The Officer in Charge of the ILO Office for Türkiye: ILO is a standard setting organisation.

Interviewed after completing his term as the Officer in Charge of the ILO Office for Türkiye, Giovanni Di Cola, highlights that tripartite social dialogue is a structured tool and requires a solid foundation and knowledge that exist at the level of the Member States.

News | 02 August 2023
Dear Mr. Di Cola, thank you for this interview that will help clarify perceptions on the role and the mission of the ILO. Let’s start with explaining the International Labour Organization (ILO) to someone who has no prior knowledge about the agency.

The ILO was created in 1919, as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, to reflect the belief that universal and lasting peace can be accomplished only if it’s based on social justice. In 1946, the ILO became a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) and is one of the first and oldest specialised agencies of the UN.

The ILO’s unique tripartite structure gives an equal voice to workers, employers, and governments to ensure the views of all three groups are reflected in ILO labour standards, policies, and programmes. The ILO pursues its mandate to advance social justice notably by setting international labour standards. The creation of an international legal framework on social standards ensures a level playing field in the global economy.

The ILO adapted to changing times since its origin also thanks to the need for universal and international labour standards which apply indiscriminately. The development and adoption of international labour standards at the ILO is a unique legislative process involving representatives of governments, workers, and employers from throughout the world.

What is the Decent Work Agenda benchmark, Is it a starting point or the goal?

In the 21st century, inequality, exclusion, and marginalization are defining challenges.

The ILO advocates the concept of decent work, institutionalized by its third major statement of principles and policies - the ILO 2008 Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization -, as a way of opening to global processes and as a framework for its initiatives in support of national policy goals.

The origins of the decent work concept date back to the 1944 Declaration of Philadelphia being part of the ILO’s Constitution, which gave the Organization a mandate that laid the foundations of decent work. It is important to recall that the 1944 Declaration of Philadelphia reaffirmed a very important and still pertinent principle, that “Labour is not a commodity”.

Decent work is productive work for women and men in conditions of freedom, equality, security, and human dignity, with fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for workers and their families, prospect for personal development. The Decent Work Agenda is a holistic agenda composed of four pillars: social protection, employment, social dialogue and labour standards. They are all inseparable, interrelated and mutually supportive.

Each objective plays a specific role in achieving broader goals and, contributes to the building of bridges between the ILO’s historical concerns and the contemporary challenges resulting from the need for social justice.

Given that jobs connect people to society, to the economy and to the environment, decent work has implications for the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. Therefore, decent work is a key global demand in our changing world. It is based on fundamental values and principles and its objective is indivisible and universal in scope.

The ILO’s concept of decent work is inscribed in the United Nations development framework as enshrined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Goals (SDGs).

The importance of decent work in achieving sustainable development is highlighted by SDG 8 which aims to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”.

How would you describe the mandate and the mission of the ILO?

First of all, the ILO is described as a standard setting organisation.

As mentioned before, the ILO pursues its mandate is to advance social and economic justice notably by setting international labour standards to provide a global system of instruments on labour and social policy.

Since 1919, the ILO has maintained and developed a system of international labour standards aimed at promoting opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and dignity. They are an essential component in the international framework for ensuring that the growth of the global economy provides benefits to all.

International labour standards are legal instruments - drawn up and adopted by the International Labour Conference in a tripartite manner (governments, employers, and workers) - setting out basic principles and rights at work. They are either Conventions (or Protocols), which are legally binding international treaties upon ratification by Member States, or Recommendations, which serve as non-binding guidelines.

In many cases, a Convention lays down the basic principles to be implemented by ratifying countries, while a related Recommendation supplements the Convention by providing more detailed guidelines on how it could be applied.

On one end, international labour standards are backed by a supervisory system that is unique at the international level and that helps to ensure that countries implement the conventions they ratify in law and practice.

The ILO has developed various means of supervising the application of Conventions and Recommendations in law and practice following their adoption by the International Labour Conference and their ratification by States.

Central to this process are the ILO regular supervisory procedures undertaken by the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR). The CEACR - composed of legal experts - provide an impartial and technical assessment of the application of a ratified Convention by the Member State and points out areas where they could be better applied.

The tripartite Conference Committee on the Application Standards (CAS) is appointed each year by the International Labour Conference to monitor on a tripartite basis the application of ILO standards. Its work is based on the CEACR’s reports and involves drawing up a list of individual national cases for examination by ILO constituents.

