Social Justice Declaration

  • 6 June 2016

The 105th session of the International Labour Conference (ILC) of the ILO has been meeting in Geneva and our Senior Industrial Officer Mark Perica has joined the Australian team and is on the committee looking at the social justice declaration.  Director-General of the ILO Guy Ryder has told delegates they must assume the responsibilities of the ILO’s social justice mandate if the benefits of transformative change at work are to be realised.  Inequality, marginalisation and division are not phenomena to which the world of work must react but “the consequence of what we do, how we behave, what we decide,” he said in opening remarks to the Conference.  The only tripartite U.N. agency, since 1919 the ILO brings together governments, employers and workers representatives of 187 member States, to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes promoting decent work for all women and men.


Mark's ILO Blog - (unendorsed by anyone but Mark)

Day 10 and 11 - Yesterday was a much easier slack day.  I went to combined worker delegate caucus.  Magnus the Ice(land) man explained we had completed the drafting and we were ready to put the resolution to the Plenary.  After that I watched some speeches before the plenary sessions including the Greek Labour Minister who said "there is an undeclared war on the poor by the neoliberal financial network"   At lunchtime, Tom and I went to the annual meeting of ICTUR; the International Centre for Trade Union Rights.  ICTUR is an incredible organisation - on a limited staff they investigate cases of State persecution of trade unionists.  They also appear as observers of bullshit trials of trade unionists.  Tom and I were distressed to hear that they could not attend a trial of Thai Unionists for lack of funds - this is our neighbourhood.  Also it appears there has been little engagement with Australia in recent years. This is something we need to take up when we get back home.

In the afternoon I went to see my comrade Tom make an intervention on behalf of the Cambodian workers before the Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS).  The Cambodian situation is bad - extra judicial killings and bashings of union workers.  I have changed by mind about the Standards regime at the ILO.  The fact is a representative of the Government has to attend a hearing where the facts are laid out in an international forum.  A government representative has to face the discomfort of having to explain themselves.  That of itself has a certain power.

Andrea, Tom and I had dinner and we were on our second bottle of wine. At about 9.30 I got a call from Jeroen Beirhaert the super smart guy from ITUC who has been helping out our Committee on the Social Justice Declaration.  He told me they needed another person to move the resolution making the "Evaluation of the impact of the ILO declaration on Social Justice for a fair globalisation" before the Plenary the following day.  So I had plenty of notice!!!  I started at about ten thirty and took a couple of hours to write the speech.  I had to get it to the interpreters before 8AM the next morning. So I wrote it and went to bed.  I was able to sleep in.  In the morning I attended a disturbing forum on youth unemployment (in some places in Spain and Italy its up to 70 percent) and at 3PM I got the chance to commend the "Draft resolution on advancing social justice through decent work" to the Plenary.

I got a nice round of applause and Greg Vines, the Deputy Director General, took the role of photographer to capture it.  I got multiple kisses from the Latin American comrades saying "muy bien" - it must have been the concatenation of metaphors. 

After our statement was adopted all the people involved with the Social Justice Declaration Committee had drinks.  We toasted the 40 ILO experts, interpreters, editors and work processors who turned around the various versions of our resolution overnight every night for ten days - so we could resume work on it the next day.  I said my goodbyes to Magnus, to Renate, to Miguel, the brilliant ITUC people and my comrades on the drafting committee. After that Tom, Andrea and I went out to an Italian Restaurant and had a few drinks without the handbreak of having to draft text the next day.

This experience has been amazing. The Aussie worker delegation is a dream team. Andrea the new ACTU international officer excelled in her first week in the role. Tom Roberts is one of the best technicians working directly for unions in Australia. He is my brother, Grant Belchamber knows everything and is a person of prodigious abilities, and Igor, the Supply Chains Guru, is a leading expert. I was privileged to share this experience with them all.  We were a real crew over here and acted as a unit sharing information and ideas on the various committees.  It is sobering to reflect that I was one of five people representing Australian workers at the World Parliament of Work.  Not only that I got the chance to participate in a drafting committee with many talented comrades, and to give a speech to the Plenary to commend the adoption of the document - which will now become an instrument of International Labour Law.  I reckon we really achieved something.  Thanks to Ged for asking me, and to KB who allowed me to attend one of the greatest experiences of my professional life. 

