First-person perspectives on the world of work
Photo: Violaine Martin / ILO

The Future of Work Podcast

Episode 57
Social justice

ILO Director-General: What to expect at the 2024 International Labour Conference

31 May 2024

The 112th International Labour Conference – ILC – opens on the 3rd of June in Geneva. Often described as an international parliament of labour, over 5000 government, employers’ and workers’ representatives from the ILO’s 187 Member States will attend the annual meeting.

Ahead of the two-week conference, the ILO’s Director-General, Gilbert F. Houngbo, explains the significance of the key social and labour questions that are on the agenda, and why they matter in light of the state of our world today. Items include the protection of workers against the effects of climate change and biological hazards, decent work in the care economy and fundamental principles and rights at work.

The inaugural forum of the Global Coalition for Social Justice will also take place at the ILC. A multilateral initiative led by the ILO, the Coalition aims to accelerate progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by championing social justice on a global scale.



Hello, and welcome to this episode of The Future of Work podcast,

where we discuss the changes and challenges

facing the world of work.

I am Martin Murphy.

We have with us today a very special guest,

the ILO's Director-General Gilbert Houngbo.

DG, welcome to The Future of Work podcast.

A pleasure to have you with us.

We have a lot of things to talk about during this podcast.

As we know, the International Labour Conference opens

on the 3rd of June here in Geneva, and the ILC is often compared

to the international parliament of work,

and it's set to take place at a time when the world of work

and the global economy are once again facing many, many challenges.

Now we will discuss the conference more in detail

later on, but first, I would like to look at the current situation

of employment around the world.

The ILO's latest update of the World Social

and Employment Outlook estimates

that the global unemployment rates in 2024 will be 4.9%.

This is a decline from the 5% rate recorded in 2023,

and it's also a more positive outlook than the previous ILO

projection for global unemployment in 2024, which was set at 5.2%.

DG, what is your reaction to what appears to be some positive news?

First of all, thank you for receiving me today.

In fact, I'm not surprised.

What we see happening is that globally there is a recovery since COVID.

We mentioned that back at the earlier stage in the year,

in January, that the world is recovering in terms of the labour market.

Yes, our estimate back then was about 5.2% the global unemployment rate,

which now clearly is down to 4.9%.

Somehow, let's put it this way, it's good news

that we have less and less unemployed people.

However, when you start unpacking those global statistic,

that's where it could be a bit troublesome.

First of all, we know that although the global unemployment--

In the last year and a half, two years or so,

ILO has been measuring what we call the job gaps,

which include in addition to people registered as unemployed,

includes also people who have given up looking for jobs.

We talk about 402 million, which is quite huge.

We are also talking about the gap,

the increasing inequality between men and women

and inequality between the region deepening.

In quantity, maybe things are kind of "good news",

but when you start looking at the quality, it's really troublesome.

Now some of the issues that you mentioned just now will be discussed

at the International Labour Conference.

We call it the world parliament of labour.

Of course, we have a very full agenda.

One of the things which is different in this International Labour Conference

is that the Global Coalition for Social Justice

will hold its first forum on the 13th of June.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the coalition,

where it's at, what the purpose of it is, and also why is it a coalition

that includes not only traditional ILO stakeholders

but also non-traditional stakeholders?

First of all, since the decision made by our Governing Body, the GB,

in November to officially create a coalition,

I have been quite very humbled about the responsiveness of,

first of all, our constituents, as you mentioned,

but also the non-traditional ILO constituent.

Now we are talking about more than 60 or close to,

I think 63, 64 Member States that have officially confirmed

their participation and their partnership.

We expect additional Member States

during the conference to really be forthcoming.

Globally, including the workers' organizations,

employers' organizations, we have about 15 or so UN agencies,

regional financial institutions,

we have NGOs, international NGOs,

we have WTO from the economic world,

the Oxfam of this world, and the academic.

It's really widespread.

What does that tell us?

It tells us that when we talk about social justice,

the whole world is at stake and people really understand that.

Of course, it's also we talk about labour is not a commodity.

We do believe, I do believe that the beginning of social justice

is to have a dignified work, a dignified job, a decent job on that.

It also means that equal access,

equal access to education, equal access to health,

to basic health and so forth.

You could imagine-- or equal access to economic opportunities.

This is why it goes

beyond the traditional ILO constituent.

Very quickly, where we stand now,

we had last week the first meeting of the--

we set up this kind of coordinating group,

and we had its first meeting last week, which was quite very productive.

We will expect, between now and the end of the year,

finalizing, fine-tuning the specific thematics,

where we really want to zero in as the first batch,

and again having a work plan that we'll start implementing in 2025.

