Perspectives of International Non- Governmental Organisations
Published on the occasion of the 111th Session of the International Labour Organisation, 5.- 16 June 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland.
This paper intends to contribute to the transformation of the social dialogue in order to ensure that those who are marginalised, vulnerable and unrecognised in the informal economy can participate meaningfully and make full use of social dialogue as a public good. It is a first response to the Director General’s Global Coalition for Social Justice, which will be launched on the occasion of the 111th Session of the International Labour Conference. The paper intends also to commemorate 30 years of engagement of Kolping International at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 2023 exemplifying the continuous support of INGOs, particularly Catholic Inspired Organisations, for the ILO’s strive for social justice through decent work.
The world of labour faces grave challenges and is changing rapidly. On the one hand, digitalisation forces workers to permanently increase the skills and demands flexibility, supported by the need for green and sustainable economy. On the other hand, the still existing paradigm of growth fosters global market competition, which causes forms of modern slavery and exploitation by marking labour as cost factor. Both developments, however, jeopardize the fundamental labour rights and contradict the recognition that only social justice leads to peace in the world. Since Labour is not a commodity as confirmed by the ILO Centenary Declaration of 2019, decent work is a precondition for social justice. The Centenary Declaration also reconfirms the contribution of social dialogue to the overall cohesion of society.(2)
Furthermore, social dialogue is one of the four pillars of the ILO-Decent Work Concept(3). Besides the implementation of the fundamental rights at work, an effective and encompassing social protection scheme and favourable employment policies, social dialogue is another precondition for power equilibrium between employers and workers. Though always highlighted as the stronghold against crisis while praising countries with traditionally strong social partners as economically and socially resilient, social dialogue is frequently jeopardized and undermined in sectors, which are labour intensive (service sector, construction, care work) and countries, which are weak in participatory structures. Particularly in countries where the informal economy prevails, social dialogue lacks efficiency because of low percentage of organised workers whereby the majority of the work force cannot access negotiation tables. Since the 70’s of last century, the ILO looks into the informal economy as a labour reality for the majority of the global work force. With the Home Work Convention C177 (1996)(4) the social partners negotiated a labour sector in which mostly informally working women earn their living. At that time, only few civil society movements and labour oriented NGOs were invited to the negotiation parties and engaged in ratification campaigns. Lately, the adoption of the C189 Decent work for Domestic workers (2011)5 proofed that social partners need the expertise of stakeholders when it comes to implementing the precious and powerful slogan ‘Nothing about us without us’. INGOs with their local membership- based constituencies and affiliates are often closer to the informal workers than the unions. The reasons for this fact are multiple and rooted in the origin of the groups being self- aid groups, church and faith based organisations sui generis or backed by those. Hence, from the perspective of INGOs they are usually the only ones siding with the informal workers. They often provide access to their members for unions and promote the right to organise. Faith based INGOs expressed this understanding of their role of INGOs in social dialogue in a statement to the social partners and the new Director General of the ILO after the 110th session of the ILC in 2022.6
Nowadays, the motto ‘Nothing about us without us’ proves to be even more significant in the broader context of protecting civic space and participation. Apparently, over the last two decades the fight against terrorism, the financial, climate, health crises and imperialistic attacks provide many causes for many countries to minimise the access of civil society to meaningful participation in shaping the future of their societies. Workers being citizens and consumers as well as caretakers of resources and maintainers of their societies are part of civil society and also part of the economic world. Therefore, social dialogue is a guarantor for social peace and also a fundamental element of civil society participation.