I truly hope I get the chance to come back - that Committee for the Application of Standards looks like fun!!

Day 9 - After the horror of listening to the complaint against Qatar for the treatment of their domestic and construction workers employed under the Kafala system last night we needed some light relief.  We had a 10AM start today so Andrea and I had breakfast at a cafe on the shores of lake geneva called "the Cottage Cafe" - it's like a wooden ginger bread house with a beautiful outside eating area overlooking the lake and a 17th century monument.  It was a beautiful day so we were both in a good mood.  Not only that we could eat some non cheese related food for the first time since I had been here.

At 10AM we had the worker caucus for the Social Justice Declaration and we were handed the 60 government and employer amendments which had been lodged by midnight the night before. We systematically worked through them and it turned out the anticipated assault on the ILO standards references did not eventuate. Turned out most of the amendments were grammatical or an attempt to shift the emphasis of some text.  In the current union hating phase in Australia its a bizarre experience having Governments making amendments to make the document more progressive - the EU and Brazil had made a series of amendments to reinforce language.  Anyway we took the workers delegates through the amendments and had a series of instructions to take to the meeting with the employers and Governments.  The drafting process is convoluted. You sit in a room and the amendment is put up by the proponent and then the other parties are asked to comment.  Our cool multilingual latin chair Miguel Barra then puts it to the full Committee and its rejected, accepted or withdrawn.  The Australian Government channelled Shakespeare in its amendment changing "the immutable fundamental rights of work" to the "immutable nature of the rights of work" [rejected].  Frau Hornung Draus turned out to be the workers friend - the employers ended up working to defend the amendments we had agreed in the drafting committee. The most hotly contested provision about the ILO promoting standards to the multilateral financial institutions ended up being one of the few paragraphs passing without amendment.  Anyway it took all today until 7.30PM  to work through the document.  The Spanish, English and French amendments were worked through and the "Draft resolution on advancing social justice through decent work" was approved by the Committee.

Miguel the Chair was something else - it's amazing what self deprecating humour can deliver.  Renate Hornung Draus, who did play hard ball sometimes, turned out to be a firm believer in "social dialogue" which in ILO speak means negotiations between unions, employers and government. The Ice(land) man, Magnus Nordall was thoroughly decent but held it together when we needed it. They all believe in the importance of the process.  We had a session for closing remarks and it was really great- we had all worked bloody hard for 9 days to negotiate this document. The Anglophone attack on trade unions is a sickness. The Europeans believe that the representatives of workers should be respected and listened to.  The hope of Enlightenment values - reason, dialogue and civilised argument are things we should never give up.  As I said last time it's easy to by cynical about the normative role of the ILO but the fact is, in that forum, workers, employers and Governments are affirming values of decent work and social justice?

Greg Vines the Deputy Director of the ILO (and former Tasmanian Secretary of the SPSF) who had represented the Director General in the Committee had moved an amendment to replace the word "genuine" to the more accurate "Fair Dinkum" he then looked at me and said "you didn't support me you bastard!"  Much to the mirth of the assembled Committee.  As I left the meeting room at 8.30 PM I was almost run over by a woman on a bike - it was Elizabeth Akerman the EU representative (aka Frida from ABBA) cycling to her hotel. I tell you what that woman is cool. This experience has been one I will never forget.  I have to deliver some amendments for the MUA on the Maritime Conventions vote tomorrow.  Solidarity Forever.

