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International Labour Conference takes first step towards ground-breaking international regulation of biological hazards

  • The annual meeting of the International Labour Organization’s Member States concluded with progress towards regulating biohazards, a review of work conditions in the care sector, and the key role of fundamental principles and rights in a rapidly changing world of work.

GENEVA (ILO News) – Delegates attending the 112th International Labour Conference (ILC) have taken the initial step towards what would be the first-ever international standard governing biological hazards in the world of work.

There is currently no international regulation focused on biological hazards in the working environment. The consultations will continue at next year’s ILC, during the second sitting of the Standard-Setting Committee on Biological Hazards. The discussions could result in a new Convention and/or Recommendation, which would be the first international labour standard to be adopted since the access to a safe and healthy working environment was elevated to a Fundamental Principle and Right at Work.

Speaking at the closing ceremony, the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) director-general Gilbert F. Houngbo, praised the “intense, productive and rich” debates that had underpinned the ILC’s discussions.

“We face persistent insecurity and inequality as well as informality in the world,” he told delegates, adding that the discussions had “confirmed one critical aspect. We must act; not doing so is not an option.”

“You have responded to my call… to make social justice progress the basis for sustainable peace, shared prosperity, equal opportunities and a just transition,” he said.

In addition, the ILC approved a resolution put forward by the General Discussion Committee on Decent Work and the Care Economy. The resolution includes a request for the Director-General to prepare a plan of action on decent work and the care economy to support the Committee’s conclusions and to take those conclusions into account in future ILO programme and budget proposals.

The conclusions provide a common understanding of the care economy, its guiding principles and actors. They affirm that labour in the care economy is not a commodity and that all care workers should enjoy decent work. They also state that a well-functioning and robust care economy plays a critical role in building crisis resilience as well as leading to social and economic development. The conclusions also provide policy guidance recommendations and reaffirm the global leadership role of the ILO in advancing decent work in the sector at global, regional and national level.

The Conference also adopted the conclusions of the Recurrent Discussion Committee on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (FPRW). The conclusions underline that the FPRW are more needed and relevant than ever. They provide guidance for the ILO and its constituents to effectively respect, promote and realize these principles and rights in an era of rapid change in the world of work, including demographic, environmental and digital transitions. The conclusions identify four areas of focus for policy action: strengthening the governance of labour markets; freedom of association and social dialogue, including collective bargaining; formalization and sustainable enterprises; and equality and inclusion.

The conference also approved the report of the Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS), which examined the application of a number of ILO Conventions in 24 individual country cases. The CAS held a special sitting on Belarus, with a view to securing compliance with the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry, established in 2003, to examine the observance by the government of Belarus of ILO Conventions Nos. 87 and 98.

The CAS further considered the Committee of Experts’ General Survey on Labour Administration in a Changing World of Work. Members underlined the timeliness of the General Survey, given the rapid and fundamental changes and crises facing the world of work. They reaffirmed the vital role of effective labour administrations in achieving decent work, ensuring the promotion and respect of fundamental principles and rights at work, and creating an enabling environment for sustainable enterprises.

The ILC further included a Special Sitting on the situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories. The director-general, presenting his report to delegates, described the situation in Gaza as “catastrophic”, adding that “labour rights had been decimated”. He highlighted the need to prepare for a job-rich recovery, anchored in a commitment to provide decent work.

A subsequent meeting of the ILO’s development partners pledged financial and other forms of support for the ILO’s response to the crisis. This plan is built around three pillars: immediate relief, assessing the war’s labour market impact, and early recovery. Including the millions in new commitments secured at the development partners meeting, donor countries have committed to providing approximately US$10 million to support the ILO assistance programme for the occupied Palestinian territory. The programme includes employment promotion, social protection and business support.

Moreover, the Inaugural Forum of the Global Coalition for Social Justice took place during the ILC. President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is the co-chair of the coalition, and Nepali President Ramchandra Paudel each addressed the Forum, which more than 40 government ministers attended. The Forum’s programme included three high-level dialogues (on building the resilience of societies; improving coherence between economic and social policies; and fostering social dialogue for shared prosperity) and a special lunchtime discussion featuring the labour ministers of the current presidents of the G7 and G20, focusing on how these multilateral bodies can advance social justice.

“The fruitful discussions we had must now be must now be translated into concrete action to develop the Coalition’s thematic areas through individual and collective efforts,” explained Houngbo.

The Coalition, launched in 2023, has already attracted more than 290 members, all of whom are united in their commitment to promote greater social justice. Members include governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations, United Nations and regional organizations, regional financial institutions, academic institutions, international NGOs and enterprises.

The 112th ILC was held in Geneva from 3-14 June 2024. It was attended by more than 4,900 delegates – representing Governments, and Employers’ and Workers’ organizations. The 113rd ILC will be held in June 2025. The ILC is the annual meeting of the 187 Member States of the ILO, the United Nations specialized agency for the world of work.



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