109th International Labour Conference (ILC)

109th Session of International Labour Conference: What are the challenges and opportunities for workers?

Annette Mpundu Chipeleme, Workers’ Vice President of the 109th session of the International Labour Conference speaks about the challenges and opportunities of this first ever virtual session. She stresses the need to include international labour standards at the heart of recovery policies to combat the COVID-19 pandemic…

News | 31 May 2021

ACTRAV INFO: For the first time we have a virtual International Labour Conference. What are the challenges and opportunities for workers’ at this 109th session?

This session may create several challenges for workers. Firstly, in normal circumstances they can take advantage of being able to communicate face to face at the Conference. However in this virtual setting their participation may be limited by poor access to a stable internet connection. This digital divide will hamper equal participation of workers from regions without the technological capacity. Secondly, the lack of face-to-face contact for negotiations may hinder the informal processes that normally occur at the ILC, that support the delivery of meaningful outcomes. Time lost due to the need to adapt to the circumstances may also undermine the quality of their participation.

Last year the Conference did not take place. We assumed that by 2021 we would be able to meet in person but as we see, this is still not the case since the crisis continues in different parts of the world. Therefore, after several discussions at the ILO Governing Body, we decided to hold this conference virtually with its full agenda, as we believe all ILO bodies should continue working in their full capacity. The ILC is a fundamental part of their work.

Workers needed the Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS) to operate since it is a key element of the ILO’s supervisory mechanism. This is vital after the year-long delay.
Despite the challenges associated with the virtual conference format it will be an opportunity for the ILO to show leadership in its response to the COVID crisis. Workers have the opportunity to participate and contribute to the first ILC discussion on COVID 19.

The re-current discussion on social protection is also on the agenda. This issue is of major importance as currently many workers are excluded from social protection coverage.
We are living at a moment in history that demands a new social contract to address the many inequalities that have unfortunately increased due to the pandemic. Therefore, the General discussion on inequalities is key for workers.

Workers will also have an opportunity to participate in the discussion on skills and lifelong learning, which are important for workers.

ACTRAV INFO: A discussion on the COVID-19 crisis is on the agenda. What is your evaluation of the crisis, and the consequences for workers and their organizations?

COVID 19 has had a devastating impact on the world of work. We have people who have lost their jobs, literally losing their livelihoods. People who had to go to work without any protection against the virus, as well as people who were able to telework but whose work life balance was badly affected. The ILC gives us an opportunity to discuss these issues collectively and find tripartite agreement on the key messages that the ILO will bring to the international community to make sure that international labour standards are at the heart of the recovery. We need to convey a strong message and reinforce a rights- based agenda, a sustainable and resilient development agenda, and make sure that all recovery programs take into account the environmental dimension.

The crisis reinforces what we have already discussed in 2019, that occupational safety and health (OSH) should be a fundamental right. Additionally, we need to ensure social protection floors for all.

ACTRAV INFO: Looking forward, what are your expectations from the sessions that will take place in November and December 2021?

In the second segment of the ILC later this year, we will be able to discuss a key challenge, the issue of inequalities. The ILO was born with the goal of redistributing the fruits of economic progress. However, we have seen that for many this is not a reality. We need to find ways to break the cycle of poverty. Quality public services for all are crucial. It will be an opportunity to discuss fair taxation, fiscal space and development policies that lead to the creation of decent jobs.

Skills, of course, is a key issue on the agenda. We should use this opportunity to discuss lifelong learning opportunities for all, not only related to the labour market but to the social and human development capacities that we need in order to build a better, more equal world.