UN Secretary-General's remarks on the 100th Anniversary of the International Labour Organization

A century ago – as the rubble from the First World War still smouldered – global leaders came together in Versailles and affirmed a principle that echoes to this day. 

Indeed, in the first words of the constitution of the International Labour Organization, it is written “Universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice.”

It was a time of upheaval. 

Working people were demanding fair treatment and dignity in work, adequate wages, an eight-hour working day and freedom of association. 

The nations of the world knew they must cooperate to make it happen. 

And so the International Labour Organization was born.

Despite being among the oldest members of the UN family, the ILO remains to this day one of the most unique gathering spaces in the international system.

Its tripartite governance model is a source of strength and legitimacy. 

Workers, employers, and governments come together through dialogue for shared solutions.

Ms. Frances Perkins – President Franklin Roosevelt’s Labour Secretary –recounted how FDR himself was captivated by this idea in the 1930s, long before the birth of the UN.

She said:  “More than once in discussing the world organization, Roosevelt pointed out that he liked the ILO structure of representation, which had in its membership not only representatives of government, but also representatives of the people concerned, and Roosevelt himself said, ‘I hope some day that kind of thing will grow.’” 

Through its tripartite consultative and governance model, the ILO has consistently been able to put its finger on the pulse on people’s concerns.

Through conflict and peace, democracy and dictatorship, decolonization and the Cold War, globalization and turbulence, the ILO has played a central role in the struggle for social progress.

On his first visit to a UN organization, Nelson Mandela told the ILO that he heard their voice piercing the walls of Robben Island and he felt he was not alone.

In recent years, the ILO has been out front in recognizing the need to build a fair globalization that expands opportunities, reduces inequalities, and answers people’s demands for the opportunity for decent work – a concept which itself is firmly embedded in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  

The ILO has been a trusted voice to expand opportunities for young people … open doors and break glass ceilings for women … and ensure social justice in every corner of our world.

I commend Director-General [Guy] Ryder and the ILO for choosing to focus this Centenary on the “Future of Work”.

We are living in a time of profound uncertainty, disruption and technological transformation.

Innovations such as artificial intelligence will help power economies and progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. 

But at the same time, we will face tremendous disruption in the labour market – with an enormous amount of jobs created and jobs destroyed. 

Even the concept of work will change – and the relationship between work, leisure and other occupations too.

We are not yet prepared for that. 

We obviously need a massive investment in education -- but also a different sort of education -- not just learning things but learning how to learn.

We need a new generation of support and social protection policies for the people.  We need to show that we care, for those impacted negatively by technological transformation.

We need to mobilize governments and all actors like never before. 

I welcome the call of the ILO’s Global Commission of the Future of Work -- co-chaired by the President of South Africa and the Prime Minister of Sweden -- for a human-centred approach to the Future of Work that reinvigorates the social contract in the digital age.

Since the digital economy operates in a world without borders, more than ever, international institutions must play a vital role in shaping the future of work we want.

Let us make the most of this pivotal anniversary to renew our collective commitment to international cooperation, to peace and to social justice.

 

Thank you.

 

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