5th ITUC World Congress

ILO Director-General calls for policies that support equity and social justice

Addressing the 5th World Congress of the International Trade Union Confederation in Melbourne, Gilbert F. Houngbo called for a Global Coalition for Social Justice to prioritize social justice in policy making and tackle multiple crises that are impacting the world of work.

Statement | Melbourne, Australia | 18 November 2022
As I take the floor for the first time, let me start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today. I would like to pay respect to elders past, present and emerging and to all Aboriginal peoples here today.

Reflecting on the speech by Senator Pat Dodson yesterday, I couldn’t help but think of ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples – and to say that it is a pity that only 24 Member States have ratified it. So I want to start by really making an appeal to Governments to consider ratification of Convention 169.

President, Ayuba Wabba,

General Secretary, Sharan Burrow,

Colleagues, Delegates,

It is a great pleasure to be with you today. And my first point is to express my deep appreciation to all of you, from the bottom of my heart, for the support you have provided to me in the process of my election.

I would like to thank the ITUC leadership for your invitation to address Congress, and for much more as well – in particular, to thank Sharan Burrow for her tireless work that has done so much to advance workers’ interests over her time as ITUC General Secretary and, as has been pointed out yesterday and this morning, long before that as well – and I know will continue in the years to come.

And also, Guy Ryder, my predecessor. I would like to thank Guy for all he accomplished during his time at the ILO, and for his immense work unifying the international trade union movement in the first decade of this century.

I would also like to thank the Australian Council of Trade Unions for their exceptional efforts in hosting us so warmly.

My friends,

Much has changed since the last ITUC Congress in 2018.

This is a time of great upheaval and uncertainty, for the world in general and for the world of work in particular.

We face contradictions on a global scale.

We see an unprecedented deepening of inequalities within and between countries; a fragmentation of work relationships, combined with the growing insecurity of millions of jobs; and a risk of informalization of the formal economy, particularly since due to COVID the progress we made formalizing the informal economy in the past 15 years has stalled.

We are witnessing a rise in working poverty; worsening levels of child labour, and forced labour; the terrible absence of any social protection floor for four billion citizens; and huge challenges for youth employment.

The latest ILO Monitor on the World of Work, released two weeks ago, projects that global employment growth will deteriorate significantly in the final quarter of 2022.

It also estimates that the number of hours worked globally is still 1.5 per cent below the 2019 pre-crisis levels.

That’s equivalent to the loss of 40 million full-time jobs.

On top of this we have climate change, as we just heard from Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. This threatens the lives and livelihoods of billions of workers around the globe - in particular those in developing countries, with few resources to provide support.

So this is a watershed moment for the world of work – and also, for the international trade union movement.

This is a moment for us all to come together, in unity, and in solidarity.

And to reassert our shared values: values of social justice, values of freedom, values of democracy, peace and equality.

Therefore I welcome the debate the ITUC Congress will be holding on a New Social Contract. We need it.

I, too, believe such a new social contract is vital on a global scale.

We need it to counter the growing inequalities and the growing insecurity that workers are facing.

My friends,

When I took up my position as Director-General of the ILO on the first of October, I placed social justice at the heart of my mandate.

I intend to make it central to ILO work to achieve the prioritization of social justice in all national, regional and global policymaking.

To achieve this – and to galvanize political momentum – I am proposing the launch of a Global Coalition for Social Justice.

The Coalition will bring together all key stakeholders. This will include not just the ILO and trade unions, employers, and governments but other UN agencies, multilateral institutions, civil society, development partners and academics.

The Coalition will aim to achieve practical results that will be of direct benefit to the working women and men of the world.

So we are proposing to establish a socially sustainable, anti-crisis framework, working with the IMF and the multilateral development banks.

We are proposing that universal social protection be made a reality for the half of the world’s population that currently have no such protection.

And to support workers in the just transition to a green and digital economy.

Furthermore we need a new initiative for socially fair trade, working together with the WTO, UNCTAD and other important organizations related to trade.

These proposals are based on two realizations:
  • One is that the global challenges faced by workers require a global response, based upon greater policy coherence in macro, employment, social and environmental policies within the multilateral system.
  • Second, in order to achieve a human-centred recovery that leaves no one behind, we must improve protection for the most vulnerable.
Central to this work will be my commitment to international labour standards and its supervisory system.

We need to identify the potential gaps in regulation that have appeared as the world of work has changed.

We need to look at the platform economy, digitalization, global supply chains, and the transition to green jobs.

Where the ILO’s existing standards are not sufficient, we need new instruments.

We must also strive for the ratification and the full implementation of existing instruments.

Dear colleagues,

We must also redouble our efforts towards achieving full and productive employment – and decent work for all.

Last year the UN Secretary-General – as he recalled in his message a few moments ago – launched the Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection for Just Transitions.

And the ILO is the coordinator of this initiative.

The Global Accelerator commits to extend social protection coverage to the 4 billion people currently excluded, and to create up to 400 million jobs; and I want to recognize Guy Ryder for the work done assisting the UN secretariat in the launch of this initiative.

Of course, it is essential that the jobs created be decent jobs, jobs that provide workers with a good wage that ensures they and their families can live in dignity.

And this requires trade unions to be able to organize and to be able to bargain collectively.

But we have seen far too many violations of trade union rights in recent years.

This is just unacceptable.

Workers’ rights must be protected, in particular freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

We need strong and effective social dialogue.

And law and practice that enable trade unions to protect all workers, regardless of how and where they work.

In other words – it is essential that the labour movement retain its strength and voice. You are the largest membership-based organization in the world.

The world counts on you to play a vital role in driving the design and implementation of policies that support equity and social justice.

So we count on you to defend the rights of all workers and speak up for the most vulnerable in our society.

We need a united, strong, and innovative labour movement, to react to the transformative challenges of our time.

We face, Ladies and Gentlemen, multiple, complex and interlinked challenges. To meet them we must stand tall; we must stand together.

Let me assure you that the ILO, under my leadership, will work tirelessly to support you in your endeavours.

We will work with you towards the New Social Contract that you have come here to Melbourne to discuss.

We will work with you until together, we have secured universal social justice and protection for all.

In closing, allow me once again to thank Sharan Burrow and her whole team for their support of the ILO throughout the years.

I look forward to working hand-in-hand with the leadership that will be elected by your Congress next week.

And I wish you good luck in your crucial work this week.

The working women and men of the world are counting on you.

Thank you.