A remote meeting between the World Federation of Trade Unions with the transition team of the newly elected ILO Director General took place on the 2nd of September. The WFTU delegation was headed by the WFTU General Secretary Pambis Kyritsis and WFTU deputy-secretaries Srikumar and George Peros.
The WFTU delegation discussed with the ILO transition team several issues related to the role of the ILO and the working-class interests. Also, we are publishing the position given by the WFTU on the issues raised by ILO transition team questions:
Questions to guide the discussion
- It is often said that the social partners are not sufficiently engaged in Decent Work Country Programmes and UN strategic frameworks that define priorities at country level. Do you agree with this statement and if so what support should the ILO give to the social partners to reverse this trend?
Our assessment is that, as a rule, the positions and pursuits of workers in the preparation of programs that are supposedly aimed at promoting decent work are underrepresented or even excluded. In the vast majority of countries, the existing Institutional mechanisms essentially reproduce the obviously disproportionate representation of the class interests of society at this level.
It is self-evident that employers’ organizations and representatives of major financial interests have many other ways to influence or even initiate government decisions and policies.
At a second level, we find discrimination, obstacles, and violations of the principle of representativeness regarding the various currents within the trade union movement. The representation of workers in many cases is distorted and anti-democratic and does not express the real will of the workers. An illustrative example internationally is the discrimination against the WFTU and the monopoly of workers’ representation within ILO by ITUC, which despite the fact that represents only part of the trade unions, is presented and established as the only and universal representative of the workers.
- What challenges do you see in promoting social dialogue, including collective bargaining? Is the support provided by the ILO to address them sufficient? If not, what additional measures would you consider necessary?
Concerning collective bargaining, it is clear that in recent years their role in shaping workers’ terms and working conditions is dramatically reduced.
The neo-liberal attack of the last decades on the pretext of “competitiveness” and “freedom of market and commerce” and neoliberal capitalist globalization with the terms that are launched, increasingly tend to deregulate labour relations and turn work into a common commodity that is sold and purchased without any regulation and protection by agreements and employment contracts which are the result of collective bargaining.
The devastating and undermining of collective agreements with personal contracts, the continued promotion, and legalization of the so-called “flexible” work forms, privatizations, outsourcing, teleworking, and cancellation of labor rights through the so-called “services lease” are some forms of attacks of the capital against labor rights and collective agreements.
It is obvious that the ILO conventions set up to protect the right to organize and collective negotiation are now in many cases merely cosmetic.
This right is no longer disputed only through authoritarian interventions of repression, but also through the processes of merciless capitalist competition that are dressed in the cloak of “free market” and supposed modernization.
Another parameter that also undermines collective bargaining is the continuous slide in practices of replacing the essential collective bargaining with a flabby and suspicious “social dialogue”, which in most cases is made to legitimize pre-judged decisions, away from workers and their class interests. In most cases, this kind of “social dialogue” is manipulated by governments, which have the opportunity to “choose” as interlocutors, forces within the trade union movement that are ready to play this role.
The WFTU believes that ILO under this situation, if wants to play the role for which it has been created and to maintain its credibility and history, must begin a meaningful and structured discussion to reassess both the content of the convention related to the guarantee of the right to organize and collective negotiation, as well as the conventions related to the protection of workers’ representatives and the right to trade union measures with dominant, of course, the right to strike. This debate must also include the measures and mechanisms through which these rights will be controlled and imposed in the practice.
The WFTU is ready to participate in a process of preparing such a debate, under the precondition that it will be based on principles and will respect the history and prestige of our federation which is the oldest world federation and has a substantial contribution to the creation of ILO’s fundamental conventions.
- What do you see as the priority areas for trade union capacity building?
The first and foremost priority should be the clear validation of the compulsory principle for all states that adopt the basic conventions of ILO, that the collective contract is the basic way of forming the terms and conditions of working at the local, sectoral and national level and is legally, institutionally and morally superior to any form of personal contact or “agreement”.
The implementation of this principle will contribute to upgrading again the role of collective bargaining and consequently the capacity building of unions.
For collective bargaining to be free, all forms of repression and criminalization of trade union action should be condemned and trade union freedoms and the right to strike should be fully guaranteed without footnotes and exemptions.
The fields that compose what the WFTU defines in today’s conditions as satisfaction of the contemporary needs of workers are the following:
- a) Stable and permanent work for all, regulated by collective agreements.
- b) Abolition of all forms of discrimination at work based on color, sex, religion, or origin. Confronting xenophobia and racism and cultivating the values of solidarity and internationalism.
- c) Defending the parity and equality of women at work in all forms and levels.
- d) Equal participation of women and youth in the action and leadership of the trade unions.
- e) Continuous improvement of health and safety conditions at work with the participation of workers and their representatives.
- f) Massive, active, democratic and class-oriented trade unions free of phenomena of Bureaucracy, elitism, careerism, and corruption.
- g) Participation in the wider social struggles for better living and working conditions, for free public education for all, for a dignified life for pensioners and the elderly, for the right to access cultural and intellectual goods, for possibilities of creative utilization of free time, for a quality entertainment and the possibility of quality rest.