One of the issues that underpins social justice is, of course,

what here at the ILO we call

the fundamental principles and rights at work.

The International Labour Conference is having

a discussion on this issue, and of course this links back

to the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

How can the ILO ensure that these fundamental principles

and rights at work are up to date in a changing world of work,

where you have issues like remote work and digital platforms,

growing demographics, climate change?

Of course, we are in a world today where everything is moving

at a very, very fast pace.

In addition to what you mentioned,

you also have to add the artificial intelligence,

particularly the Gen AI.

All of that bring us to make sure that we in ILO, we are also up to date.

This is why we have this recurrent discussion, to have this opportunity.

That's where the expression you used

at the beginning of being the parliament of labour

comes to play, so for all our constituents to be able to exchange,

to dialogue, to debate, to agree, to disagree,

so we can really come to a way forward in responding

to the new challenges that we are facing.

We are expecting quite a very, very big discussion.

We think that for us in ILO, out of that,

it will also give us some guidance

and particularly at a time where we are working

on our strategic plan for the next four years.

The ILC will also hold a first standard-setting

discussion on protection against biological hazards.

Why do we need a new international standard?

We don't know what that international standard will be,

right, but why do we need a new international standard

on biological hazards at work in particular?

You see,

it's important to keep in mind that we know that we have a lot of,

sometimes, criticism that there are too many

or too much standards, and the world-.

that we don't need more standards and et cetera.

ILO, the organization and the office,

we have been very mindful listening to those criticism.

This is why a few years back, the Governing Body has set up

this tripartite working group to review

all the standards and see what needs

to be updated or what needs to be parked, and et cetera.

Ironically, one of the recommendations

we got from this working group

is also to address that missing challenges we have.

It became very clear that there was a gap, a missing gap,

when you talk about the biological hazard on that.

Again, obviously, after COVID,

everybody understood those gaps are serious ones.

It's in response to this request

by the working group that has been reviewing it.

It's going to be a double discussion.

We're going to have the first discussion this year,

which will continue next year, 2025.

By then, we will see what type of instrument

could be best fit to address - the most important, from what I see,

is to ensure that we all agree on those gaps

that have been identified and ensure that the final recommendation,

the final resolution respond to that shortcoming.

The ILC, of course, does many things.

It has different committees.

One of them is the Committee

on the Application of Standards.

We're not going to talk about that.

It's a different thing.

There is another very interesting general discussion that's taking place,

which is on decent work and the care economy.

Why does the ILO need to turn its attention to this issue?

Why is better protection of care economy workers,

who are predominantly women and migrants, needed?

Of course, there's a lot of issues

and opportunities around the whole care economy.

When we talk about care economy, you talk about domestic workers.

When you talk about domestic workers,

we talk about gender because predominantly,

it's close to 70% - 75% are women.

You talk about salary, pay gap between women and men.

You talk about migration.

You talk about aging population.

You talk about circular labour migration.

It's a whole set of issues, economic and social dimension,

which are linked to the care economy.

Quite frankly, the more that we in the whole global world,

the longer we live,

the more we're going to be in need of this care economy,

so it's important for us to have this general discussion.

Again, to ensure that moving forward,

our work is really adjusted accordingly to the finding

and the recommendation coming out of that discussion.

Finally, the ILC is also discussing your report

on the situation of workers in the occupied Arab territories.

This report, as all the reports of the ILC,

can be found in the ILC website.

What is your reaction to this report?

Listen, it's quite a very terrible, terrible,

terrible situation we're facing in Gaza right now.

We do know that all of that started

on October 7 with the attack of Hamas against Israel,

but we talk today about more than 35,000 people losing their life.

Again, recently, we know that this bombing,

that with 45 dead in a refugee camp,

innocent children, women, old people,

and men losing their life, it's got to stop.

We really need to have this stopped

and really start talking about two-state solution.

The world of work is obviously affected.

This is what our finding

with the unemployment rate in Gaza doubling,

essentially, from 25% which was already difficult,

25% unemployment rate before October 7.

Now we're talking about 45% - 46% unemployment rate,

which is almost one person out of two, is unbearable.

We just cannot, the world cannot continue living with that,

so something decisive has to happen.

I'm really, again, calling for a stop of the war

and the negotiation for a two-state solution.

DG, thank you very much for your time.

We know it's very busy times for you and everyone here at the ILO.

Thank you everyone for tuning in.

Just a final reminder that there's a lot more information

on the different things that the DG has been talking about.

You can find it on social media.

You can follow us at International Labour Organization

on LinkedIn, ilo.org on Facebook and Instagram, and @ilo on X.

Thank you very much for everyone for tuning in,

and we'll see you in the next episode.