74th Plenary Meeting of General Assembly 73rd Session Resumed

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11-Apr-2019 02:52:03
President stresses central role of decent work in fighting poverty, inequality, as General Assembly marks International Labour Organization centenary at 74th plenary meeting.

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With millions at risk of losing their job to automation amid increasing global inequality, policies ensuring decent work and protection from exploitation are more critical than ever, the General Assembly heard today, as it commemorated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

United Nations Secretary‑General António Guterres, in his opening remarks at the high‑level commemoration, said that ILO has been a “trusted voice” to expand opportunities for young people, break glass ceilings for women, and ensure social justice for all.

As the world experiences profound uncertainty, disruption and technological transformation, Governments need to mobilize like never before to provide support and social protection for all people, Mr. Guterres stressed. Innovations such as artificial intelligence could potentially help power economies and progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

“At the same time, we will face tremendous disruption in the labour market — with an enormous amount of jobs created and destroyed,” he said.

In recent years, ILO has been at the forefront in recognizing the need for fairer globalization that expands opportunities, reduces inequalities and answers people’s demands for the opportunity for decent work — a concept which itself is embedded in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador) recalled that when ILO was founded in 1919, the world was emerging from brutal war and bloodshed. The specialized agency’s founders were far‑sighted enough to understand that labour rights were an essential ingredient for peace and that growing economic interdependence required solidarity with workers.

Today, 100 years since the agency’s inception, there are over 180 ILO conventions — on everything from gender equality to forced labour, she noted. But sadly, injustice is still a reality for millions. Over 40 million people today are victims of modern slavery; 190 million are unemployed; 300 million are considered “working poor”; and 2 billion are engaged in informal work, often without any protection.

Decent work remains central to fighting poverty and inequality, she continued. It is vital to empowering women, young people, minorities, indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities. ILO is the “standard bearer” in that sense, she said, adding: “One thing is clear — issues of social justice will become even more important as the world of work changes.”

Guy Ryder, Director General of ILO, recalled that the specialized agency was established 100 years ago this week by the Commission on International Labour Legislation of the Paris Peace Conference. This “wild dream” prevailed for many years to come, as it shaped labour policies across the globe and gave substance to the constitutional principle that labour is not a commodity.

“ILO’s journey has not been a straight path,” he continued. In its first 25 years, it overcame the Great Depression, authoritarianism, renewed cataclysmic conflict, the collapse of the League of Nations and wartime exile. Today, ILO’s fundamental principles and its decent work agenda are pillars of the 2030 Agenda. While much progress has been achieved over the past century, work conditions involving injustice still exist for many. They must be addressed with the same urgency as in the past.

The Assembly also heard from several speakers delivering statements, including Economic and Social Council President Inga Rhonda King (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), who stressed that workers in today’s changing labour market need an “entirely new set of skills”. She also called for a redoubling of efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda and ensure that “no one is left behind”.

The Assembly also heard from labour experts, including Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, who said that working people have simply lost trust in institutions, globalization, and in many cases, in democracy itself. “Labour rights and standards cannot be denied by the market,” she added.

Erol Kiresepi, President of the International Organisation of Employers, said employers believe in a fair playing field in business and want to be part of the solution. A skilled workforce is the backbone to success.

Jolly Amatya, a representative of the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth, said that $1.7 trillion is spent each year on military expenses, because economic models cannot tell the difference between instruments of war and those of well‑being. “Unchecked growth is an existential threat,” she stressed.

Two panels were held in the afternoon, focusing on “Addressing Unfinished Commitments to Achieve Decent Work for All” and “Shaping the Future of Work”. In the first, participants considered how countries, businesses and organizations can help meet unfinished commitments in achieving decent work for all. Speakers underlined the need to put workers at the centre of labour policies, ensure responsible business conduct and restore balance with the environment. In that vein, they stressed that there can be no future at all without moving towards a low‑carbon economy.

In the second panel, speakers laid out the challenges that will face the workforce, including job loss due to automation and artificial intelligence. They noted with concern that income inequality continues to grow and stressed the importance of lifelong learning. Some 65 per cent of the jobs young children will have in the future do not yet exist. Hence, the future of work requires all sectors to work together, including Governments and businesses.

The General Assembly will continue its commemoration of the 100th anniversary of ILO at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Thursday 11 April.

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