- h) Defense of peace and the right of peoples to choose the path and way of their development without imperialist interventions and blackmail.
- The DG-elect aims to establish a Global Coalition for Social Justice to make social justice a priority in national and global policy making, development cooperation and financial, trade and investment agreements. What do you think should be the focus of this coalition and with which organisations should the ILO work?
A series of anti-people and anti-labor measures promoted globally as part of the neoliberal restructuring of economies and societies is now an indisputable fact, those social inequalities, both internally within each national society, and globally between the various regions of the planet, have dramatically widened, despite the slogans and big-mouthed proclamations, as well as the luxurious wrappings in which they have been clothed in recent years.
The social subjects who experience social injustice are, as a rule, the workers and the popular strata who are subject to social and labor exploitation. Even in the social groups that experience inequalities and difficulties on the basis of gender, age, etc. the problem mainly concerns women, young people, etc. from the popular strata.
Consequently, the reduction of social injustice can only be achieved through the conscious actions and struggle of organizations that represent those who are subject to social oppression. Neither the slogan of the ILO for “decent work”, nor other slogans such as for example the ones of the European Union including the Maastricht treaty, that the so-called European integration would bring full employment with “quality jobs for all” have yielded something, to change the harsh and obviously unfair and unpopular reality that workers experience in their daily lives and action.
Nor will any other new slogans or expressions of wishes and intentions will bring results unless they are accompanied by concrete measures that will limit the exploitation and unaccountability of capitalists and will promote change in the relations of power between capital and labor.
It is clear to us that any form of action that have as its real goal the reduction and elimination of social injustice should be focused on the issues that we have already listed in our previous position. And in order to achieve something with such an effort, the institutional and political support of the organizations that represent the class interests of the workers is necessary. Always through transparent, fair, and representative procedures, which ensure real democratic participation and not the illusion of democracy.
- Do you think that the promotion of ratification and implementation of international labour standards is sufficient? Could improvements be made?
The degree to which the ratification and implementation of ILO Conventions are proportional of the social and class correlation of forces. In our estimation, for a number of reasons, the balance of power in recent decades has become more difficult for workers and their interests compared to the first decades of the ILO’s existence. It is obvious that cases of violations of various conventions are daily recorded by states that have ratified them, as well as violations of fundamental principles whose implementation is an obligation for all member states. It is also obvious that the consequences of violations or non-ratification of conventions by states and employers are not substantial, bearing in mind that enormous economic profits are perpetuated due to the violation of fundamental rights.
We reiterate the position that the most meaningful and effective way to promote the ratification or implementation of conventions is the workers to have the power collectively and organized to ensure their implementation in practice. Numerous studies -including a several ILO reports- show the indisputable proportional link between deregulated work and high unemployment rates or low unionization rates. Therefore, the most essential improvement for the practical implementation of conventions, the respect of the achievements, and the promotion of workers’ interests is to end the obstruction and repression of trade union freedoms and initiatives in the workplace and society. All those who really are interested in the implementation of effective labor standards should focus in this direction.
- Strengthening the ILO supervisory system is part of the objective of the standards initiative to consolidate tripartite consensus on an authoritative supervisory system. What measures are needed to achieve this?
Given that interests between workers and employers substantially are opposite and conflicting, any agreement at any level to be fair and positive for the weak side, that is the workers, depends on the class correlation of forces. It is clear to us that the existing supervision system does not effectively protect workers, while even those agreements that are positively concluded are repeatedly violated in practice either at the national or international level. On this basis, the “tripartite consensus” most of the time functions as a mechanism to legitimize negative correlation at the expense of workers.
For any measures to control and implement fundamental labor rights and the obligations of governments/employers towards trade unions and workers to be effective, it is necessary to have substantial and institutionally guaranteed participation of workers’ representatives in monitoring and implementation mechanisms, as well as reliable tools that facilitate the role of these mechanisms.
The precondition for such mechanisms to be supported and to play an essential role is transparency in their operation, and their democratic and representative composition based on the proportional representation of workers and trade unions away from governmental and employer interventions.
- Are there any other issues you would like to share with the transition team?
The World Federation of Trade Unions is the most historic international trade union federation with an invaluable contribution in favor of workers within and outside the ILO. The strengthening of the role and the presence of the WFTU in the ILO procedures is undoubtedly in favor of the improvement of the working and living conditions of the workers, which also constitute a declared goal of the ILO.
However, we believe that the ILO’s treatment of the WFTU to date does not match the scope and size of a global federation representing more than 105 million workers in 133 countries on 5 continents. It is paradoxical that the ILO itself, which is an organization that is obliged to respect the fundamental principles of democracy, representativeness, and transparency and which has adopted conventions that are supposed to protect these principles, itself does not respect them and does not apply them.
The WFTU will never accept, a status quo that unfortunately continues to be imposed and allows, with the support of course of the majority of states and employers’ organizations, the essential monopolization of the representation in the governing bodies by only one international organization, silencing actually the class representation of the workers.
It cannot be accepted that the ILO itself creates conditions for an undemocratic monopolization of labor representation in its own institutions. Neither the history of our Federation nor the role, scope, and size of the WFTU Affiliated Trade Unions, justify or allow the continuation of such treatment.