THE 106th International Labour Conference was held on June 5-16, at Geneva. The governing body of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) after several rounds of meetings held throughout the year finalised four topics for discussion and adopting resolutions. They were- i) labour migration; ii) employment and decent work for peace and resilience; iii) recurrent discussion on the strategic objective of fundamental principles and rights at work; iv) abrogation of certain old conventions.
Stressing upon the need for environment awareness, Guy Ryder, director general of ILO spoke on greening of production which will lead to all jobs in future becoming green jobs. He of course did not say anything on the recent decision of the US government to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. He expressed anxiety on the relevance of the ILO recommendation number 71 on employment and decent work for peace and resilience, when prevention and recovery from conflict, disaster and crisis has undergone so much change. Yet he could not underline the major factors of present day war for capturing oil fields and for market access to the giant corporates. It is not possible for him or his think tanks to be critical on these issues since in late nineties, ILO had defined the neo-liberal globalisation as ‘fair globalisation’. At the end of his speech, the director general finally admitted that ‘tension and conflict is on the rise around the world, when inequalities have become intolerable, when denial of social justice is so widespread, when basic principles of international cooperation are being called into question and the practice of multilateralism is coming under strain, we can call upon history of our own organisation to lift us to meet our responsibilities.’
CITU participated in the discussion on fundamental principles and rights at work. The theme paper circulated by the ILO earlier was weak and in many places was confusing. On the top, the chairperson of the workers group who is a trade union leader from USA and representing ITUC, tried to emphasise the importance of NGOs which was strongly opposed by trade unions of several countries. Application of fundamental principles was taken up in 2012 and five years later when there was a review, it was stated that thereafter ‘substantial progress has been achieved’. This was countered by several countries including India which compelled him to mention that ‘Yet there are significant implementation gaps.’ The final draft contained tasks and responsibilities for the ILO office, governments and employers for implementation of the fundamental principles. Of about six interventions from the CITU, only one regarding preparing a list of hazardous industries where child labour is to be totally banned, was accepted.
Impressive debate and discussion was held in the sessions on revision of the employment (transition from war to peace). It prepared guidelines in taking measures on employment and decent work in response to crisis situations arising from conflicts and disasters and with a view of prevention. Mentioning importance of involving workers in recovery and building resilience, it directs to provide services, including social protection, support to livelihoods, immediate employment measures and income generation for those who have been made vulnerable by the crisis. The resolution directs to promote equality of opportunity and equal treatment for all migrant workers. For the first time, ILO adopted a resolution on the grave situation of refugees’ influx in the recent time.
With much noise and propaganda, the government of India declared ratification of two ILO Conventions on child labour. In a special meeting in the presence of the director general of the ILO, minister of state for labour and employment announced the ratifications. Some dignitaries of few other countries also praised the government who did not know that the new law on child labour enacted by this government distorts the principal objective of abolition of child labour. It had allowed child labour in family business without defining a ‘family’. It had removed nearly 55 industries from the list of hazardous industries where any form of child labour is forbidden and also has many other lapses.
For seven days, hundreds of speakers addressed the plenary. Most of them spoke on their national situation. George Mavrikos, general secretary addressed the plenary reflecting the world view and struggles of working class. Describing the attack on workers in Kazakhstan, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, and Angola and in Turkey, he expressed solidarity with them. He concluded that “Under these circumstances, the world working class, all workers, we need a militant, efficient and active trade union movement. We need trade unions that will have courage, that will withstand, that will be democratic; that they will pay attention to the base of their members and that will unite all workers irrespective of religion, colour, gender and language.”
A special plenary sitting on June 14 discussed on ‘Better future for women at work’ which had speeches by women presidents of Republic of Malta, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca; Republic of Mauritius, Ms Ameenah Gruib-Fakim and Democratic Republic of Nepal, Bidya Devi Bhandari. They narrated their struggle for establishing people’s power and particularly empowering women in the nation building.
Continuous discussion on complaints from different countries was heard in the meeting by the Committee on Application of Standards (CAS). CITU complained in 2014 that labour inspection system is being abolished which is a violation of the ILO Convention No.81. This was taken up by the CAS in the hearing in 2015 when the Committee recommended six areas for government of India to report. This was deliberately not complied. CITU also complained that no inspection is followed in the SEZs and in many of them labour authority is handed over to the development commissioners. ILO in 2015 directed the government to send a detailed report on labour inspection system in all the SEZs. The government sent a report only a week before the International Labour Conference.
CAS decided to discuss again on CITU’s complaint on violation of C-81. BMS representative who was a delegate from the workers team of India submitted a half page written speech which contained full satisfaction on the government’s new inspection system. CITU asked for maximum time to present the case. CITU also gave feedback information to the worker representatives of several other countries. The office of the CAS allotted seven minutes time to CITU and three minutes time to BMS. The government said that they have given all information to ILO and hence the case should be dropped. They managed governments of other countries like Turkey, Russia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka who echoed the same. From Workers Group, countries like Australia, Malaysia, Brazil and UK supporting the presentation of CITU successfully exposed the role of Indian government before the global community.
In conclusion, CAS again asked the government to provide detailed information with all possible data about SEZs and labour inspections in SEZs. It directed the government to conduct inspections in presence of the workers or their union and to increase resources for disposal to both central and state inspection machineries. Importantly, the Committee directed that the government of India while amending the labour laws should keep conformity with the ILO conventions.
It was established that International Confederation of Trade Unions (ICFTU) was regularly funded by big funding agencies through which large corporates dictate policies. ICFTU later merged with AFL-CIO of USA and formed a large international organisation, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Before political changes in East Europe, World Federation of Trade Unions was a strong contender of ITUC at the level of ILO. Later many trade unions of these countries shifted to ITUC weakening WFTU for some time. Today, the director general of ILO and so many of other officers at the high level of ILO, are from ITUC. In all committees, conference committees, sub-committees, members are all from ITUC. Workers struggle, countering the offence by the employers and governments hardly ever gets place in the ILO forum. Worker members in the governing body of the ILO are mostly selected from ITUC affiliates. ILO has slided a lot in helping the struggle of the workers. But this is a supra national organisation providing equal rights to all countries and that cannot be left in the hands of people who are keen to compromise if not collaborate. Workers in many countries have now understood the need of militant struggles for which the role of the WFTU to lead is more important.