Social justice

Social justice the bedrock for universal peace

Dagmar Walter, Country Director ILO India, speaks at the International Conference on Universal Social Protection, Labour, Security and Peace

Statement | Kathmandu, Nepal | 04 April 2019
Dear Brothers and Sisters from trade unions, government and employers and my friends from the civil society represented in this EU-Asia forum. I am very happy to be here at the International Conference on Universal Social Protection, Labour, Security and Peace, a conference which brings social partners and civil society together to discuss about crucial issues related to the world of work.

This year the International Labour Organization is celebrating its 100th anniversary. It is so timely that at the inaugural plenary we are set to unpack the issues of social justice in the world of work – an issue that just so 100 years ago led to the setting up of ILO.

The ILO came about when the world was trying to recuperate after World War I. The prime preoccupation that resulted in the creation of ILO was this realization that social justice is key to achieving universal and lasting peace.

That also became the opening statement of the preamble of the ILO constitution, ‘Universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice’. We deliver on this high principle by devising country-level Decent Work Programmes. Our aim is to ensure everyone has dignity at work, equality, meaning, protection and justice.

We are the only UN agency that brings the voices of governments, workers and employers together – to set international labour standards and promote fundamental principles and rights at work. In 1926, the ILO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland was inaugurated and opened using three keys, representing governments, employers and workers. This was symbolic of the tri-partite nature of the ILO, representing the three voices of the constituents, but it was also a very powerful statement of the purpose and cooperation needed to advance social justice and peace. Our current Director-General Guy Ryder, says, “When these three keys turn together, when governments, employers and workers are able to come together, doors open and social justice advances.”

ILO received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1969, which also marked the 50th anniversary of its founding. There are few organizations that have succeeded to the extent that the ILO has, in translating into action the fundamental moral idea on which it is based,” said the Chair of the Nobel Committee, Mrs Aase Lionaes, in her speech. Indeed, the ILO has offered the world of work a process of bargaining and negotiation to replace violent conflict as a means of securing more human and dignified conditions of work.

The ILO has three major tasks, the first of which is the development and adoption of international labour standards, called Conventions and Recommendations, for ratification by member States. Second major task, which has also steadily expanded in the last two decades, is that of development cooperation, cooperation to assist nations in implementation of these labour standards. Third is knowledge creation and sharing -- done by way of extensive research, providing training, educational modules, and publications.We have travelled far in these 100 years. By advocating tripartism and social dialogue, rights and labour standards, equality and non-discrimination, social protection, working conditions, skills for the future of work and more. Yet we have a lot more to do. Social justice evolves over the years, work scenarios changes, and new models of governance of work emerge, especially non-standard forms of employment. In such times, ILO’s significance is even more relevant.

Today the youth, the marginalized, the voiceless, the invisible workers, are asking for fairness in the society. Without fair jobs – they cannot carve meaningful roles in societies, nor can they share the fruits of prosperity.

The way our parents used to work and how the current generation is working, or future generations will work, are markedly different. The problems of unemployment, underemployment, inequality and injustice are becoming more, not less, acute.

The ILO is gearing up to respond to these changes in the world of work. We are calling for a fairer globalization, for economic growth that drives social progress and for balanced and sustainable development.

Today we have representation from both Europe and Asia here. We face very different realities. Yet, we share common concerns regarding how best to achieve ‘decent work for all’ especially those who are marginalized.

We are also debating how the future work will be organized. Say when it comes to wages for women and men – the world gender pay gap represent one of today’s greatest social injustices. The ILO Global Wage Report of 2018/19 covers 70 countries and examines about 80 per cent of wage employees worldwide. It says that on an average women earn 20 per cent less than men. The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 8.5 calls for equal pay for work of equal value, within the framework of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Then we also have the issue of declining wages, rise in unemployment and non-standard forms of employment, no recognition of women’s unpaid care work, declining safety nets, and others.

As I said ILO is now taking the lead on how we all can shape a future of work that works for all, through its Future of Work initiative. As part of this initiative ILO formed a Global Commission, which released its Future of Work report this January 2019.

The Commission calls for a “human-centred agenda’’ for a decent future of work. It outlines the challenges caused by new technology, climate change and demography and calls for a collective global response to the disruptions they are causing in the world of work. The report offers ten recommendations, relating to:
  • A universal labour guarantee that protects fundamental workers’ rights, independent of workers’ status. An adequate living wage, limits on hours of work and safe and healthy workplaces;
  • Guaranteed social protection from birth to old age that supports people’s needs over the life cycle;
  • A universal entitlement to lifelong learning that enables people to skill, reskill and upskill;
  • Managing technological change to boost decent work, including an international governance system for digital labour platforms;
  • Greater investments in the care, green and rural economies;
  • A transformative and measurable agenda for gender equality;
  • Reshaping business incentives to encourage long-term investments. 
In the International Labour Conference, to be held in Geneva in June this year, member States will discuss the future of work and the future of the ILO. Also there is the Commemoration of the one-hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the ILO within the UN General Assembly, taking place on the 10th of April. And keeping in sync with changing times, we are launching a global tour of ILO’s 100 years where in 24 hours you will see 24 countries host 24 events to celebrate this landmark anniversary. The Global Tour coincides with the anniversary of the plenary session of the Paris Peace Conference on 11 April 1919, which established the ILO Constitution.

Either we accept what we have in the world of work, or we shape it in a way that no one is left behind. The choice is ours. It is only our collective experiences, efforts and political will that will lead us towards a future that is firmly based on the principles of universal human rights and propagates values of justice and equality.

I will end by showing you a short ILO Centenary film that squarely speaks to the theme of our meeting here today, and demonstrates the relevance of the ILO constitution as we strive forward.

Thank you all for your kind attention!