Africa: ‘Green Jobs,’ Poverty and Role of Women Top Agenda At Start of UN Labour Conference

Demography and technology are helping to transform the work force more quickly and deeply than ever before and the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) is poised to tackle the new challenges, the agency’s chief today said opening a two-week conference.

“Here at the ILO we have the mandate, we have the right actors and we are equipping ourselves with the means to make the world of work a better, more humane, kinder and fairer one in which all have a place and where all can have equal opportunity to realise their potential,” said Director-General, Guy Ryder, opening of the 102nd International Labour Conference taking place from 5 to 20 June in Geneva.

While the Conference will address employment, growth and social progress, as well as the environment, poverty and the role of women in the work force, he said that the most important question, “the one asked everywhere and with growing urgency and sometimes alarm, is ‘where are the jobs coming from?’ and it is most frequently addressed to the situation of our young people.”

In his report for the conference, Towards the ILO centenary: realities, renewal and tripartite commitment, Mr. Ryder details seven initiatives for a “forward-looking and strategic response.”

The Green Initiative, focused on the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable development path, would allow the ILO “to be centre-stage in this historic process of transition,” Mr. Ryder said.

“Whether we like it or not, production and consumption systems are crucial determinants of environmental sustainability, and the world of work is going to have to make unprecedented efforts to reconcile its future with that of the planet,” he added in his speech.

ILO estimates that at least half of the global workforce – or 1.5 billion people – could be affected in some way by the transition to a green economy.

Earlier this year, ILO with three other UN agencies – UN Environment Programme (UNEP), UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), created the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) to help participating countries shift investment and policies towards the creation of clean technologies, resource-efficient infrastructure, green skilled labour and good governance, among other services.

During the first two years of the partnership, PAGE will focus on seven pilot countries, yet to be named, and will scale up its support to a total of 30 countries by 2020.

The ILO also needs to play the fullest role in putting an end to extreme poverty in the world by 2030, Mr. Ryder said, and to “eliminate the danger that poverty anywhere constitutes to prosperity everywhere.”

In his report, Mr. Ryder details the end to poverty initiative as one to meet the urgent requirement for an adequate living wage for all workers, through the employment and social protection components of the post-2015 development agenda that will pick up from the anti-poverty Millennium Developments Goals (MDGs).

A Women at Work Initiative would aim to correct the “persisting and profound disadvantage faced by many women in the world of work.”

“This is necessary social policy and good economic policy,” Mr. Ryder said.

Remarking on the recent ILO European Regional Meeting in Oslo, Mr. Ryder said he was struck by Prime Minister Stoltenberg’s remark that Norway’s prosperity today owes more to the integration of women into its labour force than it does to all of its fossil fuel riches.

“By our initiative we can help unleash this potential – which all of our societies possess – and at the same time live up to our obligations for equality,” he said.

The remaining plans include the governance initiative to complete reform of the ILO’s governance structures, a process begun last year. A standards review mechanism would update and enhance the relevance of the body of international labour standards, while a future of work initiative would establish a relevant advisory panel whose report would be available for discussion at the 2019 centenary session of the International Labour Conference.

The ILO chief also stressed that the UN agency needs to engage with enterprises for sustainability and to achieve its goals.

The enterprises initiative “may raise some concerns” but is “crucial” to the ILO’s relevance and effectiveness, Mr. Ryder said.

“An Organization which needs to connect better with the realities of business and respond better to business needs should be making efforts to engage with enterprises. And I have been left in no doubt that there is considerable interest from enterprises in bringing this about,” he added.

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