The ILO’s tripartite Committee on Freedom of Association examines specifically violations of workers’ and employers’ organizing rights. The Committee handles complaints in ILO Member States whether or not they have ratified freedom of association conventions.

On the other end, the ILO Office, in its capacity as Secretariat to the International Labour Organization, makes sure that Member States have the capacity to implement the conventions that are ratified by their respective legislative bodies.

The ILO Office may be called to provide technical advisory services as requested by governments as well as workers and employers’ organizations, which can take the form of peer reviewing of draft labour legislation, gap analysis of labour legislation, training, as well as capacity building.

We often receive calls from workers unions and other entities who believe that the ILO can intervene in all matters related to the world of work. Is that so?

Number one, the ILO does not take complaints of individual workers or employers. The ILO works with workers’ organisations and employers’ organisations. The principle is that those organizations are democratically elected, and they must be representative of their members.

Number two, the ILO works with governments. We are an inter-governmental organisation, and our duty is to provide technical assistance to the Member States. Our role is to engage collaboratively in a very solid and constructive dialogue with the aim to promote reforms in line with the Decent Work Agenda.

The ILO advocates effective social dialogue between governments, employers’, and workers’ organizations as an instrument of good governance at all levels from the local to the global, as they foster an enabling environment for the realization of decent work for all.

Social dialogue has hence a crucial role in designing policies to promote social justice, decent work, and sustainable enterprises. As in times of prosperity, in times of crisis too, social dialogue can help to reconcile competing interests and to build trust in, commitment to and ownership of policies.

Social tripartite dialogue is a structured tool and requires a solid foundation and knowledge that exist at the level of the Member States.

The dialogue is initiated and convened by national relevant parties, who have the knowledge and the capacity to carry out national dialogues and collective bargaining processes. The ILO does not initiate such processes but can be called upon to contribute technically should that be required.

Besides, social dialogue is also embedded in practically in all the ILO Conventions and Recommendations and in the Decent Work Agenda. Many provisions of the Conventions and Recommendations explicitly require consultations with the social partners.

So how to achieve SDG 8?

Let’s take the example of SDG 8. As I indicated before, SDG 8 enshrines the importance of decent work in achieving sustainable development.

SGD Target 8.7 calls on all to take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of all forms of child labour as an essential step to achieving decent work for all, full and productive employment and inclusive and sustained economic growth.

Unfortunately, child labour increased throughout during COVID-19 globally. The elimination of child labour can be achieved through concerted global action. The Alliance 8.7 is an inclusive global partnership committed to achieving Target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Alliance brings together partners who are committed to supporting or implementing initiatives that contribute to achieve SDG target 8.7, including in Pathfinder Countries.

Pathfinder Countries are countries committed to be at the forefront of the fight to achieve SDG target 8.7, driving progress on the ground though an inclusive approach. Along with such alliances the ILO supports Member States like Türkiye, to champion their strategies, their role, their activities at the national level and international level sometimes even through exchanges with other countries, and through South-South and triangular cooperation.

Could you please provide guidance on the appropriate channels for workers or unions to appeal and seek resolution when encountering labour-related issues, ensuring their rights are protected?

The ILO’s supervisory procedures comprise a diverse and interlocking set of mechanisms. They include two special procedures (representations and complaints), through which industrial organizations and other states can complain of serious alleged breaches of ratified labour conventions.

Though, and as I indicated before, individual workers cannot submit their case directly to the ILO but can pass on the relevant information to their workers’ or employers’ organization. The ILO is not a supra-national Tribunal.

In addition, it is not up to the ILO to change the legislation on its own, nor replace the national actors. Legislation must be changed because workers, employer’s organisations and governments want such changes to happen.

As indicated, the ILO can support the drafting process of new pieces of legislation, undertake peer reviews of draft legislation to ensure that the new legislation or the modification of existing legislation is in line with the provisions of international labour standards. The ILO can also organize training and seminars to facilitate the full understanding of the legislation to be adopted as well as support its implementation with specific training.

What can we expect the ILO Office for Türkiye to be engaged in the upcoming months?

In the coming months, the Office will be actively supporting international events which agreed with the with the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MoLSS) and the social partners on migrations on child labour and on employment services.

Moreover, the ILO will continue to support the national and local authorities in identifying and formulating employment plans for the recovery in the areas affected by the earthquakes of February. The latter is part of joint efforts undertaken also at the level of the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) in Türkiye.

I wish the team of ILO Ankara, the MOLSS and the social partners all the best in their endeavours as well as the UN family of which the ILO is an important member. All the best of success for all Turkish workers and their families.