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19th American Regional Meeting

Past, present and future of work come together at the 19th American Regional Meeting in Panama

In the run up to the ILO Centenary, representatives from the Americas will discuss the future of work between 2 and 5 October. For a century, Latin America was an active partner of the ILO, pioneering the organisation of regional meetings.

Press release | 28 September 2018
1st American Regional Meeting, Santiago, Chile
PANAMA CITY (ILO News) – The 19th American Regional Meeting taking place here next week marks a new chapter in the long history of Latin America's presence in the International Labour Organization (ILO), created in 1919. In fact he ILO’s first regional meeting was held in this region more than 80 years ago.

One of the main topics on the agenda of the meeting in Panama is a discussion on the future of work and the challenges it brings to the region. It coincides with a major historical event: the celebration of the ILO’s Centenary in 2019.

It will be the 19th meeting to be held in the American region, and about 400 representatives from 35 countries are expected to attend. The first regional meeting in the history of the ILO was also American and it took place in 1936 in Santiago, Chile, with 19 countries and 104 delegates and advisers participating.

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder's report concerning this week's regional meeting in Panama highlights how the past and the future come together in this regional meeting. "In this region, the debate on the future must also consider structural problems dragging on from the past," he points out in the preface of this document.

When the ILO was created after the First World War, 16 Latin American countries were among the "founders". Delegations from the region attended the first International Labour Conferences, but their participation and composition of delegations was irregular, partly because of geographical distances and available resources.

In 1925, the first Director of the ILO, Albert Thomas, made an epic journey to South America. From 30 June to 7 September he visited Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile by boat and train.

An article published in the ILO’s International Labour Review in 1925 highlighted Thomas' interest in having "direct contact with governments and public opinion in these countries", partly with the aim of achieving accession to the first ILO Conventions, since up to that time "no ratification from South American countries had been obtained".

The first regional meeting in the history of the ILO in 1936 was meant to strengthen relations with American countries. The idea was to create a space to "discuss matters on which these countries can make special contributions or talk about problems that are of special interest to them," according to a report from the meeting.

The document "Report on the action taken to give effect to the resolutions adopted by the Santiago Conference", highlighted that this regional meeting "helped to define the situation of social problems in the Americas".

The meeting was opened by the President of Chile, Arturo Alessandri, at the Congress of Chile. Harold Butler from the United Kingdom was ILO Director at the time.

The 1936 American Regional Meeting passed more than 20 resolutions. The most important ones were related to social security, women's working conditions and child labour, while others were related to employment conditions, labour legislation, living and hiring conditions, rural work, migrants, nutrition and conditions of indigenous people.

A document published in the Monthly Labour Review in 1936 from the U.S. Department of Labour includes the closing speech of the ILO Director who stated that "there should be more American meetings like this one.”

"The success we have had should be the best indicator that this should not be the last American conference," Harold Butler said.

Since the first meeting in Chile, the ILO has held regional meetings in Havana (1939 and 1956), Mexico City (1946 and 1974), Montevideo (1949), Petropolis (1952), Buenos Aires (1961), Ottawa (1966), Caracas (1970), Medellin (1974), Montreal (1986), Caraballeda (1992), Brasilia (2006), Santiago (2010) and Lima (1999, 2002 and 2014), where the ILO’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean is based.

The Director-General's report to the 19th American Regional Meeting in Panama highlights "the importance of intensifying the search for decent work".

The report emphasizes that the region faces structural problems related to the labour market, such as unemployment and informal work. Moreover, the region has other future of work related problems, such as technological, demographic, and climate change, and new modes of production and hiring, among others.

"Only by facing this challenging yet very complex scenario will it be possible for American societies to create the future of the work we want," the report concludes.

Currently, ILO regional meetings take place every four years in the Americas but also in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and Europe and Central Asia.