The ILO and INGOs
Social dialogue has been under pressure for many years. Therefore, it was and is a long-term concern for INGOs. In all discussion around the agenda of the ILCs, INGOs highlight the need for social dialogue, provide inputs for rethinking social dialogue facing the challenges for decent work and social justice. INGOs have given continuous support to social partners, while safeguarding the social dialogue. While acknowledging the most efficient and significant structure of tripartism in the ILO, the INGOs at the ILO consider themselves as organisations rooted in the grassroot movements of their members and national constituencies. They take up the immediate concerns of their members regarding matters of ecological, economic and social dimension. Thereby, they support the criteria for INGOs registered at the ILO being member based and globally working around all dimension of labour and work. Over the years, many INGOs have built relations to unions on national and international levels, so that representatives are integrated in the national delegations of unions, being advisors and negotiators for specific issues as was experienced with the Homeworkers (C177), the Domestic Workers (C189) and on the concern of sexual harassment (C190)7.
In the past INGOs have also proven to be important supporters for the ratification processes, especially on Conventions concerning workers in the informal economy since those are often members of INGOs and International Labour Movements. When it comes to further advocacy work, INGOs rooted in the informal economy, contribute to discovery and awareness rising on labour law violations and provide access for unions to vulnerable groups while ensuring their protection against arbitrariness. Their international structure provides access to far-reaching platforms for dialogue. Critical aspects, like the often very specific approach of INGOs, which does not consider the broader context of the world of work, needs attention. By claiming their own right to speak and to participate in negotiation, the negotiation power itself, if not concretized with the social partners is jeopardized. Furthermore, INGOs themselves sometimes do not conform to the values of labour laws and policies due to financial concerns and unawareness of their responsibility as employers. The legal settings in the ILO member countries where INGOs work sometimes foster the lack of credibility or – on another level – hinder the participation of INGOs in social dialogue altogether. Nevertheless, there is benefit in a trusting and mindful cooperation with social partners. Work around the ILO brings INGOs and social partners together and gives opportunity to do advocacy work. This advocacy work originates from the grassroot level. Its mandate to give a voice to the poor and the vulnerable on international level enables participation in ecological, economic and social aspects of the future of work. Using the possibilities the ILO provides gives INGOs the chance of being heard by social partners and governments. Making use of this chance on international level encourages INGOs to improve their relations to social partners also on the national level. It also has the potential to encourage social partners to take their place in the sharing of social difficulties in order to define standards of decent work. Common and individual statements, reports, results of discussions and workshops are useful to inform, train and empower members and other partners. They are as well a capacity training for negotiation skills, campaigning and legal issues.
This not only gives motivation to engage on international negotiation tables to the leaders of INGOs but first and foremost to the broad member base struggling with the improvement of the world of work on the grassroot level.
Recommendations for an efficient and meaningful social dialogue
The Global Commission on the Future of Work, which concluded its work before the centenary anniversary of the ILO in 20198, emphasized social dialogue to be a public good. In the rapidly changing world of work with various forms of precarious work in the digital and service oriented sectors, this public good has to be safeguarded and the awareness of it revived, social dialogue remodeled.
A unique and outstanding contribution to the 100 years anniversary of the ILO and the future of social dialogue was the ‘Shaping the Future of Work’ Document of Churches and Catholic INGOs in the European Union, published on 27th November 2018.9
The following recommendations do not only reflect the deliberations of this initiative but also the results of many years of debate around this topic.
What the ILO should do:
On national level
- Introduce a contact point on national level at ILO office
- Initiate round tables before ILC on the upcoming agenda
- Promote dialogue between different actors in all ILO member countries
At the International Labour Conference and ILO initiatives
- Increase speaking time for INGO I n the committees
- Ensure presence and effective participation of INGOs, esp. in the Global Coalition for Social Justice
- Limit the overall size of delegations in presence and facilitate virtual participation
What Social partners could do
- Initiate national dialogues on the agenda of upcoming ILC
- Install contact points for easy access and exchange on reports
- Consider opening the delegations to NGO participation as advisors on a regular base
What INGOs could do
- Mobilise their national members to have regular relations with the Union Federation
and Employers’ Federation
- Mobilise their members to join their international delegations to ILC
- Engage in regular exchange with the Labour relevant departments of governments
- Build awareness on work of the ILO as part of global governance
- Support the national affiliates and members to build contacts and networks with the
social partners and with each other.