4th Conference on Regulating for Decent Work

"There are fundamental questions to answer on the place and function of work in today's society"

Opening address by ILO Director-General Guy Ryder at the 4th Regulating for Decent Work Conference.

Statement | 04 July 2015
ILO Director-General Guy Ryder
Good morning to you all.

I would like to extend my welcome you all to a very warm Geneva! I am delighted to have so many of you here, and I am particularly grateful for your interest and commitment, especially to those of you who have travelled very long distances to join us. In total we have researchers from about 60 countries this year, both industrialized and developing countries, and that global coverage is very important. Also, I heard that the review process was extremely competitive – indeed, fewer than half of the proposals submitted were accepted and their authors invited to make presentations at this Conference – so we have very good guarantees for the quality of our debates. I look forward to listening to and learning from your discussions and debates on matters not just as it is so close to our day-to-day work, but as it is highly relevant to the strategic directions that this Organization is taking.

This conference is an outcome of collective effort through the research network. I want to thank our colleagues and friends who have worked so hard to make this conference happen. The members of the Organizing Committee are the first to be thanked for their commitment and team work. Here I should mention Conference Coordinators, Janine Berg, Claire Piper, Deirdre McCann, Kea Tijdens, and also Manuela Tomei and her colleagues in the ILO’s Conditions of Work and Employment Programme as well as Uma Amara from Research Department. As well as our Conference Coordinators here in the Office, my thanks go to our partners from Durham, Duisburg-Essen, Manchester and Melbourne. We all know that collaboration between busy people in different parts of the world is not easy to achieve, so I congratulate the Committee on its achievements in bringing us all together.

Colleagues and friends,

Many of you joined us two years ago when the global economy was making, I would say, desperate efforts to escape the brunt of the Great Recession. I was not able to join you on that occasion, but I know that at that time you discussed in some depth how to integrate employment in growth policies while meeting equally important objectives such as equity, security and job quality. And I know you had very constructive discussions on what kinds of policy and regulatory framework would be needed for achieving these goals.

Since then, as I think we have to recognize, there has been at best tepid growth and recovery, and extremely high levels of unemployment have persisted. There has been some good news, but this has been overshadowed by worrisome developments in some parts of the world, with growing jobs deficits in terms of quantity and quality, and I think we have to be aware of some very dramatic developments.

To put this in context, even before the crisis the world of work was undergoing profound changes - as a result of technological change, increased migration, ageing societies and shifting employment patterns - in a direction often away from, not towards, achieving social justice, which is the mission of this Organization where you meet. And these changes will continue and will bring about a very marked evolution in the world of work.

In light of the critical importance of this, in my first report to the International Labour Conference in 2013 I made a proposal that the ILO should begin seven “centenary initiatives”, since this Organization goes to its centenary in 2019. Each addresses a key challenge the Organization must tackle if it is to remain relevant in the second century of its existence and be capable of fulfilling its mandate. My proposal was well received by the Conference and its subsequent Governing Body; and the “future of work” is the initiative I want to focus on.

At the International Labour Conference last month, I devoted my whole report to the further development of that “future of work” centenary initiative. I hope you have had a chance to read it! It will give an idea of the process the ILO has embarked on for the next four years and the ILO would benefit from your inputs. Most importantly, the report proposes to organize “centenary conversations” on four thematic areas of key significance.

The first is work and society. There are fundamental questions to answer on the place and function of work in today's society. Sigmund Freund once said “work is the individual’s link to reality”. He is probably right but we need to ask ourselves what that link is today and what enables that link to be established.

Second, in this context, is perhaps the question most asked of the ILO. We need to examine where the jobs of tomorrow will come from and how to create decent jobs for all.

Third, in answering these questions, we need to look into the ways in which work and production are organized. This is a point where very deeply-rooted assumptions about how enterprises function and how employment is structured are now being questioned, be it because of global supply chains, be it the remodelling of the enterprise, be it the employment relationship, be it the emergence and proliferation of “non-standard” forms of employment.

The fourth conversation is a logical one for this organization, the governance of work, and this is closely related to our social justice mission. How will we really seek to govern the reality of work in the future?

My report proposes that The findings of these four conversations would go to a world commission, to be established probably in 2017, which would report back to our International Labour Conference in 2019. There is the possibility of a Centenary Declaration being adopted at that Conference. I say “possibility” because that declaration should not just consist of happy birthday wishes to the ILO, but must be of real political interest if it is to be worthwhile.

It is clichéd and axiomatic to say that that Conference will be without precedent; but anyhow, the ILO must adapt to the new realities of the world of work while staying faithful to the principles of 2019. One way of doing so will be to base the centenary initiative on the tripartite process and tripartite decision-making, while also reaching out to academics and researchers who have a lot to contribute. We need your help in reaching the future of work we want, one in line with our principles and values.

Friends and colleagues,

I hope you get a lot out of this Conference, and I’m sure we will benefit greatly from your inputs! I hope this Conference will be a great success. Thank you.