Day 8 - The Australian Government people took the Aussie worker and employer delegation to dinner last night. I thought I would get my swiss on (or seventies on) and have a fondue.  Regret much regret.  Myself, Tom, Andrea and Igor went out for a few drinks after that to detox which was really fun. None of us has had time to do it before.  This morning was another meeting of the entire worker delegation. Sounds like slow but incremental progress is being made in the Transition from War to Peace and also the supply chains instrument.  Also pretty clear that the allergy of employers to any mention of standards in any document is a strategy in every Committee. This supports the theory that they want to do something similar in the Standards Review.

At 11AM we had the meeting of the worker delegation on the social justice delegation. The International Labour Office did a good job setting out the grammar in the draft and it looks punchy for an ILO document.  Magnus the Ice(land) man took our brothers and sisters through the document we laboured on till midnight Saturday night. The general feeling in the room was that we had done a good job but there were some calls for amendments.  We have to be tactical in the amendments. If we start to unpick the consensus with the bosses the whole document, and all our gains, can be unravelled.  My concise brother Mbeke from COSATU had another short but powerful interjection informing us of his experience that unless it was a "do or die" amendment we should leave it alone.

In the next step of the process any Government (including those that did not sit on the drafting committee) can vote on any amendments.  If our delegation and the bosses don't vote as a block we will be done over.  There is a rumour going round (no indication of whether it is true) that the employers might undermine us on the standards reference by putting up a Government to request that those references be taken out.  We will see.  I think we are only going to propose one or two clarifying amendments and there are some problems with the Spanish translation.  Amendments have to be requested by 6PM tonight.

At lunchtime I went to a meeting of the Commonwealth Group of Unions - that had a hometown feel about it and it was a very productive meeting.  Of course my comrade from the Drafting Committee from Barbados wanted to talk about cricket.  Everybody here is impressive but the African guys are at another level. There intelligence and political awareness are top shelf.   The comrades from Swaziland and Nigeria have terrible problems with their Governments. Dan, my beautiful mate from Fiji, informed the Group that their Government, under pressure from the ILO, had reformed the Fiji Employment Act and now there are legal rights of unions in that Country.  Dan embraced me when he saw me which I found very moving.  It's great to think that our Union and the ACTU had a part to play in that result. The Fiji improvements are positive proof that the ILO and its supervisory regime works. Governments don't like criticism and react to international pressure.

This arvo I am sitting in the most important Committee - the Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS).  The CAS is the body which considers complaints and as you all can imagine - Governments lobby and do anything to get off the list.

We are here to support our English comrades. The Tories have passed a ballot majority law that requires a majority of all members of a union (not just those at a particular workplace) have to vote on strikes (that would require 75K of our members to vote in favour).
It means strikes will never be approved and is a flagrant breach of the Collective Bargaining Convention.  Apparently the English Government has been working the room more heavily that a real estate agent on inspection day.  We hope the complaint is successful because if it stays there - like Thatcherism, Privitisation and Social Impact Bonds, eventually it will come to us.

A lot of people bag the ILO and international unionism but there is something incredibly inspiring working with so many talented union people from every Country, of every colour and from every creed.  We really are part of an important and valuable movement that is a force of good in the world

Day 7  - Yesterday was D Day - draft day.  We started with a meeting of the entire workers delegation and people reported on their respective work. The supply chains document faces big hurdles because no State and most employer representatives do not want to accept the fact they can do anything about it (which is not true). We seem to have the best functioning group even though the bosses are starting to push back.  After the hour long report back we had a meeting with the entire workers group reviewing the social justice delegation. After our late session the night before we were able to put a comprehensive raft of amendments to our full workers delegation. Surprisingly that went quite well even though we only had an hour.

At 11AM we went into the drafting committee. The employers, who had previously made nice noises in the general discussions, all of sudden decided to play hard ball. We made some concessions to keep momentum going but myself and Kelly Ross from the AFLCIO and the comrades from ITUC made sure we stuck firm on the issue of partnerships and engagement of the ILO with the multilateral finance institutions.  We wanted a positive position that the ILO actively promote its values and standards in these relationships. The bosses are allergic to the insertion of anything about standards.  So we were in that room for 12 hours - we finished at 11.30PM.  We'll be negotiating a guiding international document in English with the lead negotiators not English speakers in 48 hours!!.  Some of the final draft is ungrammatical because when there are eight of you on a drafting committee its hard to get your point across all the time.  Anyway our drafting committee worked well and I think I made a pretty good contribution for a newbie. Its been tough.

