Final version 9 July 10:30 hs Opening Mthunzi – ILO Constituents Day 9 July Greetings colleagues. It is truly great to see all of you, safe and well, albeit on virtual screens. I must also confess to realising that I have missed all of you. Let me start by thanking and congratulating the teams that have ensured the ILO responds to this unexpected pandemic, keeping the fires burning during the darkest times, this includes the Screening Committee. I would also like to thank and congratulate the office for all the work coordinating the Regional Summits and the Leaders’ Summit. There were minor technical glitches which come with the territory given that technology is known for being temperamental from time to time. It was inspiring to share with the world what we do in the ILO and see the enormous interest on social media. We might consider having more open sessions like this in the future making greater transparency one of our core principles as we build back better. Representatives from across the world had productive exchanges during the regional summits on the impact of Covid-19 in their context. Everyone agreed we need to build a future better normal or as others on different UN platforms that I have been on in the last few days, say, building back better. World leaders yesterday pointed out that the virus does not discriminate but disproportionately affects vulnerable groups including women, youth, low skilled workers, migrant workers and those working in the informal sector. Our employer colleague from India, President Ms Sangita Reddy perhaps captured it the best when she said, “We are in the same storm, but not on the same boat.” Moreover, we now live in a very different world to the one we knew six months ago. President Reddy also referred to this as “LAW” when she said, many of us are no longer “working from home”, instead we are now “living at work”. Flexible working arrangements are part of the new order for the world of work. Colleagues, In times of crisis, our humanity is put to the test. Leadership gets tested. Teamwork is tested. We must give special recognition to all those fighting the virus on the frontline (doctors, nurses and health personnel) as well as business heroes who are doing all they can to save lives, save jobs and save livelihoods. It is in this context that the ILO constituents come together today – on the last day of the ILO Global Virtual Summit- to exchange key points and define clear actions on what kind of recovery we want. For us, employers, and for many leaders I heard yesterday, the world needs a global speedy, sustainable and inclusive recovery. As the Managing Director of the IMF, Ms Kristalina Georgieva, mentioned yesterday, we must fast track our support with an unprecedented speed to tackle the unprecedented scale of impact we are currently facing. Urgent measures are needed to limit the damage on businesses and livelihoods, rebuild the economy, and revive economic growth on a robust, resilient and sustainable path…and as she said, “ ..we must choose what kind of recovery we want…ALL MUST BENEFIT FROM THE RECOVERY.” not only our friends, or our neighbours or people who look like us.(my addition) Professor Ruggie, at the UNGPs session I participated in earlier this week said that “The world is in desperate need of systemic change and thinking”, to which I would add that “we need thinking that is diverse, consulting all peoples and regions of the world, and that would genuinely lead to global systemic change.” I also heard the President, Mr Rikio Kozu of JTUC-Rengo, the Japanese Trade Union say, “we need renewed unity of all partners…and that fundamental policy change and structural reform is necessary.” We need to pursue change that impacts all, that brings social justice to all. It starts with equal access to opportunities and resources. It starts by recognising that it is an injustice to say we must have “social distancing” when others cannot do so by virtue of their poverty. When we say we must wash our hands with running water, but they have no clean water to talk about. When we have lock downs that mean they have nowhere to get the next meal from because they are in informality that is not registered and cannot be recognised and assisted by the State…this includes millions of self-employed people by the way and App based businesses that have driver/owners and others who number in the millions. According to the President of Pakistan, Imran Khan, if you do not help them, “people cannot eat”…I have quoted Mahatma Gandhi previously when he says, “…some people only see God when they get a slice of bread.” This pandemic has revealed and exposed so much that we MUST wake up to colleagues, and cannot as the ILO operate in a vacuum, ignoring or sidelining issues relating to Gender Based Violence that was rampant behind closed doors during lock downs, issues of #BlackLivesMatter #AllLivesMatter. You might ask what this has to do with the world of work. How does one who suffers such abuse at home and in society, on the way to work and back from work deal with issues of productivity and mental health. We should be working on holistic solutions, societal solutions with others outside the ambit of the ILO whose responsibility it is to address this silent crisis. My daughter was co-hosting a programme called PoetsVersus in the UK together with UNWomenUK, one of the repeated statements they made in their poetry was that if your are silent on these injustices, you are part of the violence – Silence means Violence to the women and the black lives. This is not the time to be timid to change gears or to venture out of a long-traveled customary path. The safest paths of the past are not necessarily the safest or the most effective for the journey ahead. As the Minister of Labour and Employment of India said in the regional exchange last week for Asia and the Pacific: “There is a need to rewrite the rules of the world of work and accept things must be done differently…the old rules do not work anymore”. The ILO Constituents, the ILO Governance structures, the ILO Office starting from the top Managers and the ILO Supervisory System, must be brave enough to turn away from old traditional thinking (or “dinosaurism” as I like to call it) and to face new challenges with innovative ideas. In this house, we