Quotes of Heads of State/Government at Centenary International Labour Conference

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GENEVA (ILO News) – World leaders gathered at the Centenary International Labour Conference  (ILC) to reaffirm their commitment to the principle of social justice upon which the ILO was founded 100 years ago. The Conference, which is the 108th session of the ILC, runs from June 10 to 21.

Heads of state and government and other top officials addressed the plenary on the first day of the Conference.

The President of Italy Sergio Mattarella  said: “Many modern rights are rooted in the ILO’s constant commitment to the dignity of all human beings wherever they work, and whatever their occupation.”

The President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo , said: “Member countries should work on the countless opportunities that lie ahead to improve the quality of working lives, close gender gaps, reverse the damage caused by global inequalities and climate change, and more importantly, also share in the discarge of the responsibility towards a more sustainable future which guarantees we leave no one behind.”

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg  said: “For 100 years, the ILO has been a champion of tripartite cooperation, bringing international regulation, worker rights and equality, conditions for competition and social justice. The term ‘decent work for all was coined by the ILO’.”

The Prime Minister of Nepal, K.P. Sharma Oli , said: “Today is the time to uphold the ILO’s founding ideals and demonstrate that they continue to be relevant in forwarding the value of decent work, equality, social justice and a sustainable future.”

Also among the speakers were South African President Cyril Ramaphosa  and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven , who co-chaired the Global Commission on the Future of Work . The Commission’s report, Work for a brighter future , is being debated throughout the Conference.

“It’s a double honour that I should stand here today, 25 years almost to the day when Nelson Mandela stood before this august body – that was four years before he became the democratically elected President of South Africa. The ILO, as he asked you to do, supported our struggle for the continued four years… Today I stand here again 25 years later to say thank you once again to the ILO for having supported our struggle,” said Ramaphosa.

“What we are celebrating today is really not an organization, it’s not a convention, it’s not a date. What we are celebrating is a movement. A movement forward, upwards from the misery of the First World War trenches, of factories and fields, of hunger and squalor... It’s a movement symbolized by three letters: ‘ILO’. It’s a movement now marching towards the future,” said Löfven.

The Vice-President of Turkey, Fuat Oktay , said: “The ILO’s achievements in healing wounds of two world wars, addressing social tensions generated by economic and social hardship together with stakeholders and sustaining better working conditions with the key principles of building consensus through negotiation, are the milestones in its successful history.”

Moroccan Prime Minister Saâd-Eddine El Othmani  said: “Morocco, like other countries is very concerned by these rapid changes and possible consequences on the world of work, as well as the emergence of new forms of work … it is for this reason that we welcome the focus by the ILO on this topic.”

The Vice-President of Côte d’Ivoire, Daniel Kablan Duncan  said: “While there are many grounds for satisfaction, which have enabled us to give a human face to the world of work, not everything is perfect, as is the case with any human endeavours, and we must remain vigilent to maintain what has been achieved. That is why we encourage the ILO to speed up its efforts to strengthen the social contract and to promote decent and sustainable work.”

Dozens more dignitaries are scheduled to address the Centenary session of the ILC. Nearly 6,000 delegates – representing governments, workers and employers – will discuss how to address the transformative changes in the world of work, and will consider the adoption of a landmark ILO Centenary Declaration focusing on the future of work. They will also discuss violence and harassment at the workplace with a view to adopting a new international instrument.





Speaking at Tuesday’s plenary session of the Conference, which runs from June 10 to 21, the leaders of 10 states reaffirmed their commitment to the ILO’s principles of social justice and highlighted the importance of addressing the challenges of a rapidly changing world of work.

The President of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili , said: “One hundred years ago, in the midst of chaos, but at the dawn of rapid technological and social change, the world witnessed the creation of the ILO. This institution was to assist the world to bounce back from the destruction and despair inflicted by war, and to make human dignity and social justice the driving force of reconciliation and development. And it did.”

The President of the Republic of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades , told the conference that, “the challenges the ILO has to address today are much more diverse and complicated than the challenges it had to face 100, 50 or even 10 years ago…a new digital era, new types of business, and climate change. These challenges require the constant evolution and upgrading of ILO’s activities and policies.” Expressing his support for the human-centred agenda proposed by the Global Commission on the Future of Work , he said, “it is my strong and firm belief that it is only by collectively adhering to these principles that we can achieve growth, social justice and prosperity for current and future generations.”

King Mswati III of the Kingdom of Eswatini  said: “As we celebrate this centenary, we are alive to the realities and the challenges of a rapidly changing world of work as a result of technological advances.” He praised the Global Commission on the Future of Work “for compiling the Future of Work report with clear proposals to guide member States on how to deal with the complex issues presented by the evolving world of work. We are particularly impressed with the report’s emphasis on human-centred development.”