What happens now is the draft is exposed to the plenary of the Conference and amendments are made from the floor. This will give me a chance to tidy up the grammar a bit.  I have today off thank God and I am going to have lunch with a mate in the village he lives in in france.

Day 6  - We got the first draft of the "outcomes document" which is a discussion draft prepared by the ILO (under the authority of Greg Vines) at 4AM this morning.  The 8 member worker delegate drafting group met at 8AM at the UN building here to read it and then to make comments towards amendments.  Anyway we discussed potential amendments but we had a 10AM  meeting with the whole worker group [which is about 64 delegates] and we ran out of time to do our own amendment.  I tried to set up a situation where we went through the document clause by clause to get instructions from the main caucus.

The set up is weird. You have the people from the ILO Office on the podium (including Greg Vines) and the head of the SJD committee who is an employer delegate from Paraguay who speaks fluent English, Spanish, French, German and (we discovered today) Japanese!  Anyway we are all in a sort of large sized room with the eight employer delegates and the eight country delegates.  If drafting by committee is your idea of a nightmare you would be right.

The bosses elected to speak first.  The best country rep by far is the New Zealand guy who was always suggesting cutting out the jargon and the surplus diplomatic speak from the document [he's fighting a losing battle). The US is unbelievably slick with their amendments. The EU representative is a doppelganger for Frida from ABBA with a magnificent deep voice and takes progressive positions.

We had a second session with the drafting group that went from 3.30 in the afternoon until 8.30PM.  We then went back to the Geneva person cave for more drafting so we could take amendments to the complete document to our comrades tomomrrow.  I just got home for the bus at 10PM and I expect we are going to go longer tomorrow.  Its taken me a few days but I now know what "the cross cutting issue of gender equality" means.  I am learning heaps and am still enjoying myself

Day 5  - Our workers committee and the tripartite committee examining the social justice declaration finished the deliberations on the discussions points.  The bosses and the governments are pretty quiet and did not say much. The employers are maintaining the line that ILO should 'stick to its area of expertise"  but should engage with the multilateral organisations IMF, WTO and Food and Agriculture Organisation to promote the Decent Work Agenda and the UN target to end world poverty by 2030.

The best session today was the "outside visitors" section where representatives of the WTO, the FAO and the World Bank came in to inform our discussion on the policy incoherence between the collective bargaining and fair work crushing policies of those organisations and the Decent Work Agenda - the Chilean and Greek comrades had plenty to say about the prescriptions of the World Bank to dismantle union rights and collective bargaining as a condition of the emergency loans - and how this is consistent with their bromides about the Decent Work Agenda.  They WTO equate any impermanent jobs with Decent Jobs - our chairperson Magnus had plenty to say about Iceland - the WTO tried to dismantle the IR system there as well but they where told to GAGF by the Unions - the benefit of a 90 percent union density I suppose.  It was noteworthy there that the Icelandic economy bounced back more quickly that either Greece or Chile.

We get the first draft of the outcomes document (what a name!) 8 am tomorrow and we have to amend it by midnight Saturday night and we have been allocated a tiny room for the eight of us to caucus. The real work begins then.

I am off to our welcome reception at the Australian UN mission here with my Aussie Comrades - the Australians are punching above our weight and have all got on their respective drafting committees and Tom (as usual) is killing it in the Committee for the Implementation of Standards which is the really heavy one - the Governments, Unions and Employers have to agree on a list of 24 complaints that will go through to the Governing Body for consideration. The French dude who is the worker chair on that committee is a bald Robespierre type of guy.  Brilliant people.  Anyway still pretty intense but fun -  interesting to see how the draft looks and to observe the politics of the drafting committee

Day 4  - The issue for today was the need TO ADDRESS international policy incoherence between the ILO standards for Decent Work including the Social Justice Convention and the whole Bretton Woods, Washington Consensus, IMF deregulate, dance to the music complex.  The issue with the SJD is that it was made in 2008 before the GFC.  Since then the existing tendency to separate labour policy and economic policy by member states and the multilateral finance agreements has continued to gather pace.  This has led to an epidemic of precarious employment and the misery of the majority of workers everywhere.

