Mr. President, Madams and Sirs Vice Presidents of the International Labour Conference,
Director-General of the International Labour Organization,
Madams and Sirs Heads of State and of Government, Ministers and Delegates,
it is an honour for me to speak at the International Labour Conference that is celebrating one hundred years from the foundation of this Organization, the oldest of the United Nations’ system.
The happy intuition that gave life to it – in the year immediately following the end of the First World War – was spurred by an awareness that the war had made dramatically evident: a long-lasting peace could have been achieved only by realizing the basic principles of social justice, of the right to work and labour.
The fact of dedicating the entire thirteenth chapter of the Treaty of Versailles to “social justice” and to labour appears singularly forward-thinking. And I am glad to recall that Italy was among the nine Countries that in 1919 formed the Commission in charge of writing the International Labour Charter.
Indeed, despite the big steps forward made in these decades, such mission is still a relevant part of the international agenda.
The value of those objectives continues to fully stand and live in the International Labour Organization’s motto: si vis pacem, cole iustitiam – if you desire peace, cultivate justice. These words are fundamental both in a prescriptive sense and in contrasting the violence and war that they intend to evoke.
During its long existence, ILO has overcome tragic events undamaged, such as the Second World War, and it has faced extraordinary challenges, such as the transformations caused by the swift advance of globalization.
The reliability of an international organization is measured every day by comparing the effectiveness of its actions with the changes in the economic and social life.
And today, the governments’ call is indeed in their ability to achieve the objectives of the Charter with regard to globalization.
There cannot be – and there must not be – any contradictions between ILO’s mission and its praiseworthy work and the regulations drawn up by other international agencies and bodies.
Coherence requires for an international social clause to always be introduced in Treaties relating to the world’s future.
Otherwise, the phenomenon of social dumping is likely not only to be perpetuated, afflicting the workers’ conditions in emerging Countries, but also to generate recessionary phenomena starting from the labour markets of Countries with a mature economy.
This is testified by what has happened in these past years.
The share reserved to labour compensation (including autonomous workers’ earnings) has passed from accounting for 68% of the GDP in developed Countries (OECD) in the mid 1970s, to 58% thirty years later. Moreover, while the human capital represents 65% of the global wealth, in Countries with a low income it reaches only 41%.
In other words, there has been a decrease in wages over the wealth produced in one year.
If globalization and increased trade have contributed toward reducing inequalities among Countries, this has not occurred in the same measure within them.
All this, together with the extent of the Organization’s objectives and its “corporate name,” confers permanent validity to the mandate it has been assigned, and highlights how engaging ILO’s path continues to be in the attempt to state its role as “regulatory” social agency in the process of economic globalization. Its universal vocation, manifested since its establishment, is to introduce the theme of social justice among Countries, besides among social groups.
Development thus became the Organization’s objective, as expressed in its World Employment Programme in 1969, and in the Global Frameworks Agreements launched in 2009, as well as in other documents.
On the occasion of its 100th anniversary, a debate was duly launched on the “Future of Work.”
The extremely swift and frantic reorganization of production processes on the basis of global value chains, the incisiveness of innovations, the growing fragmentary nature of individual careers, the migratory flows, the aging of the population in some areas of the world and the persistent youth unemployment, are all disruptive processes that, if not governed, could potentially produce unforeseeable consequences.
From the pervasiveness of these challenges – highlighting the close interweaving between national conditions and international relations - it is possible to grasp the sense of the choices that have characterized ILO’s positions and actions over the years.
As well highlighted in a recent study: peace is possible only in a regime of social justice; social justice implies a regime made of cooperation more than economic competition; the universality of peace is based on the international nature of cooperation; lastly, it is essential for the various actors of the production process to cooperate. This latter aspect stresses the vital role played by the tripartite nature assigned to the Organization, from its very constitution, with the contribution of governments and of workers’ and entrepreneurs’ organizations.
An answer to the doubts on the future of work can be found only in the fundamental principles stated in the Declaration of Philadelphia of 1944, when the Second World War was heading to an end with the defeat of the Nazi-Fascist regime:
- labour is not a commodity;
- freedom of expression and of association are essential to sustained progress;
- poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere;
- the war against want requires to be carried out with unrelenting vigour within each nation.
Many contemporary rights derive from ILO’s commitment to achieve the full protection of the dignity of each single human being, wherever the latter may work and whatever such work may be.
On the basis of this commitment, we here repeat with determination: no to child labour and no to forced labour. Yes to gender equality; to child and maternity protection; to safety at work; to social protection; to labour as means to achieve freedom and to raise standards of living; to equality in the educational and professional fields; to the exercise of the right to collective bargaining.
Dear President, Director-General, Madams and Sirs,
new stimulating perspectives are emerging – together with totally new problems - from the ongoing technological revolution, passing from a traditional economy to an increasingly digital reality.
Consequently, a widespread dissemination of the competences and knowledge necessary to unite economic development and social development cannot be deferred, avoiding negative spirals that often manifest themselves when transitioning from one phase to the other.
The ambition to work in equal conditions unites the destinies of people all over the world.
Currently, more than two-hundred million people result to be jobless, just as many migrant workers, almost one billion of inhabitants worldwide live under the threshold of poverty. The international community is not in the dark concerning what is happening. Nonetheless, the commitment to solve the situation still seems widely insufficient.
The Migrant Workers Convention of 1975, for example, states the need to promote the transfer of capital and technology rather than the transfer of workers. It encourages to avoid the uncontrolled or unassisted increase of migratory flows, due to their negative consequences at social and human level. It highlights the need for equal opportunities and treatment for all workers.
Therefore, a common commitment and fight must unite governmental authorities and social parties spurring them to establish universal criteria and rules, just as people’s rights are universal.
IOL is an exemplary experience of how only multilateralism can drive progress for the entire humanity, for a globalization of rights.
One hundred years ago, in February 1919, only a few months before the founding act that we are celebrating today, the first national labour contract was signed in Italy setting the limit of workers’ services at eight hours a day and forty-eight hours a week.
In the following month of October, ILO’s International Conference, gathered in Washington, reasserted the same criteria, giving an international framework to the labour legislation, countering a competition in the production of goods and services that was based on worsening labour conditions and on cutting wages rather than on the ability to innovate.
This highlights a happy concurrence of sensibility and the international community’s ability to offer authentic answers to peoples’ expectations.
Dear President, Director-General, Madams and Sirs,
access to work remains a prerequisite for social inclusion and for the individual’s development.
The Italian Constitution, under Art. 1, establishes work as the Republic’s foundation, because it considers the individual, the individual’s dignity, creative participation, contribution to the wellbeing of all, also of future generations, as the very heart of every society. The European Union and the Council of Europe define, on their part, the “second generation’s” rights.
The same opportunities must be granted to all for personal realization, regardless of gender, age, social and geographical provenance, religious, political or sexual orientation and, as much as possible – and it is a lot – of health conditions.
In acknowledging ILO’s dedication in this sense, I would like to reassert my best wishes to you, Director-General and to all the Organization’s personnel for the important objectives achieved.
These best wishes are accompanied by the appreciation of the Italian people, who are proud to have been able to participate in the progress of an Organization that – on the basis of its centenarian experience – is committed in planning our future on a daily basis, starting from key principles.
Principles that, exactly 50 years ago, on the occasion of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to ILO, were effectively called the “Magna Charta of the working class.”
Half a century after that ceremony, it is possible to rightfully assert the never-ending validity of the intuition that gave life to ILO: work is one of the most effective infrastructure of global peace.