2023 International Labour Conference

photo: ILO

This year’s International Labour Conference (ILC) at the ILO issued a stark warning to the government of Belarus.

There was overwhelming support from governments and employers for a trade union proposal to invoke Article 33 of the ILO Constitution, over the Lukashenko regime’s violations of freedom of association, including the imprisonment of trade union leaders and staff.

The vote demands that the regime implements recommendations made 18 years ago by an ILO Commission of Inquiry and calls upon the authorities to accept a high-level tripartite mission that should have clearance to visit imprisoned union officials.

“This is the first time that this powerful Article of the ILO Constitution has been invoked over freedom of association, underlining just how flagrant the regime’s violations of workers’ rights are. Governments now need to follow through with heavy pressure on the regime, including by reviewing any remaining trade or commercial relations,” said ITUC Acting General Secretary Luc Triangle.

Other governments in the ILO spotlight at the ILC Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS) that reviews compliance with ILO Conventions, included:

  • Costa Rica, for failure to develop a national employment policy despite being urged to do so by the ILO in 2017.
  • Guinea-Bissau, for failing to lift the minimum wage in the private sector since 1988 and for flagrant interference in trade union independence.
  • Indonesia, for major government failings concerning the Job Creation Law and protection from anti-union discrimination.
  • The United Kingdom, for existing and expected future legislation that violates workers’ rights to freedom of association, linked to the right to take industrial action, as well as its failure to deal with surveillance of trade unionists.

The CAS also reviewed a report on gender equality at work, highlighting the urgent need to eliminate all forms of discrimination – including direct, indirect and intersectional – in employment and occupation, guarantee full and effective maternity protection and ensure the right of workers with family responsibilities to engage in employment.

Worker delegates at the Conference also initiated a formal process calling for an ILO Commission of Inquiry on Guatemala over freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Hundreds of trade unionists have been murdered over many years, with impunity for those responsible.

Social justice

A centrepiece of this year’s event was the World of Work Summit: Social Justice for All, led by the ILO Director General Gilbert F. Houngbo, where governments, as well as union and employer representatives, expressed strong support to establish a Global Coalition for Social Justice.

A Recommendation on Quality Apprenticeships advances a key element of the ILO Centenary Declaration around lifelong learning. It requires governments to involve trade unions and employer groups in the design of national frameworks for apprenticeships and includes important provisions around apprentices’ pay, health and safety and the right to union membership and collective bargaining.

A General Conference Discussion on Just Transition highlighted the urgency of action around climate and environmental degradation, with a central role to be played by trade unions in driving industrial change, with workers’ organising and bargaining rights fully protected.

Attention was also given to labour protection through a resolution that drives major elements of the Centenary Declaration further forward, such as living wages and working time limitations in the contemporary world of work.

Resistance from some governments to the adoption of the ILO Programme and Budget for 2024-25, based on their objection to ILO activities in support of LGBTIQ+ workers, was eventually overcome and the Programme and Budget was approved.

“This year’s ILO Conference saw some notable victories for working people, thanks to the efforts of Workers’ Group delegates, with the union presence in Geneva backed by national work in the months prior to the ILC.

“At the same time, the real interests of some of those who tried to stop the adoption of the Programme and Budget go beyond their intolerance of LGBTIQ+ people. Some wish to weaken the vital role of the ILO in defending workers and promoting decent work and social justice worldwide, and we will remain vigilant and fight against any further such attempts,” said Luc Triangle.