Describing the ILO as one of the most “influential global structures”, the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev , told delegates that, “we share the mission and objectives of the ILO, and we express solidarity with the position that our shared task is to make labour in the 21st Century a way for humans to unleash their potential.” He said, “Russia knows, based on its own experiences, that it is necessary to professionally and timely respond to social changes, the new demands of society and the needs of workers, because ignoring these challenges always leads to lamentable ramifications.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel  told the conference: “We need social peace, we need fair conditions of labour, we need the preservation and respect of human dignity. The ILO has achieved a lot – sincere congratulations on this – but still a lot remains to be done. And so, I hope and trust that what has already been achieved will spur you on to continue to work with dynamism and vigour and really throw yourself into this task and into this work.” Referring to World Day against Child Labour , marked on June 12, and the ILO’s role in fighting this scourge, she said, ”all over the world, 152 million children are forced to work, roughly half of them under the age of five….That is certainly unacceptable and we have to tackle this together.”

The President of France, Emmanuel Macron , delivered a strong endorsement of the ILO’s tripartite methodology. “This can be difficult, it can be demanding, sometimes we have to accept that decision-making can take a long time, but it makes it possible to get solid results.” He added, “refusing to give up, acting responsibly, building international solidarity step by step, through law and dialogue, this is the spirit of your organization….A double heritage and a responsibility for us to continue.”

The President of Madagascar, Andry Rajoelina  hailed those he called “the benefactors of humanity.” Madagascar, he said, “pays tribute to the men and women ... who have fought with all their strength and conviction to build a world of work that is just, decent, that values human beings, and which favours personal growth and well-being for all generations since 1919.”

The Prime Minister of the Republic of Tunisia, Youssef Chahed , praised the ILO for its history of fighting poverty, promoting social justice, and helping countries develop their economies. "We will only achieve sustainable development if we respect human dignity, if we ensure there is a fabric that supports social justice," he said. "Tunisia is striving to implement the principles of decent work in every part of the economy, ensuring social dialogue and social protection... The country is making progress. Slowly but surely it is on the right path for establishing social development and social justice."

The President of Malta, George Vella , called the ILO a prime example of effective multilateralism. “In the present international context where multilateralism is being put into question, this organization stands out – not merely as a success in itself, but also as an affirmation of the crucial role that the United Nations still holds, not only in the international arena but also in directly improving the well-being of our citizens through the enforcement of social justice and egalitarianism.”

The Vice President of Peru, Mercedes Rosalba Aráoz Fernández , spoke of the transformations underway in the world of work. She said, “we must sieze the opportunities arising ... to create a more promising future, one which allows us to reinvigorate the social contract. She added, “Today’s skills will not be in line with tomorrow’s jobs. New skills may quickly be left behind... This calls for a revolution in our education system, including the world of work as a source for updating labour skills.”

Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Šarec  stressed the need to ensure that technological progress benefits everyone. “Through joint efforts, we have to prevent that the fruits of technological progress ... are grabbed only by a few, leaving the majority with leftovers. We need a comprehensive approach to achieve this major goal, an approach based on a human-centred agenda.”

The Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel , addressed the challenges the world of work faces. “Climate change, demographic evolution, migration and changes in the organization of work will affect all our societies, all organizations, all workers and all enterprises... I fully support what Director-General Guy Ryder said, that social dialogue was, is, and will remain the key to forge the future of work. So we need to reinforce it and improve it to adapt to a changing world.”

The two Captains Regent of San Marino, Nicola Selva and Michele Muratori , took turns to present their joint address. Muratori said the future of work “must involve renewed and strengthened dialogue and exchange of views aimed at establishing shared principles." Selva called the ILO, “one of the brightest lights worldwide in the search for peace and prosperity.”

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Theresa May , told delegates they had a “moral duty” to “address a relic from the past, modern slavery”. She described it as a global epidemic that “reaches into every corner of our lives – in the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the services we pay for... No leader worthy of the name can look the other way while men, women and children are held against their will, forced to work for a pittance for no pay at all, routinely beaten, raped and tortured”. She concluded, “a future in which modern slavery becomes a thing of the past ... that is the future of work we can and must deliver.”

About two dozen more dignitaries are scheduled to address the ILO’s annual meeting, often known as the world parliament of labour. Nearly 6,000 delegates – representing governments, workers and employers – are discussing how to forge a future of work that offers social justice and decent work. They will also discuss a possible new standard on violence and harassment at the workplace.

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