Speech at ILO Centenary Celebration

By Deborah Greenfield, ILO Deputy Director, on the occasion of ILO Centenary Celebration entitled ILO 100 years – Journey for Social Justice: "Shared ideals of Ho Chi Minh and ILO towards decent work for all” on 27 August 2019

Statement | 27 August 2018
ILO Deputy Director, Deborah Greenfield, delivers the key note at ILO Centenary Celebration.
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my honor to join you to celebrate 100 years anniversary of the International Labour Organization.

One hundred years ago, in 1919, representatives to the Paris Peace Conference, following the devastation of World War I, and determined never to repeat that experience, stated their conviction that “universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice”. Looking around them, they found that labour conditions involved “such injustice, hardship and privation as to produce unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world were imperiled.”

And so they created the ILO, a unique organization that Franklin Roosevelt would later call a wild dream come true - a wild dream in which the governments of the world would sit together with representatives of workers and employers to make joint decisions about the very labour conditions necessary for peace, by establishing and implementing international labour standards. Although the overwhelming number of representatives to the Paris Peace Conference were from governments, they created tripartism as the fundamental way the ILO works; and the ILO now we live, breath and defend tripartism in everything it does.

The ILO not only outlived the League of Nations, but also survived the Great Depression and World War and joined the fledgling United Nations. The organization became a leading global institution, spearheading a new world order based on the rights of working people, “irrespective of race, creed or sex, to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity”, as stated in the Declaration of Philadelphia in 1944.

The Declaration prefigured and served as a model for the UN Charter itself and The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And became a manifesto for post-war social justice, setting broad social and economic development goals, paving the way for development work, and providing a foundation for newly independent nations, many of whom – like Vietnam – are now among the ILO’s 187-menber States.
It is remarkable to discover how the destinies of Viet Nam and ILO have been intertwined from the very beginning. Ho Chi Minh shared the same ideal with the ILO’s founding members of the ILO when he demanded (calling them “humble claims”) “freedom of association, “the rule of law, and the right to education, opening of technical and occupational education establishments” in his famous letter sent to the delegations of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Read that letter and then read the Preamble to the ILO’s Constitution– you will find almost exactly same words in both documents.

With Viet Nam rejoining the ILO in 1992, we have been privileged to work with the government and social partners, helping you to implement Doi Moi in 1986. The Vietnamese people and the ILO share a common goal of building a modern and prosperous country with decent work for all. Within one generation, Viet Nam has transformed itself from an economically isolated agricultural society to one of the world’s most dynamic economies.

Viet Nam’s success extends beyond industrialization and economic growth to social and labour policy. Your initiatives include the transition from the informal to the formal economy, expansion of social protection coverage in line with ILO’s Recommendation 202 on universal social protection floors, modernizing wage policies, upgrading the collection of labour market data, early development of a national framework on Sustainable Development Goals, and ongoing efforts to modernize Viet Nams’s labour laws.

Let me congratulate you on the ratification of one of ILO’s core conventions No. 98 on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining, as well as two other technical conventions in 2019. Collective bargaining, along with freedom of association (set forth in Convention 87) are enabling rights that facilitate the achievement of the entire spectrum of labour rights.

Vietnam has also made significant improvements in its draft Labour Code, in line with the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. As many of you know, abiding by the Declaration – not just in law but in practice – has become a cornerstone of a new generation of FTAs, such as CPTPP and the EU-Viet Nam FTA. The benefits of globalization and moving to up the value chain can only be achieved when decent work becomes a goal. You have shown your commitment to international labour standards in the context of the global economy through Resolution No 6 on international integration, resolution No 27 on wage policy reforms and resolution No 28 on social insurance reform.

Viet Nam has set an ambitious but achievable goal of moving into the ranks of upper middle income countries by 2035 and high income countries by 2045. You will need to overcome numerous hurdles to get there. But your journey comes with the opportunity to shape a fairer, more inclusive and secure Future of Work for Viet Nam – a future of decent work that leaves no one behind.

Work is central to both individuals and society. As the ILO Constitution says, work confers not only material benefits, but dignity. It builds communities and allows people to realize their capabilities. Our Global Commission on the Future of Work, which published its report, “Work for a Brighter Future, emphasized that even in the context of the profound and rapid technological transformations in the world of work, the demographic changes that are reshaping our labour markets, and the effects of climate change, work remains a pillar on which countries’ prosperity and social cohesion is built.
Our challenge is to implement the policies that will help shape the future of work that we want. We need to reject the determinism that makes us passive in the face of these profound changes.

In June this year, ILO constituents gathered in Geneva at the Centenary International Labour Conference and reaffirmed their responsibilities by adopting the Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work. Building on the Global Commission’s report, the Declaration calls for a human-centred approach to growth and development that places people and the work they do at the centre of economic and social policy as well as business practice.

The Declaration issues a call to action for all member States to ensure all people benefit from the changing world of work, that the employment relationship remains fully relevant, that all workers are guaranteed the protection they need, and that economic growth is sustainable, inclusive and aimed at the promotion of full employment and decent work.

These messages are resonating across the world, and certainly they are in Viet Nam. At the 90th anniversary of the VGCL, His Excellency Prime Minister Mr. Nguyen Xuan Phuc delivered a passionate speech urging the government and social partners to build their future. He referred directly to the ILO’s Centenary Declaration and its emphasis on priorities such as life-long learning and achieving a better work–life balance.

The experiences of many developed countries show the importance of simultaneous social and economic upgrading at critical stages towards achieving upper middle-income status. The reform initiatives I mentioned earlier indicate Vietnam’s determination to continue with its own social and economic upgrading, which will enable you to deal productively with the uncertainties and rapid transformations you encounter. A revised Labour Code will bring new dynamism to labour market institutions, benefitting both workers and businesses, which is one of the keys to sustainable development.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Future of Work brings tremendous prospects of economic expansion to Viet Nam and a real opportunity to achieve the higher-middle income status that you want. You will need to answer many questions along that path about how to ensure a sustainable future that leaves no one behind. In these moments, keep in mind that the Future of Work in Viet Nam is a choice. The answers to those difficult questions are in your hands. And as Viet Nam finds those answers, makes those choices, and sets about the task of constructing that future that the country wants, the ILO will always stand ready to walk that journey together, to achieve the dignity, economic security and equal opportunity that Ho Chi Minh envisioned one hundred years ago.