France voices commitment to workers’ rights

International Labour Conference – Speech by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic (excerpts)

Geneva, 11 June 2015

(…)

I once again want to reaffirm France’s commitment to the International Labour Organization.

I’m also speaking in the context of preparations for the Climate Conference, because my country has the responsibility of hosting this major meeting the world is having with itself. In view of the consequences which an agreement or a failure at this conference could have, it’s all the more important for me to highlight the International Labour Organization’s possible role in this major event. (…)

ILO conventions/unemployment/labour standards

France is proud of being one of the countries that has ratified the largest number of ILO conventions: 125 in total. By the end of this year, it will ratify the 2014 [protocol to the] Forced Labour Convention, No.29, and then the one on agricultural labour. It would be pointless for your organization, governments and the social partners to make commitments through the conventions and for countries then to delay ratifying them, thus undermining the effectiveness of their promises. For nearly a century, France has understood your organization’s values and principles. Promoting social progress, protecting workers more effectively, asserting the dignity of work: the work that emancipates, the work that liberates, the work that elevates and not the work that oppresses, enslaves and exploits. Of all organizations, the International Labour Organization is the one that has brought forward social progress by means of a principle, a method which is valid both internationally and nationally: namely tripartism, the ability to make unions, employers’ organizations and governments work together.

It’s thanks to this system that there have been 189 conventions and 203 recommendations and that union freedom, collective negotiation, social dialogue, health at work, welfare, and employment conditions, among other things, have made progress. At the same time, with the same frankness, let’s look at the reality. Unemployment is hitting too many workers. The figures put forward – 200 million people worldwide – are a poor indication of the reality, because too many active people are discouraged and hampered in accessing their rights and accessing employment. No region, no country is immune to this scourge. While the governments I’ve formed in the past three years have striven so hard to fight unemployment and establish instruments for creating employment, we must also continue this task untiringly, because unemployment in France has risen over the past 10 years.

There’s also this observation – and it’s harsh – when so many individuals are hit by destitution and poverty and deprived of all welfare. When more than two million people die every year because of work, and when 170 million children are – contrary to all the rules – exploited in work. That’s the huge task still facing us today: to be able to make international standards effective and, at the same time, continue promoting employment and dignity. What’s at issue is the question of progress. This question is being raised all over the world. The development of techniques, the development of economies, the transformation of businesses, the development of trade – do all those enable progress? Does progress benefit everyone?

The world is changing: because economies, businesses and employees are competing against each other every day, and because large-scale transformations are under way, yes, we must collectively make progress accessible to all.

We mustn’t simply look at the past as if it were a golden age. It wasn’t. (…)

Globalization/competitiveness/job safeguards

There’s technological change, with the improvement and sometimes the deterioration it can bring. With the energy transition, if we commit ourselves resolutely along that path, if we’re also capable of changing our development models, if we open up our markets and, at the same time, impose new rules and new standards, if we’re capable of creating more competition between businesses but more rights for employees, this globalization of challenges is there before us, and no country, whatever its economic and social system, can be immune to it. No country – even if there are forces proclaiming that it’s possible to close oneself off, barricade oneself in, protect oneself from the world – will be able to escape opening up, freedom and the reality of trade.

This trend is inexorable. It may be beneficial if we’re capable of promoting a number of values, defining a number of rules and combating inequalities. However, if we allow this world to be created, then gradually – without there necessarily being any progress for the emerging countries’ populations – there will be reversals of rights everywhere. So we must ensure that this progress can be shared.

The question is also being raised in Europe. The crisis has engendered painful austerity policies. Social achievements have been undermined. Labour markets have been reformed, and the growth that is returning isn’t dispelling the questions raised about the future of labour itself. That, Director-General, is what you’ve asked us to consider. Therein lies your organization’s legitimacy and strength: not only because it’s a product of history, founded on social justice and labour, which must be respected, but also because you’re the only organization at global level that can anticipate changes, control them and define rules to ensure that economic progress can engender social progress.

In this regard, I welcome the Decent Work Agenda that you’re promoting on behalf of the ILO. (…) We must not only promote growth, seek it, stimulate it through investment policies – and this is true particularly in Europe – but also implement training and qualification policies to raise the level of employment.

I also want to emphasize the safeguards that must be provided for poor workers, who must be represented and defended everywhere. (…) Currently, more than 20 million people are still the victims of forced labour. One in two employees in the world works in the informal economy. What conclusion should we draw from this? That universal rights must be our ambition and that the spread of welfare – which, I remind you, benefits only three in every 10 workers worldwide – must be a priority.

Your organization’s contribution is essential in order to give globalization a social dimension and to uphold this idea France believes in, because that’s its principal value: namely, that competitiveness – necessary, essential for us to maintain our rank in the world, champion our products and promote high-quality work – cannot be achieved at the cost of safeguards and that certain social rules, social dialogue, can strengthen it. (…)

So I congratulate the Director-General on the calibre of his speeches at major summits and I ask the International Labour Organization to get more involved in preparations for all conferences. There are several taking shape, including the conference on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. (…)

Development issues must also be looked at in relation to the raising of social standards. I also ask the International Labour Organization to get more involved in trade negotiations, which have consequences on employment. (…)

ILO/France/labour reforms/social dialogue

I’ve just signed – the Labour Minister did so on my behalf – the new partnership reached between the International Labour Organization and France for the period 2015-2019. We’ve focused our cooperation on businesses’ social responsibility, on the development of welfare and on promoting decent work. For France, these aren’t formulae, they’re obligations. In the actions we’re going to carry out together, we’ll ensure – particularly for the African continent, which is France’s friend – that we can act to raise training and qualification levels further. (…)

Whether it be work contracts, rules on employee representation or social cover, yes, changes are needed! Yes, changes are needed! Yes, reforms are needed! My belief has been that on those issues, on those principles – work contracts, rules on cover for risks, particularly sickness and retirement, and employee representation – there’s a set of basic rights that must be protected. This hasn’t prevented us conducting negotiations or taking legislative measures whenever we’ve thought that by respecting those principles we can provide greater flexibility, a greater capacity for intervention and more opportunities for investment alongside businesses.

