109th International Labour Conference opens in Geneva, Switzerland

By Helen Shok Jok, Abuja


For the first time in its history of over one hundred years, the 109th International Labour Conference, ILC is being held virtually due to restrictions and changes imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The conference which opened in Geneva, Switzerland on Monday, divided the items of the agenda this year in two parts.

The items on the 3-19 June segment include a special outcome document on the ILO response to COVID-19 and a recurrent discussion on social protection.

In his opening remarks, the Director General of the International Labour Organisation ILO, Mr Guy Ryder, tasked world Leaders on “constructing a human-centered recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, that will leads to a resilient, sustainable, fairer, and better future in the world of work.”

Recalling how the world has been brought almost to a stand still due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ryder said that world leaders must focus attention towards assessment of what the pandemic has done to the world of work.

In his report to the Conference, the Director General described the impact as devastating. “As my report to Conference sets out, the impact has been devastating – cataclysmic”.
According to him, the equivalent of two hundred and fifty-five million full time jobs were lost in 2020 which translates to “$3.7 trillion wiped off labour income; Millions of enterprises under threat, particularly small and medium sized ones; 108 million people pushed back into working poverty; the most vulnerable and already disadvantaged hit hardest – young people, women, informal workers, migrants.

“Taken as a whole, this represents a world of work crisis four times as severe as the one triggered by the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009”, Ryder said.

He said that the situation has not gone unanswered as governments have stated their determination to do whatever it takes to overcome the health crisis and to mitigate its social and economic consequences adding that world leaders have generally done whatever they could as about 16 trillion dollars has been spent or announced for crisis response to date.

In line with the policy framework advocated by the ILO, he said, this has been channeled to stimulate economic activity, to support enterprises, jobs and incomes, and to protect working peoples’ safety and health.

 “…and to an encouraging extent it has been done in the framework of cooperation and dialogue between Governments and workers’ and employers’ organizations.

These efforts have been unprecedented. It has been estimated that without them the damage brought by the pandemic would have been three times greater than it actually was”, the ILO disclosed.

Mr Guy Ryder regretted the fact that the ILO member State are not in a position to be together in Geneva saying that the tripartite organisation more than any other thrives on the personal interaction and informal exchanges of “this global parliament of labour.

“But, equally, it is extraordinarily important that this Conference takes place, and an extraordinary achievement that we have found the technical and political ways of making it happen after the interruption of 2020.

“We have some 4,700 registered participants from 176 Member States, and this is comparable to the numbers of past years. And there is good news too in respect of women’s participation. At 38.3 per cent it is significantly better than before.

“There may be parallels and comparisons with 1919 when the “wild dream” of the ILO was launched, or 1944 when the Declaration of Philadelphia the way out of global conflict to shared prosperity and social justice, or even just two years ago when we last met to chart the course to the future of work that we all want,” he stated.

Despite all the challenges posed by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ILO expressed confidence that it has learnt so much on how to do things differently for the benefit of all Member States.


Lateefah Ibrahim

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