10th European Regional Meeting

ILO head focuses on the future of decent work in Europe and Central Asia

Statement | 02 October 2017
Minister Jülide Sarieroğlu, Chairperson of the 10th European Regional Meeting,
Vice-Chairpersons of the meeting,

Let me begin by welcoming you all to this 10th ILO European Regional Meeting, and by congratulating you Madam Minister on your election to the Chair, and your Vice-Chairs. Our meeting is in very good hands. And under the leadership of a woman Minister I have no doubt that you will make sure our meeting give full attention to gender equality at work. Thanks to the warm welcome we have received from the Government and people of Turkey and the excellent arrangements made we will be able to work in excellent conditions.

When the ILO Governing Body decided already in 2015 to hold this meeting in Istanbul it had in mind not only all the advantages of coming to this wonderful city but also the need to bring together all parts of Europe and Central Asia, to address their distinctive world of work realities and to work out how the ILO can help move them forward to the shared objectives of the decent work agenda.

It is difficult to imagine a better place than Istanbul for that task.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We live at a time when history seems to be accelerating and taking us in directions that we cannot easily predict. And that has generated uncertainty, and instability for many European countries and their citizens.

You may recall that the last European Regional Meeting was in Oslo, Norway in October 2013. A great deal has happened since then, and much of it we would not have wanted to happen. Europe, whose historic achievement over the second half of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century, has been the maintenance of peace across the region, and to have achieved this by resolutely acting on the ILO’s founding principle that lasting peace depends on the realization of social justice, has not been immune from tensions and conflict, nor a questioning of some of the fundamentals of peaceful coexistence and of what has come to be called “the European Project”. Europe’s nations have been tested as well, individually and collectively by the spectre of terrorism and also by the unprecedented influx of refugees from conflict, repression and deprivation taking place beyond their own frontiers.

This should remind us of two simple realities:
  • firstly that it is Turkey which today hosts more refugees than any other country in Europe or in the world. I have, when visiting Harran District refugee camp in May 2016, seen how the Turkish people are extending solidarity, compassion, and assistance to those most vulnerable of people. It is – or should be – an example to others and the ILO is proud to be working with Turkey so that refugees can look forward to a future with access to decent work.
  • and secondly that Europe is not an island. What happens in other regions impacts what happens here and we must recognize and act on that reality.
Indeed it was a financial crisis that shook Europe from across the other side of the Atlantic, like some wayward hurricane in 2008, mutating into an economic, social and labour crisis of unprecedented proportions since the second world war that has done much to set the ILO agenda in this region ever since. When this meeting took place in Lisbon in early 2009 the aim was “working out of crisis”; in Oslo four years later the focus was on “restoring confidence in jobs and growth” and now we are asking ourselves what the future for decent work in Europe and Central Asia will look like.

I think this is quite a good reflection of what has happened over these years when we have seen a slow, sometimes uncertain and sometimes fragile, recovery from the worst depths of the crisis. Certainly there are some reasons for optimism because, across the region, with all its diversity of national and sub-regional circumstances, the macro-economic figures are looking better than they did even a short time ago. But those aggregates should not disguise the reality of still worryingly high unemployment, of stagnating wage levels in many countries, of the continuing drama of youth unemployment nor of the particular pain of those who have been the hardest hit by the crisis.

The importance of consolidating improvement in labour markets, broadening access to decent work and engineering more equitable labour market outcomes, transcends the most obvious social considerations. Because from an economic perspective we know that growing inequality and marginalization itself retards growth and job creation. This has been highlighted, for example by the International Monetary Fund, which has recently warned also of the dangers of being misled by what it has called the "surface healing" in labour markets – that is, relatively low levels of overall unemployment, disguising serious structural problems such as heightened involuntary part-time work and temporary work as our ways of working undergo profound change and diversification.

Moreover, we are being reminded with increasing frequency and insistence of the political consequences of accumulating citizens' frustration at what they regard as inadequate policy outcomes. The danger of loss of confidence in the capacity of policy makers and institutions, including European and international institutions, to come up with credible and effective responses to their expectations is perhaps the most powerful imperative to better performance.

Fortunately, Europe and Central Asia can rely on many assets as it seeks to meet these challenges, assets which have enabled it over many decades, and better than any other region, to ensure that the necessary locomotive of economic growth goes hand in hand with social progress. These include: strong, independent and representative social partners and well-established systems of social protection whose sustainability and adequacy require constant vigilance, physical and social infrastructure, and training capacities which are critical to sustaining successful and competitive enterprises.