must avoid creating solutions that are based on ideals we see from our ivory towers located in one corner of the world. We must stop spreading the “Geneva effect” or as some have called it, the “Brussels effect” and imposing our ideals on others. Instead, we must recognise diversity in ALL its forms, and listen to the constituents better at the national level on their actual needs to effectively support them using a bottom up approach. As one colleague, Ms Onyaloe Koku in another UN related conversation I participated in said, a few days ago, ..”we must be inclusive(genuinely) by consulting and asking what is good for me…giving me a plane when I need a bike is needed, just won’t do.” It is time to think bold, different and, more importantly, think big. It is time to innovate new policy approaches, recommendations and processes. The core of this new future should be based on social dialogue and tripartism, which will also need to be realistic, innovative and forward looking – for indeed this bold new future will define our second centenary of existence. Although many speakers yesterday spoke about the key role of social dialogue and that is heartening to hear, it is true that social dialogue is not utilisied to its full potential. Although the crisis response has demonstrated its undisputed value, the enabling environment for social dialogue and its institutions need to be strengthened now more than ever so that we can together find sustainable solutions for recovery. Our ILO is the only international organisation that can work with everyone on this. Colleagues, The ILO must rise to the challenge of securing shared prosperity, full and productive employment and decent work now and after the crisis. It must show and demonstrate leadership. Leaders always know what they don’t know…and what they cannot do…and surround themselves with those who do. This is different, very different from people in positions of authority this is not necessarily, leadership. The ILO must also show its capacity for diversity, balance, pragmatism, rigour and agility as it assumes its share of the responsibility for a fast and resilient economic and labour market recovery. Every decision, recommendation and action from the ILO concerning standards, employment, social dialogue or social protection should systematically consider the following test: Does it promote an enabling environment for business and the financing for the creation of productive employment and income generation opportunities, under safe circumstances, according to the national realities or not? If the answer to this simple question is No, the decision, recommendation and action must be revisited. Otherwise we are losing the plot and risk being irrelevant and going the way of the dinosaur with our social dialogue. (of course, decent work must be embedded in all of this in a contemporaneous way, remembering that No enterprise, means no business, and no business, means no work, no work means no decent work!) Colleagues, We are convinced that a much better private sector environment is the best path to a sustainable and inclusive recovery. We need to focus on business continuity and ensure an enabling environment for business development and resilience. Equally, we need to undertake steps that protect and promote productive employment and incomes and address much more seriously the challenges of informality with innovative solutions to promote transitions from informality to formality based on solidarity and incentives. We must go beyond focusing on decent work deficits in the informal sector and examine the root institutional and policy causes for informality, as well as the barriers within the formal sector to create more and better jobs. It is not enough to patronize people in informality by having a “silver bullet” that all of us, including me, have referred to as transitioning informality to formality. No, no, no…we need a much more diverse and robust way of addressing the real problems. When you live in majority informal countries, you will know what I mean…we will be chasing our tails forever if this is our only proposed solution. We need to get to work and provide real solutions. Furthermore, we must do much better to anticipate needed skills. The skills agenda of the ILO must be robust, much more innovative and leading the global action. We also need to build sustainable social protection systems that respond to the specific needs and be coherent with the socio-economic traditions of the respective countries. This links to informality as well. The Declarations and Initiatives we adopted at the last ILO regional Meetings in Bali, Istanbul, Panama and Abidjian together with the Centenary Declaration provide us with a solid foundation, I heard just about every leader say this yesterday…but there might be additional approaches we should consider as we move forward. Colleagues, as I said earlier, the ILO has a central role to play in assisting tripartite constituents navigate through the crisis and recover from it in a sustainable manner. It also has a key role in understanding the realities of the constituents themselves and in assisting them in their own institutional resilience strategies. The ILO must help to strengthen employer and business organisations on the ground in terms of anticipating new challenges and providing modernised and innovative solutions for their members to prepare for future crisis and challenges. The ILO must invest more in strengthening labour market institutions to identify the real market needs and challenges. Combatting the social, labour and economic impacts of this global challenge require not only preservation of jobs, but also continuity, sustainability, survival and resilience of enterprises. Full and productive employment and decent work will be a reality if, and only if sustainable enterprises continue to exist. No sustainable enterprises simply means no jobs. The ILO Office must vigorously prioritise and develop expertise on these areas in the delivery of policy advice and technical assistance from HQ, the regions and at country level…then the world will prioritise us and see us as relevant. I look forward to listening to the rich virtual exchanges in the four panels we have on our agenda today. Asante sana, merci beaucoup, muchas gracias.
July 9, 2020