Haiku time!

International Labour Conference, plenary meeting address Kris De Meester, Employer delegate Belgium

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues. Allow me to share with you some observations, comments and proposals regarding the DG report and the topics of this conference.

The topics I will cover in my speech are ‘realities, renewal and tripartite commitment’. I’m sure you recognize those words. They are the Director General’s words; they come from Guy Rider’s report.

The reality is that we know that the challenges ahead are huge. Unemployment, underemployment, structural reforms in the labour market to better reconcile offer and demand, sustainable and just social security schemes, activation of people in decent jobs, adjustment to demographic changes, bridge the skills gap, transition from education to work, life long learning, safe and healthy working conditions, respectful employers, arm people with the necessary capacities and behaviour to be mobile and remain in employment throughout their working life. We need to remove barriers to employment, enterprise creation and development, reduce administrative burden, reduction of complexity in regulation. We need to seek for a development that makes wiser use of nature and wider use of people; is sustainable development in other words. And so on…

How to deal with that? The answer is ‘renewal’! Or resilience if you like; the ability to cope with changes and challenges. Because change is the law of life. We need to embrace change, not to shield us from it, but use it as an arm to improve, to create a prosperous future for all. So let’s learn to cope with change, to be mobile, to adapt to circumstances. It’s better to be the motor of change rather than to undergo change. When nothing in life seems to be going right… go left! That’s resilience!

I suggest, we look for real levers, levers for change, levers for improvement, levers for sustainable growth. The reform process the ILO is undergoing can be a lever. Just one warning: make sure it’s not just top-down. Top-down needs to meet bottom up in order to be effective.

Also key is the ILO to walk the talk, to practice what it preaches. The committee on sustainable development for example is not showing the way. It is unacceptable that this committee was not working paperless or paper-smart. The report we received this morning was still warm as if it wanted to warn us for climate change.

What we need to do is continue to work with the same values and principles: tripartism, decent work, sustainable enterprises and development, justice, fairness… but with different methods and procedures that are more efficient and sustainable. I’m happy to see that reflected in the report:  “The lessons of the ILO’s past are that its future depends on constant renewal in the face of evolving realities and the active commitment of its tripartite constituency to unchanging values and goals.“

The real challenge is to design multipurpose policies, seek collaboration and synergies while continuing to focus on ILO core business as a centre of excellence: the world of work! An ILO with transversal action and a conference with interlinked and mutually supportive committees!

“A key instrument to make this work?”, you ask me. Tripartite commitment! Not just promoted with words and papers, but a strong and responsible social partnership as it says in the ILO Oslo declaration. Committed with our spirit, soul, and body, as the tripartite being is defined in the bible in the letter to Thessalonians

Will the ILO be able to do that? Will WE be able to all that?

Guy Rider said, during his visit at the employers group:  If you don’t find any merit in the report, at least the merit is that it is short, only 26 pages, 15 times shorter than the previous one. For me his real message was: let’s focus on quality, let’s focus on real outcomes. All member-states on an improvement path is much better than 10 idealistic, ambitious but non-ratified conventions. This is a realist approach, but you can be realist and optimist at the same time. An optimist is neither naive, nor blind to the facts, nor in denial of grim reality. An optimist believes in the optimal usage of all options available, no matter how limited. As such, an optimist always sees the big picture. How else to keep track of all that’s out there? An optimist is simply a proactive realist.

When grabbing apples from a basket, an idealist endlessly reaches for the best apple, a pessimist settles for the first one within reach, while an optimist drains the barrel, fishes out all the apples and makes pie.

We, as employer’s representatives may have different views on certain topics, but we are realistically optimistic and confident with the new style and focus, the DG introduced. So back to his report. Only one man can do better when it comes to short text messages: My fellow countryman Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European union, who visited the ILC last Friday. He says things in just 3 lines. Haiku time!

So here is my contribution.

“Words we want to hear

In a tripartite dialogue

Yes we do agree”


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