344th Session of the ILO Governing Body

Opening intervention by the ILO Director-General

Statement | 15 March 2022

Members of the Governing Body,

Let me extend a warm welcome to all participants in this 344th Session of the Governing Body.

This session is different from recent ones, it is also special, and it meets in extraordinary circumstances.

It is different because – finally – we are able to have a significant physical presence of delegates in our new meeting room, while still providing for remote participation by those who, for one reason or another, remain in their respective capitals. This hybrid formula requires us to adapt our working methods as we have learned to do over the past two years. But it not only allows us to get the Governing Body’s work done in appropriate conditions. It also represents a very concrete sign of progress in our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and a return to more familiar ways of operating.

So it is a more than usual pleasure to see and to greet the representatives who are in the room, as well as those who join us on line.

And our session is special because it will, on Friday of next week, elect the new Director-General of the ILO. Yesterday you already heard from the five candidates in private session. And you do not need me to speak about the significance of the decision you will take then. It is one reason why the physical presence of Governing Members is so important. But I do wish to take this opportunity, in advance of the ballot, to assure you all that the Director-General Elect, whoever it is, will enjoy the fullest possible cooperation from myself and the whole office to ensure a smooth transition in the period from the ballot until their assumption of office on 1st October.

The extraordinary circumstances in which we meet are reflected in the decision which has just been taken to include an item on “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine from the perspective of the mandate of the ILO” in the agenda of our session.

As you have indicated Chair, the Governing Body will take up this matter latter in its session and I will therefore refrain from making extensive remarks on it at this stage. But I do need to reiterate what I said in my statement of 3 March. That the attack by the Russian Federation against Ukraine stands as a brutal repudiation of our organization’s mission to promote peace through social justice.

Throughout its long history, the ILO has had to confront challenges such as these to its values and its goals. It has always proven equal to them, and it falls to this Governing Body to be faithful to that record of moral responsibility and achievement.

Different, special and extraordinary the business and context of this session may be. But that cannot, and I am sure will not distract us from any of the items on our very full agenda, of 11 which I would remind you, are to be dealt with through decisions by correspondence.

The question of including safe and healthy working conditions in the ILO’s framework of fundamental principles and rights at work has been before the Governing Body since our Centenary year, and at this session it reaches a decisive moment as we seek to give precision to a draft resolution to be considered by the Conference in May and June. Good progress has already been made in this complex and critical process and in identifying and addressing the key outstanding issues: terminology; the Conventions to be recognized as fundamental; and possible legal effects on existing trade agreements. So there seems good to reason to believe that the ILO is well on the way to a conference decision which, particularly in this pandemic period, will reverberate strongly around the world of work, and advance our work in an area of key area where we have clear constitutional responsibilities.

In a process which also has its origins in the ILO’s Centenary, the Governing Body has before it the report of the Global Forum on a Human-Centred Recovery which met virtually at the end of last month with the participation of 12 Heads of State or Government, a large number of heads of international organizations including the Secretary-General of the United Nations and, of course the representatives of our tripartite constituents.

The Forum responded to the need identified in the Centenary Declaration and the Global Call to Action adopted by last year’s Conference to strengthen institutional arrangements between organizations to boost international policy coherence for a human-centred recovery.

I believe that convening this event was important for the ILO, and that consideration should be given to a further Forum in the future. Some important commitments for cooperation resulted from it. But it is equally clear that we still have a considerable task ahead of us to bring about the type of system-wide, permanent coherence required to deliver fully on the 2030 Agenda and to live up to the vision of the Secretary-General in “Our Common Agenda” for networked, effective and inclusive multilateralism.

With the Global Forum we have laid some foundations.

Once again, the Governing Body has three country situations on its agenda as a direct consequence of decisions taken by it at previous session.

In the case of Bangladesh, there is a progress report on the implementation of the roadmap for action to address the issues raised in the Article 26 complaint presented at the 2019 Conference. It is for you to assess the extent of that progress and decide upon appropriate action in the light of it.

The case of Venezuela has been before the Governing Body much longer, and at its last meeting you instructed me to engage with the Government with a view to converting existing dialogue into a Social Dialogue Forum with a view to ensuring compliance with the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry.

I have followed up actively on this instruction and proposed to the Minister of Labour terms of reference for such a Social Dialogue Forum which he has accepted. These terms of reference were adopted at a virtual inaugural session of the Forum on 7 March, although reservations on them were expressed then by the employers’ organizations FEDECAMARAS which is party to the original complaint. The Forum is scheduled to meet again with physical participation in Caracas during the week of 25 April with the technical support of the ILO. After such protracted considerations of this case in the Governing Body there are, I think, significant and positive steps.

While Myanmar is not the subject of a formal supervisory process the Governing Body is charged with follow up to Conference resolutions on the situation in the country. As the document presented shows the situation remains of deep concern, with reports of grave human and labour rights violations and severe restrictions on ILO activities. The ILO liaison officer is still outside the country following non-renewal of his visa, and the issue of Government credentials remains unresolved at the UN General Assembly. In line with the instructions of the last session of the Governing Body the document also presents information on potential action by this year’s Conference in response to this situation.

This the first Governing Body session of the ILO’s new biennium, and accordingly it receives reports on the programme implementation and financial results of the 2020-21 exercise.

You will find in these reports evidence of the robust measures put in place by the Office to ensure business continuity during a period which was dominated and disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and when the key objectives of the Organization were to adapt its work to radically changed circumstances, to be a relevant actor in the world of work COVID response and to remain connected and supportive of our constituents. The fact that some 45% of the programme results achieved contributed directly to COVID response is one indicator of success in these regards.

The financial report shows an underspent of nearly $41 million of the approved budget as a result of the constraints acting on the Organization during the biennium, but also a $68.5 million shortfall in receipt of assessed contributions with the resulting net shortfall of income over expenditure being financed from the Working Capital Fund.

As we embark on this Governing Body session we need to cast our eyes forward to important processes and events coming up quite soon after its conclusion.

Let me draw attention to the recommendation to extend by 12 months the mandate of the Tripartite Working Group on Full, Equal and Democratic Participation in the ILO’s Tripartite Governance, and the fact that the 1986 Constitutional Amendment requires just 8 further ratifications to come into force, of which three must be from Member States of Chief Industrial Importance.

I am particularly grateful to the Government of South Africa for hosting the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour in May. This major event comes as we observe an increase in child labour around the world. This increase comes after decades of real progress and pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic and has no doubt been made worse by it. So the Conference offers a much needed and invaluable opportunity for the international community to rededicate itself to eradicate an abuse which we all agree has no place in our world and which we have all already committed to get rid of. Let us not miss it.

And shortly after that the 110th International Labour Conference will convene with our hopes of a return to significant physical participation after the challenging session of last year. Determining the precise modalities for the Conference this year is also challenging as the document before this Governing Body makes clear. But despite the obstacles posed by the pandemic and shortage of meeting room capacity, with the constructive spirit that has so far prevailed and the readiness of all actors to assume their respective responsibilities we can make a hybrid format work in a way that enables the Conference to deal with its full agenda. That would be another very welcome milestone of success over the pandemic.

With these remarks let me once again welcome you all to this Session and wish the Governing Body success with the full agenda of work before it.