I’ll give a few illustrations of this. My country’s union organizations have promoted job security in different ways. It’s been a priority for us. Ensuring that when a business runs into difficulties, this isn’t systematically, automatically reflected in job losses and that every other solution is looked for. Likewise, the pensions system must necessarily change to take increased life expectancy into account. I’ve wanted the gruelling nature of some jobs to start being taken into account – and this too was a proposal put forward by the union organizations and also understood by employers representatives. Then, on the practicalities, we’re ensuring that it can be as simple as possible: that employees who have done especially tough jobs can retire earlier, even though we must lengthen contribution periods: for us, it’s also been an opportunity to show that even in these difficult times, progress is possible. We’ve even created, in another sphere, a new right for employees in France: the individual training account, so that all employees can have the opportunity to qualify, to train throughout their professional careers. Today I’ve proposed that we create a personal activity account that will combine all the rights employees have to training or leave, so that throughout their lives we can cover changes and adaptations and sometimes even cope with sudden breaks. For them to have capital. Yes, for work to have a personal capital ensuring people can decide about their lives.

As we’ve understood, the goal is to ensure greater stability, visibility in a world which itself is uncertain. (…)

How can we provide this visibility, this predictability worldwide?

We also wanted social dialogue, on which your organization is based, to be stepped up in France. Social dialogue is primarily the responsibility of employers and unions. (…)

We have this obligation to seek all the conditions for encouraging recruitment and creating jobs. The first condition is growth. (…)

Here too, we wanted to create clear rules for the social partners and for businesses; this is the case, among other things, for judicial procedures, disputes, to ensure that employees know exactly how long it will take for them to be compensated for the rights they’ve lost or the losses they’ve sustained and, similarly, for businesses to know over what period of time and to what extent, if there have been abuses, they can be penalized.

We also wanted to provide greater flexibility in fixed-term contracts whilst avoiding the possibility of greater job insecurity. (…)

We wanted to develop apprenticeships so that more young people can get into employment, without undermining the principles of security. (…)

Climate/energy transition

I want to finish by talking about the environment, given the responsibility of France, and the world above all, because France alone won’t be able to resolve the climate issue. We can still claim many things in France, but that isn’t one of them. So an agreement will have to be found, and an agreement with every country, because consensus must prevail. The agreement must be universal. (…) So a universal agreement: this means that all countries must commit themselves. The agreement must be differentiated because developing countries mustn’t be bound in the same way as countries which have already taken a great deal from the planet in terms of natural resources. We want this agreement to be binding, i.e. regularly verified and assessed so that we can be sure we’ll prevent the planet from warming up beyond 2ºC, which is the target.

So we want states to be making contributions already. That’s the responsibility of governments. As I speak, only 40 countries – 40 – have submitted their contributions. When we look at these contributions in detail – and this applies to a number of rich countries – efforts are as yet inadequate for reaching the goal. We’re going to exert the necessary pressure on the governments. This is France’s role and also the role of everyone who can take action, and you can do so with regard to your governments. (…)

There will be no agreement unless there is the finance expected – expected particularly by developing countries, by the most fragile countries, the most vulnerable countries – in other words, the majority of countries. (…)

From 2020 onwards, we must release $100 billion [a year] to guarantee the adaptation and transition of the countries which need to access technology, develop renewable energy and increase investment in energy efficiency. Unless the $100 billion comes from the public and private sectors, major international financial institutions, private businesses and non-governmental players, there will be no agreement.

Finally, if we want to succeed with the Paris conference, there must be what’s called the Lima-Paris Action Agenda. That’s what I came to appeal to you about. The Lima-Paris Action Agenda means this: what can major non-governmental organizations do? But above all, what can businesses and social stakeholders do to succeed with the energy transition and the fight against global warming? So we need the full involvement of these partners, of you, social actors and business representatives. It’s in the interest of the planet, it’s in the interest of businesses, it’s in the interest of economic development and it’s in the interest of social progress. (…)

If we create new constraints, new rules, if we introduce a carbon price continent-wide or worldwide, won’t it discourage investment and hinder employment? It’s the complete opposite. Because we’re going to have new rules – on behaviour, production, transport, consumption –, because we’re going to fight global warming and ensure the energy transition, we’re going to create more economic activity, invest more and have more growth.

The International Labour Organization – and I think its estimate must be right – is talking about 60 million jobs over the next 20 years. (…)

ILO’s role

Your organization’s responsibility is to innovate, invent and devise. You have to do this with the same principles as those which governed your creation: social dialogue, adherence to standards and also respect for human dignity. (…)

I’m not forgetting that your organization was born right after a war. We’re here in a symbolic place. What must be avoided always is conflict, confrontation. The role of the International [Labour] Organization isn’t to confuse interests, it isn’t to cover up disputes; it’s to ensure that we can speak, negotiate, take decisions and move the world forward together.

Thank you./.

Published on 16/02/2016

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