03 June 2011

100th ILO Conference: Era of Social Justice

ILO Director-General Juan Somavia
World leaders that are currently attending the 100th International Labour Conference (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland have twin agenda in mind. First, address the rising global unemployment. Second, give social protection to domestic workers — most of whom are female and come from developing countries like the Philippines.

ILO Director-General Juan Somavia, who opened the historic conference, called for an urgent commitment to a new era of social justice and economic growth based on sustainable development to address mounting "turmoil" in the world of work.

"Our world of work is in turmoil," Mr. Somavia said in his address to the Conference. "It is urgent to commit to a new era of social justice, of growth with social justice based on sustainable development."

Mr. Somavia said the world of work was facing multiple crises, including an unacceptably high level of youth unemployment, stagnant levels of world investment in the real economy, marginalization of job-creating small enterprises, and "indecent levels" of income and wealth concentration.

Citing his report to the Conference entitled "A new era of social justice," he told some 3,000 government, employer and worker delegates "whether a new era of social justice remains just an idealized vision of a desired future, or becomes a practical reality that takes hold in our societies, will depend in many ways on you, on us, on the ILO family".

"It is the time for a stronger ILO," he declared.

Expressing concern over complacency regarding a still fragile recovery, he warned that "we have in front of us the bigger danger of further consolidating inefficient growth patterns and unfair globalization rules that were at the root of the crisis, and that have systematically increased inequality almost everywhere in the last 30 years. Slipping back into business as usual will lead us all, sooner rather than later, into another crisis."

"No wonder people are upset and angry," he said. "Too many feel squeezed –including the middle classes between the immediate social impact of the crisis and these long-term trends."

Mr. Somavia said that people were also angry over the perception that it seems some financial institutions are regarded as "too big to fail" while many people are seen as "too small to matter."

The result was that "from Tahrir Square to Puerta del Sol, in streets and plazas in many countries, we are witnessing the birth of a social and popular movement led by youth that may change the world," he said, adding "and let us not forget that as we speak, the daring and courageous commitment of the Arab world and beyond is giving us a powerful message: that real change today demands widespread peaceful social and popular mobilization that can project the voice and demands of people into the heart of political decision-making. We must also hear them. Let us be as bold and ambitious as our forebears have been."

Mr. Somavia said ILO policies "contribute to a world with fewer tensions, greater fairness and strengthened security. With our values and policies, we are on the right side of history."

The new era of social justice should not just be the addition of "a grain of social to current outcomes," he said, but "a different growth pattern with different market outcomes; outcomes with freedom, dignity, security and equity; productive outcomes combining the strength of markets, the responsibility of enterprises, the skills of workers, the power of social dialogue, the incentives and regulations of public policies to sustain efficient growth with social justice."

"What does economically and socially efficient growth demand of us? In four words: leadership, knowledge, dialogue, cooperation," he said. "I urge all of you to seize the opportunity of this 100th Conference to reflect on these challenges and on the future role of our Organization. Our history and values compel us; our responsibility obliges us. We must show that there is at least one place in the multilateral system that is listening to people’s suffering; and that place is the ILO".