Its noteworthy that the ILO has not taken steps to be present at the G8 or other international finance forurms but the IMF and the World Bank involve themselves with labour market policies all the time.

Unions and their peak bodies have had to insert themselves into the process because the ILO didn't. There are two factions in the Workers delegation about what we should do about this - one is that any perceived criticisms of the ILO plays into the hands of the bosses who want to use the Standards Review to rip out the guts of the long standing fundamental conventions, and those that think that the fact that the world has moved a long way away from social justice and labour rights since the declaration was made is worth condemning.  Also since 2008, the number of ratifications has tanked and half the world's workers are employed in States that have not ratified the basic conventions (notoriously including the US).

I think the supervisory apparatus is worth keeping and praising - it's a standard against which employers can be condemned when there is little else.  I reckon the way it goes about its business needs re thinking - its needs to  perform more advocacy, to make itself better known and to get stuck into decisions of the other multilateral decision making bodies in finance.  Anyway  its heavy shit - and as I said yesterday - how you draft conclusions and recommendations for future conduct in three days in language that translates into Spanish and French presents a challenge.  The other thing I have noticed about the way that the veteran employer and worker delegates operate is they use foggy language to obscure what they are saying so that their criticisms or hard positions can be denied later.

It has taken me a few days to work out what the employer spokesperson is saying and what she is criticising.  Anyway we are finishing early at 4.30 and I am loving it - the workers drafting committee are world beaters.

The American and French have made interventions in this debate that were fantastic and COSATU is unbelievably impressive in that their rep cuts to the chase and succinctly sums up the position - you can see their is a lot of knowledge and political ability there.  Also the ITUC people assisting us are amazing people.  The hard work begins on Thursday when we get the ILO draft document - we then have to work out what our priority amendments are and then horse trade with the bosses - one good thing about the Aussie Government position is that they can't have any - they are in caretaker mode

Day 3  - OK it's been a full on day and there appears to be cracks in the previous good humour between the employer and worker delegations on this committee about the implementation of the social justice declaration - the bosses want to smuggle "fiscal responsibility" into the commitment of employers/member states to implement the social justice measures - we say fundamental workers rights are in no way contingent on finances - and decent work is the well spring of a long term prosperity - anyway I was formally elected to the drafting committee today even though I am an English speaking male (system delivers gender, regional, and language group balance)

The worker chair of our delegation is Icelandic - apparently the Icelandic comrades are distressed that their union density has hit an all time low of 86 percent.  The governments are sitting back at the moment and are giving lip service to the declaration.

I am quite looking forward to 48hrs of drafting on Saturday and Sunday and I spoke to Greg Vines and he was very welcoming and friendly - wants to catch up for a beer.   The Aussie employers are being needlessly obstructive in the supply chain negotiations - which is terrible.   Anyway had a cross cultural meal experience - I walked into the Lebonese quarter and had a kebab in a long baguette!  The Aussie worker delegation is very talented - three of us, myself, Andrea Maksimovic and Igor Nossal (the supply chain guru) are all Slavs.  Tom Roberts is his usual serious and intellectually rigorous self.  I am working hard but am having a sensational time.

Day 2  - We are meeting from 9am to 7:30PM.  I am on the committee looking at the social justice declaration and I have been elected on the drafting committee - it's like being in the man cave except with Spanish and French speakers.

We will be drafting all weekend - so much for having a bludge!  Seeing all the comrades from every county is inspiring! 

Our hotel is magnificent - had dinner with Sharan Burrow last night - she was in good form and sent her best


 ....... In Geneva