It’s been almost a century now since the inception of International Labour Organisation. The idea behind its formation was noble: social protection, improving peace among classes and pursuing justice and work opportunities for all. Its founders and core members exchanged knowledge, experiences, and ideas on social policy. The ideology was one of consensus, not confrontation.
Unlike other United Nations specialized agencies, the ILO has a tripartite governing structure – representing governments, employers, and workers. The rationale behind this unique structure was the creation of free and open debate among all stakeholders.
Every time workers faced hardships in any corner of the world, peaceful resolution was brought about through dialogue and trading of ideas. It was not about putting governments and employers down, it was about ensuring, through cooperation, that workers were given their due.
Cut to modern times. It’s quite different today.
ILO’s guiding principles of transparency and cooperation has been replaced with opaque, shady dealings and hostility. Where there was once mutual aid for a common cause, there are now undue external interferences and regular attempts by them to hijack policy decisions that ILO, and only ILO, is mandated to make.
In the second decade of the 21st century, we have been seeing a disturbing trend. Trade unions across the board have become hardliners, adopting aggressive tactics in the name of worker welfare. They have been hammering home a very disconcerting message that has formed the heart of their campaign against certain victim nations, mostly belonging to the Middle-East: ‘We are big brothers, and we are watching you.’
This cannot be the mindset of people who claim to champion the workers’ cause. There is more than a hint of snobbishness. It reflects their inherent characteristic of looking down upon people who are not from the west.
Why else have we never had a non-western vice-chairperson of the 14-member workers’ group? Why can’t an African or an Asian member take that responsibility? After all, the workers from these regions are the ones who are mostly affected, making it natural for their leaders to be the most suitable candidates for the position. Whether as displaced people or labor migrants, millions of Africans join the desperate, massive population movements across national boundaries to the West and the Middle-East. In search of livelihood, many have reportedly faced rejection and victimization in the west.
In the scheme of things in ILO governing body, the worker group’s ‘chair’ holds great significance and comes with big responsibility. It requires the person to be non-partisan, immune to external pressures with a desire for fairness. But how do you exercise fairness when you are constantly fed orders from a powerful external body, to which you belong yourself?
Luc Cortebeeck, the incumbent vice-chairperson, might look back at his days in office rather regrettably one day.
International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), a Belgium-based global trade union, which has engulfed almost every national trade union in the world, has been calling the shots and dictating terms in policy-making and agenda-setting in ILO. Allegedly representing faceless global elites, ITUC has been pulling the strings through Luc, who has so far carried out various instructions coming out of the ITUC headquarters.
Email dump released by Global Leaks in 2016, shows how ITUC and Luc secretly colluded, sharing strategies. Luc was clearly instructed through a ‘Lobby note’ email to follow instruction which has been communicated by ITUC.
In normal circumstances, a new election means new leader with different ideas. But with Luc’s term ending around June, the next vice-chairperson will represent same values and same loyalty to ITUC. After all, he or she will be chosen by ITUC itself. Nothing will change. Every member of the worker group is affiliated to ITUC so there is no real democracy here. Whatever the ITUC as a singular body decides is quietly followed by all 14 members. If a member feels differently and voices accordingly, he or she faces exit from ILO.
ILO needs to be more watchful. It is considered to a place of fairness for all, not just workers. Participation from external bodies like ITUC is welcome, but not when that privilege is exploited. ITUC can contribute a lot if it starts to adopt a more patient and fair attitude towards the problem of workers and employers. It needs to be more flexible and certainly more humble.