106th International Labour Conference

ILO standards can help regulate migration

In his last interview as President of the Workers’ Group, Luc Cortebeeck looks back at the results of the 106th Session of the International Labour Conference. According to the head of the workers, ILO standards can help protect migrant workers. Cortebeeck also highlights the many cases of violations of international labour standards around the globe, the adoption of a new standard on Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience; and the implementation of fundamental principles and rights at work.

News | 26 June 2017
ACTRAV INFO: The 106th session of the International Labour Conference has just ended. Are you happy with the outcome of this 2017 session?

Luc Cortebeeck:
Every Conference is difficult. But this time our negotiators had to fight even to mention conventions and generally accepted fundamental rights in the final documents and in the new Recommendation. At the end, the result is good, but it is not a positive sign that what was acceptable for the three groups last year is no longer acceptable this year. I hope this is no symptom for a downsizing trend.

ACTRAV INFO: There were 24 individual cases relating to violations of international labour standards debated at this session plus a general discussion on standards related to occupational safety and health (OSH). What should we take away from that debate?

Indeed, there was a discussion based on an experts’ report about occupational safety and health in three sectors: construction, mining and agriculture. The figures in the report are alarming. Every 15 seconds a worker dies caused by an accident at work. Notwithstanding that the reality of underreporting of accidents is rejected by employers, the evidence in the experts’ document is crystal clear. With the support of the governments a conclusion was reached recommending a campaign of ratification and implementation of Convention 187 and the sectoral OSH related conventions. Work in the Committee on the Application of Standards was not easy but things went well in the end, as we delivered 24 conclusions with clear recommendations for the governments concerned. They will be followed up.

ACTRAV INFO: How do you assess the conclusions in the report of the Committee on labour migration governance?

This discussion was also meant to prepare the ILO input to the discussions of the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in 2018. It resulted in a quite balanced text which also highlighted the opportunities migration provides. The recognition and compliance of migrants’ rights without distinction and not only for the “migrants of our choice” is a key issue here. Regulation of migration is possible because “illegal migration” could put pressure on wages and workers’ rights - while ILO conventions should always be respected.

The Employers and some governments launched an attack on IL Conventions 97 and 143 on migration saying that they were outdated but this was not the view of the majority. We should focus on guidelines for fair recruitment because of the bad practice of some employment agencies. The 2014 Protocol to ILO Convention 29 on forced labour and modern slavery is an important tool here. Governments and institutions are requested to include ILO standards in bilateral and multilateral agreements.

ACTRAV INFO: Employment and decent work in the transition from war to peace and fundamental principles and rights at work were also discussed at this session. Can you tell us more from a workers’ perspective?

Following difficult discussions during two Conferences, we have a new standard, the Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience Recommendation (N° 205). This is a new tool to deal with contemporary crisis situations arising from wars, conflicts and different forms of disasters. Rebuilding countries, societies is only possible with the commitment of governments, employers and workers. Social dialogue, decent work and social protection are key elements here. Migrants and refugees should have a place in the rebuilding labour markets, just to give you one example.

It is now a challenge for all stakeholders to take up their responsibilities in crisis situations. Freedom of association is a necessary pre-condition.

ACTRAV INFO: After six years as President of the Workers’ Group, you will take over as Chairperson of the ILO Governing Body in November 2017. From your longstanding experience, what is your advice for the incoming workers’ team in the Governing Body?

I wish my successor Catelene Passchier lots of success. She has significant experience at the national and international level. With the input of the incoming workers’ group, all the conditions to succeed are fulfilled. They know already how to work. It is a question of listening to the Workers’ Group, discussing possible positions and outcomes, negotiating with employers and governments to come to conclusions which respect in these new and difficult times the Constitution and the instruments of the ILO.

There is “no sustainable peace without social justice”. The “future of work” discussion cannot ignore that truth.