And there is one further asset which I must stress here in Istanbul which is unanimous acceptance that full respect of fundamental principles and rights at work is the indispensable base from which all else will flow.

When, in December of last year, Uzbekistan deposited the ratification of Convention 87 on freedom of association it was not only one more important step forward in the important cooperation between the ILO and that country, it was also the truly historic moment when all of the ILO's 51 member States in this region had ratified all 8 of the ILO's fundamental rights Conventions: a universal aspiration realized at least in this region, and one worthy of recognition and celebration.

But ratification is one thing, and implementation another. And, through our supervisory system it is one of the ILO’s principal responsibilities to ensure that international obligations assumed through ratification are respected fully and everywhere.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The events of 15 July in this country, brought from all sectors of Turkish society the courageous and successful defense of its democratic rights and freedoms. This has been welcomed across Europe and the wider international community, including by the ILO, at the same time that we join with our Turkish friends there whose lives were tragically lost.

I do not think that it should be a matter of controversy that all measures taken to defend and sustain those democratic rights including those introduced under the state of emergency need to be consistent with the fundamental rights at work protected by ratified ILO Conventions. And so I believe, and I hope, that all concerned can come together to ensure that measures introduced to Turkey which include dismissals of large numbers of employees in the public sector in particular, do not entail any risk of discrimination, of punishing the innocent nor of obstruction of legitimate strike action or collective bargaining.

We will all be aware that it is concerns about these matters which have kept large numbers of worker delegates away from this meeting. But this meeting can be the occasion to allay and overcome such concerns and, I hope that we can all unite to do just that, and to help put in motion new processes for dialogue and understanding.

The report that I have presented to this meeting will be presented to you this afternoon by the ILO Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia. It tracks the evolution of employment and growth over the last four years, how wages, productivity, and living standards have evolved, and how the region has navigated the various shocks to which it has been subjected. And it takes stock of the activities of the ILO and invites all delegates here to assess their impact and to provide your guidance on how they must develop in the future.

As this meeting coincides with the beginning of my own second mandate as Director-General it is a good occasion for me also to reflect on what we have done and what we must do.

I have always taken the view that our rapidly changing world of work requires the ILO's activities work in Europe to evolve too. Historically, Europe has provided political leadership in the ILO, and the best example of what the ideals and practices of the ILO look like when put into concrete action. We count on this to continue in the future. But developments inside Europe and beyond mean that we must also be more active in very concrete activities with our member States across the region. We have worked with countries most severely affected by the 2008 crisis and its after effects, for example in rolling out programmes for youth employment. From our office in Moscow we have developed intensified activities for Central Asian members and developed new partnerships in Russia itself. The decent work team in Budapest has remained strategically placed to address emerging and long standing labor challenges in those countries it is responsible for. We continue our new work for refugees here in Turkey.

And in all of this we have worked – successfully I believe – to strengthen and give still greater substance to our partnership with the European Commission (and Commissioner Thyssen’s participation in our Meeting testifies to that).

Let me conclude by saying that, if much has changed since we met in Oslo, much more will have changed by the time the next 11th European Regional Meeting convenes.

For one thing, by then, the world needs to be nearly half way to the realization of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda, including goal number 8 on inclusive growth, full employment and decent work for all. The ILO has aligned its own Programme and Budget to the 2030 Agenda, and I would remind everybody that it is an agenda for Europe as much as everybody else.

And, crucially for the ILO, by the time of the next meeting, the ILO will have celebrated its Centenary in 2019. As you know, because there have been nearly 40 national and sub-regional dialogues on it in the region, we are focusing the Centenary around our initiative on the Future of Work. The ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work was launched this August under the Co-Presidency of the President of Mauritius and Prime Minister of Sweden, and it will hold its first meeting later this month. Its work will culminate with its report at the beginning of 2019 which will be submitted to the Centenary International Labour Conference in Geneva.

The aim of our Centenary Initiative is to work out what the Future of Work that we want looks like and what needs to be done to make it a reality. That challenge needs to be confronted in every one of our European member States, from Lisbon to Dushanbe, from Valetta to Helsinki.

By answering the question – What Future for Decent Work in Europe and Central Asia? – this 10th European Regional Meeting will start us on the road to our Centenary.

Thank you.