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Day 4: 108th International Labour Conference - Thematic Forum

Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining are key foundations for decent work

Speakers from the world of work and from international organizations explored how two key fundamental Conventions advance decent work across the globe. The forum was held as part of the ILO’s annual conference, which this year marks the Organization’s 100th anniversary.

News | 13 June 2019
Photo album and video recording of the forum
GENEVA (ILO News) – A forum held during the Centenary International Labour Conference (ILC) highlighted the key role that two fundamental Conventions, on Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining, have played in the past 100 years and are expected to play in the next.

Participants representing governments, workers, employers, and international organizations explored how the guarantee of these core ILO values “enables the persons concerned, to claim freely and on the basis of equality of opportunity, their fair share of the wealth which they have helped to generate, and to achieve fully their human potential,” as outlined in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

Moussa Oumarou, ILO Deputy Director-General for Field Operations and Partnerships, said, “the realization of these two fundamental rights contributes to the development of inclusive societies and open democracies.”

The event showcased success stories from countries where freedom of association and collective bargaining have been used to effectively address key issues for societies, labour markets, workers and companies.

Mohamed Trabelsi, Minister of Social Affairs of Tunisia, said his country had a long history of social dialogue. Following the 2011 Tunisian revolution, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 to the Tunisia’s social partners was testimony to how reinvigorated “social dialogue in Tunisia helped avert civil war and played a major role in the democratic transformation of the country and in building democratic institutions.”

Barbara Figueroa, President of the Central Unitary of Workers (CUT) of Chile, said social dialogue has become "a fundamental tool to build solid democracies and greater social cohesion" in today’s world. She said that in Chile there was now space for dialogue that enabled the challenges of the world of work to be addressed, allowing people to "[look] to the future as a hopeful future," in which, for example, "technologies are beneficial for the majority of people and not only for those who have economic power."

Kanishka Weerasinghe, Director-General of Employers' Federation of Ceylon, said, “freedom of association, personal rights, collective bargaining, dignity of work, non-discrimination – these are fundamental elements that make up our society today, like any other part of the world now. Citizens are more empowered and aware of their rights, and they demand platforms through which to discuss and share their thoughts.”

Clement Voule, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, said, “rights at work are fundamental rights. It is important that we recognize that the rights of the worker is a fundamental right, because it is a fundamental right that allows them to live in dignity, to work in decent conditions and to be able to contribute to the development of their country.”

The forum also provided insights into the role played by the ILO’s supervisory bodies in ensuring the realization of fundamental principles and rights at work.

Jean-Jacques Elmiger, Head of International Labour Affairs at Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs and President of the 108th session of the ILC, said: “We cannot ignore the necessity of negotiating and agreeing on labour agreements, with the understanding that one must act on regulations, but it is also important to act to promote collective labour agreements.”

Sonia Regenbogen, Employer Vice Chairperson of ILO’s Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS), from Canada, said the tripartite composition of the CAS reflects the practical realities of the world of work and is key to the Committee’s effectiveness. “From the selection of the cases that will be discussed, to the legal issues that there is consensus in respect of, to the freedom of expression that exists within the committee to express a divergent view, to the drafting of conclusions, to the recommendations to governments…is infused with this tripartism. And that I think gives it the moral authority and the persuasive nature that it enjoys.”

Marc Leemans, Worker Vice Chairperson of the CAS, from Belgium, said that the role of the CAS was to “ensure that ratified Conventions which impose legal obligations from governments are applied in practice.” He added: “We have direct engagement with all the constituents, and the outcome is reflected in actionable, consensual conclusions, and afterwards there is follow up of these conclusions.”

Graciela Josefina Dixon Caton, Chairperson of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendation, from Panama, emphasized that this control mechanism "uses three fundamental tools. One is perseverance, the second is complementarity and the third the follow-up," carrying out its work "from a technical, independent perspective." She added that monitoring is a key tool. “Since the world is not static, and social relations are not static and rigid but are in constant change, the Commission, in its duty to ensure compliance with international labour conventions, must continue with its verification work.”

Professor Evance Kalula, Chairperson of the Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA), from Zambia, spoke about the impact of the CFA. He said “in the approach of the CFA, legal obligations are not enforceable by apportioning blame, but through leading governments to move forward on the basis of social dialogue.”

Yves Veyrier, Worker Vice Chairperson of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, Secretary General of the French CGT-FO trade union, said “One needs to understand that the question of freedom of association is inherent to the very existence of the ILO.”

Alberto Echavarría, Employer Vice Chairperson of the CFA, from Colombia, said, "what inspires us in the supervisory bodies is to have the effectiveness of exercising freedom. And what does freedom mean? It means respect. It does not mean to be confronting the other." He described the Committee as "an independent body that is objective and additionally seeks consensus, and therein lies the strength of its argumentation and the importance of its exercise."

Mr Takanobu Teramoto, Government member of the CFA, from Japan, said, “The key to persuade governments to come forward and cooperate is communication, with mutual respect. We function on the basis of agreement.”