities covering normative activities, research, policy advisory services, information sharing and technical cooperation.
The contemporary expression of the ILO’s historic mission is embodied in the concept of Decent Work, defined as opportunities for all women and men to obtain productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. The ILO’s Decent Work Agenda has been strongly endorsed at global, regional and national levels. It is centred on employment and enterprise, rights at work, social protection and social dialogue. This is the basis for a balanced approach to action that responds both to people’s enduring need for decent work and to the imperative of productive growth and sustainable development.
"Through war and peace, depression and economic growth, governments, workers and employers have continued to come together in dialogue around our table of shared values: that work must be a source of dignity; that labour is not a commodity; and that poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere”, the ILO Director-General underlined. “These values and action were recognized by the Nobel Peace Prize in 1969. Those values continue to guide and define our work today.”
In 2004, the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization set up by the ILO anticipated many dimensions of the current crisis, given the trajectory of the prevailing model of globalization which produced global imbalances characterized by the Commission as being “morally unacceptable and politically unsustainable.”
Noting that the celebration was an opportunity to reaffirm the ILO’s fundamental values and take action to confront the uncertainties working families and enterprises are facing today, Mr. Somavia added, “Together, let us make the policy choices that sustain the goal of decent work; and together, let us advance the cause of decent work for social justice and a fair globalization. That’s our mission, our mandate and our responsibility.”
The ILO has advocated a decent work approach to the crisis based on a productive recovery. It has proposed a number of measures that bring together employment creation, including green jobs, sustainable enterprises; increased social protection; and upholding standards and fundamental principles and rights at work in integrated approaches while harnessing the creative power of dialogue to find inclusive responses.
As a concrete and practical initiative, Mr. Somavia proposes that the annual International Labour Conference to be held in Geneva in June agree to a Global Jobs Pact that would boost economic recovery and the construction of a new pattern of fairer and more inclusive globalization, focusing on the Decent Work Agenda.
On this occasion, the ILO reiterates its call for global action for decent work and invites all advocates of a people-centred, balanced and sustainable course for the future to mobilize for decent work.
(1) – The Versailles Peace Conference approved the final elements of the ILO’s original Constitution on 28 April 1919.
- Key resources
* Website of the ILO 90th anniversary celebration
- Related information
* The International Labour Organization and the quest for social justice, 1919-2009
* Message by Juan Somavia for the ILO’s 90th anniversary
* The ILO and the Quest for Social Justice