Published on 20th June 2023
4 billion of our citizens without social protection, 214 million workers earning less than the poverty line, a large number of job-creating micro and small enterprises gone bankrupt, women earning on average 20 per cent less than their male colleagues… In his opening address to the 2023 International Labour Conference (ILC), Gilbert Houngbo, Director General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), laid clearly the pressing issues that the world of work faces today. In a nutshell: the lack of social justice for all and the need to achieve a just transition to more sustainable and inclusive economies.
“Reconciling the needs of employers and workers will only work if it’s supported by proper regulation and policies enabling all labour market players to deploy their potential,” says Denis Pennel, Managing Director of the World Employment Confederation. “I am glad that a strong delegation of WEC members could join the International Labour Conference to ensure that the role of the private employment services sector as a pathway to decent and formal employment is acknowledged and encouraged.”
The 2023 ILC featured a standard-setting discussion on apprenticeships, a policy debate on just transition and a discussion on labour protection, which includes a focus on fixed-term contracts and temporary employment.
On the establishment of a regulatory framework on quality apprenticeships, the private employment services sector managed to ensure that labour market intermediaries, such as temporary work agencies and other private employment services, are recognised as a provider of dual learning and, as such, that they are adequately involved in apprenticeships.
On the discussion around labour protection, the sector called for a more nuanced definition of temporary work, differentiating direct fixed-term contracts and agency work contracts. Following the ILC negotiations, this outcome has been achieved. WEC delegates highlighted that agency work is the only form of flexible work that is organised as a sector, including sector-specific regulation that ensures fair and decent working conditions.
Finally, regarding the debate on just transition, the private employment services sector sees skilling / reskilling / cross-skilling / upskilling as an area of focus to enable such a transition. Lifting people out of informality will also be essential and is also an area where the sector can play a key role. Though the importance of skills for just transitions has been recognised during the ILC, the overall debates on the topic remained challenging, focusing too much on the challenges and not sufficiently on the opportunities offered by economic transformation processes.
Often dubbed as “the UN Parliament for work”, the International Labour Conference is an annual gathering of representatives from governments, employers and trade unions from the 187 ILO member countries. During two weeks, they discuss labour standards and employment policy topics. In addition to the WEC delegation, several WEC members are also involved through their national employers’ organisations and WEC also worked closely with the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) in preparation of the ILC.