From 27 May 2022 to 11 June 2022, the International Labour Organization (ILO) held its 110th International Labour Conference (ILC). More than 4,000 delegates representing Governments, Workers’ and Employers’ organisations from 178 ILO Member States attended the ILC.
Director-General of the ILO, Mr Guy Ryder, stressed in his opening address the need to defend the rule of law in the face of those who “resort to war to deny social justice”. In the same vein, he emphasised how lasting peace depends on social justice, and the achievement of social justice depends upon peace. As at every ILC, delegates will examine specific country cases that are brought before the Committee on the Application of Standards. He closed by urging delegates to show that “multilateralism – in this house allied with tripartism – actually works”. In his report, Mr Ryder focused on the importance of helping least developed countries recover from the recent economic recession. He noted that what happens to these countries will affect the entire international community. The 110th ILC marks Guy Ryder’s 10th and last conference as Director-General. The ILO Governing Body in Geneva has elected Gilbert F. Houngbo as their next Director-General, with his five-year term beginning on 1 October 2022.
Mr Houngbo said: “Although my origins are African my perspective is global. In an age, unfortunately of dividedness, my commitment to be a unifying Director-General stands firm. Governments, employers and workers alike, from all regions across the world, can rely and should rely on my total readiness to represent and advocate the views of all tripartite constituents of the organisation.”
Key discussions that took place during the Conference were the possible amendment of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, to include safe and healthy working conditions, quality apprenticeships, discussion on decent work and the social and solidarity economy, and the strategic objective of employment.
In his speech, Singapore Manpower Minister Dr Tan See Leng said that Singapore agrees with the ILO’s call for international solidarity and global partnerships. Mr Tan said “This is one of the key areas under the Doha programme of Action, which aims to strengthen commitment between Least Developed Countries and their development partners over the next decade. Such international cooperation is also important in ensuring that countries remain on track to achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.”
NTUC President Ms Mary Liew, who is a deputy member in the ILO’s Governing Body, called for the international community in her address to do more to support least developed countries in their fight against COVID-19. Ms Liew also urged high-income countries to donate more vaccine doses to least developed countries, citing that only 5 per cent of people in low-income countries are fully vaccinated. Additionally, she called on developed countries to hold on to their promise on delivering the goal of raising US$100 billion as part of the Green Climate Fund.
On Mr Houngbo’s election, Ms Liew said that this “marks a significant milestone in the 100-year history of the ILO as the first African. We in the ILO Workers’ Group believe that he can be the ‘Director-General for all workers’ regardless of which region they hail from. Brother Ryder has been a good friend of Singapore’s tripartite partners and appreciated how our tripartism has benefited our workers.” Ms Liew elaborated on how the Labour Movement’s warm relationship with Mr Ryder dates back to as early as 2002, when he was elected as the General Secretary of the then-International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. “We will miss his valuable advice when he retires from the ILO,” said Ms Liew. Ms Liew closed her address by calling on delegates to support the amendments of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), 2006. and hoped for a strong and favourable outcome.
Key Outcomes for Seafarers at Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) Negotiations
The Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, often referred to as the seafarers’ bill of rights, is an international treaty guaranteeing basic standards for workers, covering everything from medical care to repatriation. It is regularly amended by the Special Tripartite Committee (STC), which consists of representatives from labour, industry and governments. This year’s STC saw Nautilus International General Secretary Mr Mark Dickinson representing the workers’ group, with Singapore tripartite partner delegates supporting the amendments.
Based on the meeting which was concluded in June 2022, the latest negotiations drew on lessons from the challenges of the pandemic. The delegates agreed on a number of changes to improve seafarers’ conditions. Some of the agreed amendments coming out of the negotiations include:
- Seafarers have appropriately sized personal protective equipment (PPE), in particular to suit the increasing number of women seafarers
- Improved access to free drinking water, quality provisions and balanced diets
- Seafarers are provided with appropriate social connectivity by shipowners and States provide internet access in their ports
- Clarification on responsibilities for governments to provide information to seafarers on mandatory systems of protection that must be put in place by recruitment and placement agencies
General Secretary of Nautilus International and spokesperson for the Seafarers Group, Mr Mark Dickinson said, “We’ve learned a lot during the COVID period and that has been driving us to improve the MLC. A lack of contact with the outside world can have profound implications for seafarers’ well-being – which we saw the worst effect of during COVID. Being able to keep in touch with family and friends is a basic human right. That’s why we fought so hard for seafarers to be given internet access and to have a mandatory provision in the MLC.”
The STC also adopted several resolutions that will guide the future work of the Committee. These included further work on the eradication of sexual harassment at sea, the sustainability of the financial security provisions provided by P&I Clubs and insurers, and the ability of seafarers to enforce seafarers’ employment agreements. The amendments adopted by the Special Tripartite Committee (STC) communicated that seafarers were recognised as frontline workers with a key role in global supply chains. Praise was given to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which together with the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC), made efforts to reduce the severity of the crew change crisis.