August 16, 2015

Decimate Work, Worker & Workplace and Disarm Trade Union Movement

Swadesh Dev Roye

THE 104th Session of the International Labour Conference (ILC) of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) took place at the UN complex in Geneva from May 31 to June 13. A total of 5,912 accredited representatives consisting of the government, workers, and employers’ delegations from 169 member countries of ILO attended the conference as compared to 5,254 in 2014. Amongst the participants, there were 171 ministers from different countries.


The worker members of the Indian delegation consisted of Swadesh Dev Roye, CITU,   Munin Mahanta, AITUC, Sankar Saha, AIUTUC, S P Tiwari, TUCC, Thampan Thomas, HMS, Sanjay Singh and Jagdish Raj Shrimali, INTUC, C K Sajinarayanan and Baij Nath Rai both BMS. The Indian delegation included the Union Minister of Labour and Employment, and the Labour Ministers of the states of Telangana and Chhattisgarh, and of course, a big delegation of bureaucrats led by the Labour Secretary.


Apart from the standing items, Reports of the Director General of the ILO, Programme & Budget, Information and Reports on the application of Conventions and Recommendations this year, the agenda decided by the Governing Body included: Small and Medium-sized Enterprise and Decent and Productive Employment Creation; The Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy; Recurrent Discussion on Social Protection (labour protection).


How the various social odds and ills are surfacing in compounding scale globally affecting the mass of the people as a result of the imposed burdens of the continuing crisis of capitalism has inescapably surfaced in the overall proceedings of the 104TH ILC. 

The situation in the world of work has been identified as great uncertainty and insecurity prone to inflict more and more massacre over the rights and livelihood of the toiling people and the spectre of derogatory changes in the world of work are clouded with more horrific onslaught on the working class. Growing inequality is “widely commented but much less acted upon”. The paradox has been captured in the revolutionary development of the forces of production with capacity to produce wealth for the entire global population, in one hand, and on the other, the capitalist system is coming in the way resulting in “mass unemployment and underemployment and large-scale exclusion” in the world of work and in the human society as a whole.


Report of the Director General


The Report presented by the Director General (DG) this year is titled – “The future of Work centenary initiative.” The form and contents, overt and covert ominous messages in the lines and between the lines of the Report need to be studied carefully with insight into the crucial and critical aspects from the angles of rights and protection of labour and the working class  movement of the world.


Under the frame work of ‘The Future of Work Centenary Initiative’ (FWCI) this year’s Report of the Director General (DG) has drawn an elaborate agenda constituting deep departure from the time tested sanctity of the tripartite structure and principle of functional ethos of ILO. The matter, method and mechanism for the ‘future initiatives’ have been authored  in the Report with typical ‘ILO Office’ style of double meaning expression camouflaged under attractive language and (deceitful) resolves.


The Proposed Structure and Contents of the Centenary ILC in 2019


A three-stage process of implementation of the initiative has already been approved by the Governing Body of ILO and has been forwarded to the ILC session under discussion for acceptance.


The first stage involves diluting the tripartite framework of ILO functioning as noted in the DG’s report “Invite the widest possible engagement in and contributions to the reflection on the future of work. Tripartite constituents, international organizations, research institutions, universities, civil society and individual personalities would all be asked to participate. Member states will be encouraged establishing their own networks and processes”. This stage would be concluded with cluster participation in four “Centenary Conversations” to be elaborated little later.


The second stage would pass on the initiative to a so called High-level Commission on the future of work which would be asked to work on the outputs of the Centenary Conversations. The output of the Commission would be a report to be submitted to the 108TH session of the ILC in 2019.


The third stage would be the centenary year celebration (2019) of ILO. The report has desired that the celebration should not only be commemorative or limited to historical components “But it would be important for each of them to give attention to the issues arising from the future of work initiative.” It has been proposed to go for a total shift in the long standing frame work, agenda and role of ILO headquarters in the matters of preparation and conduction of the 108TH ILC scheduled for 2019.


The 108TH ILC is proposed to be based on only one agenda ‘centenary initiative’. The report of the high-level commission would be the key document to be presented to that conference instead of current practice of standing items and items decided by the Governing Body. The proceedings of that ILC is proposed to be restructured to “in a continuous plenary debate or to deal with specific themes arising from it in the technical committees or elsewhere in interactive sittings.” And the conclusion of the 108TH ILC is proposed to be only a ‘Centenary Declaration’ with ‘political purpose and substantive content’.


Significantly, it has been declared that the existing huge ILO headquarters establishment (called the Office) with a few thousand manpower with excellent knowledge pool and specialisation in every required subject shall be totally isolated from the work of developing documents for the centenary ILC in that a ‘Separate Machinery' shall be set up, as envisaged, “while the majority of substantive activities will not be undertaken within the (ILO HQ) Office, it will be required to launch, coordinate and process the initial stage of reflection, to service the commission and as always to make preparations for the 108th Session (2019) of the conference ... it will be necessary to establish a dedicated unit within the Office, headed by an Adviser on the future of work and to mobilize financial resources to cover this work and other aspects associated with implementing the initiative.” Such move is obviously motivated to provide intrusion by agencies and individual to push the neo-liberal agenda, who have been trying to destroy the age old tradition of tripartism in the functioning of ILO. 


Jobs, Wage & Social Security Targets of Long Term Attack


In an open advocacy in support of the atrocious rigidity of the employers’ class on their perspective of so-called ‘sustainability’ of enterprise and ‘flexibility’ in employment, the Report of the DG has warned the trade union movement that, “the ILO better understand the dynamics of the enterprise and how it will shape the future of work ... while there is little question that the enterprise will continue to be the essential unit of work and production, very fundamental questions are posed about what it will look like in the future and how it will operate.” 


Eloquently propagating in support of the various anti-labour designs of the employers’ class, the Report of the DG has shockingly captured the so called concerns of the employers in the following extensive excerpts from the Report. In these paragraphs the DG has, shamelessly, justified with strong arguments in black and whites the anti-labour practices and propositions of the employers. For example, permanent jobs to be altogether replaced with flexible, short-term and transient form of work. Individual workers to enter into contract with employer doing away with the present system of collective agreement. In view of the continued crisis of capitalism and slide in growth rate, new growth model to be put in place which shall hit the workers in terms of work load, job security and wages. Subcontracting, outsourcing, third-party agencies, and the operation of supply chains shall replace direct employer-employee relations.


Ø                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                The prospect of a single job for a working life has become outdated in today’s world of work. The question is then the extent to which this archetype (if it ever really existed as a general norm) is to be replaced by ever more flexible, short-term and transient form of work, with workers being increasingly mobile spatially and functionally, ... At the same time work units are becoming smaller and more dispersed and workplace locations more disconnected from communities.


Ø              That dystopian vision can be set against another which stresses the freedoms and opportunities which can arise from dynamic labour markets offering unprecedented choice and rewards for individuals ready to take advantage of them ... Here the emphasis is on individual initiative and responsibility, rather than familiar collective mechanisms, to mediate the relationship between work and society.


Ø              Where will the jobs come from... with the danger of global economy in danger of sliding into a permanent state of slow growth those concerns seem sell-founded. With current forecasts being for further increase in already unacceptably high unemployment, fears that the global jobs machine is broken, or at least malfunctioning badly, are widely prevalent.


Ø              The global economy is not able to generate enough jobs within established policy parameters may warrant examination of innovative methods of distributing available work and of compensating it.


Ø              The world is challenged by the imperative of funding equitably the transition to a sustainable growth model.


Ø              Our general understanding of the enterprise ...has been the identity as the producer of goods and services through the direct employment of a work force on a stable and relatively long-term basis. But that archetype is being increasingly called into question by current processes of change.


Ø              Over and above the largely assumed reality that a lifelong attachment to a single enterprise employer is no longer a generalised societal expectation, the very existence of the employment relationship as the normal contractual arrangement between enterprise and worker is being called into question. Where it does exist, that relationship, may increasingly depart from the classic full-time, open ended relationship, taking instead one of a variety of “non-standard” forms, including part-time, fixed term and flexible contracts.


Ø              Beyond this, there are also instances of enterprises dispensing with a directly employed workforce altogether, or for large parts of their operations, generally through processes of subcontracting, outsourcing, third-party agencies, and the operation of supply chains, which are increasingly taking on a global dimension. In the most far-reaching cases, business models have appeared in recent years which, through the meditation of Internet-based technologies, connect individual demanders of goods and services with those in a position to supply them, in a transient commercial relationship that lasts no longer than the time taken to deliver that product or service.


Ø              The idea that progress in labour markets can be schematized as a one-way street from informality to formal employee status may be significantly misplaced. There is increasing probability that various permanent forms of self-employment will become alternative destinations.


Ø              Process of change that allows the individual to be more at home in the work, but also more at work in their home could prove a mixed blessing for some.


Camouflaged  in the above paragraphs under the cover of ILO style language and expression are the dreadful desire and design being drawn by the employers’ class under the atrocities of  neo-liberal policies aimed at shifting the burden of the crisis of capitalism on the working class and intensify extraction of surplus value taking undue advantage of the technological revolution and also design to destroy job security and deny decent remuneration exploiting the existence of reserve army of unemployed. Therefore, the foregoing excerpts from the Report presented to the 104TH session of the ILC of the ILO must be read very carefully and correctly comprehended.


One, obviously, need not be surprised to note that Mr. Ronnest (Denmark), the Chairperson of the Employers’ Group in his address to the ILC plenary session while participating in the discussion on the Report of the DG expressed over enthusiasm and jubilation at the Report of the DG and quoted many points of their interest from the Report.


                                                                                                                    (To be continued)