103rd ILC –

Plenary meeting address –

Kris De Meester –

Employer delegate Belgium –


Good morning ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues. While reflecting upon the Director-Generals report and the topics of this conference, there is one word that comes to my mind. That word is crossroads.

Many countries, economies, regions and the whole world find themselves at crossroads on a whole range of topics. Migration is growing and is likely to continue to do so. Patterns of migration are evolving rapidly and labor migration is too often perceived as negative and sometimes even leads to racist behavior. But that is denying the enormous economic benefits that can come from sound and integrated labor migration policies. Strength lies in differences, not in similarities and diversity drives the economically so needed innovation.

We need modernized and supplementary measures to address the significant implementation gaps remaining in order to effectively eradicate human trafficking and forced labor in all its forms. With at least 20.9 million people in forced labor globally, failure is not an option.

The challenge to improve the situation of the huge group of people that now has to survive in the informal economy is maybe even bigger. Then there are the employment and social gaps, demographic changes, the skills gap and so on. On all of these items the world is at crossroads…

But also the ILO itself is at a crossroads with a challenging structural, methodological and policy reform process. Break down silos, come in line with reality, make robust evidence-based analysis the starting point, not aspirations.

My fellow Belgian countryman and Nobel price winner Maurice Maeterlincksaid: “at every crossroads on the path that leads to the future, tradition has placed 10,000 men to guard the past. And you could add to that: 10.000 procedures equally blocking the path forward.

Now you can stand at the crossroads if you will, but not too long. A crossroads, what a pain in the ass spot to end up in! So make your choice, because if you don’t choose, things will move on without you and maybe not in the direction you want them to. So we need action, action, not words. We need to beat the guards and procedures of the past and go for hands-on, meaningful, efficient and effective policies, tools and guidance in the real world out there. For the ILO to do that, one of the absolute necessities is full tripartite support of all three constituents. I stress the words “full” and “three”.

Allow me quote the DG: “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.“ is what he keeps repeating in his speeches. And yes, I say this because I am referring to the CAS, the ILO surveillance mechanism. And I’m referring to the direct touch towards multinational enterprises. Only acceptable if coordinated via the employers’ structures. And I am referring to all of the above topics. How will you ever resolve or improve on employment, transition, get sustainable growth if we as employers group even have to fight for words like “enterprise” and “entrepreneurship”? If that is tripartism, we will stay stuck on our crossroads. And even if we solve those issues, there are more crossroads ahead. The world of work will never stop moving and will go faster and faster. Therefore we need flexibility to adapt to change and resilience to bounce back from disruptions.

Sustainable enterprises, private employment agencies, supply chains, contractor chains and value chains… they are not the enemy. They are an opportunity if approached well, if approached adequately. The only thing I dislike is the word chains, because that refers to barriers, to standstill, to a trap. I repeat once more: what we need is flexibility and the ability to cope with changes and challenges. Because change is the law of life, we need to embrace it, not to shield us from it. It’s better to be the motor of change rather than to undergo change.

Today, 70 years ago in history, humanity was at a crossroads. D-day, Normandy shores. This Conference and the years to come is D-day for the ILO. A new, straightforward wind has to land on Geneva shores to blow us out of the parallel universe we’re too often talking and working in. Let’s join forces; let’s all take up our responsibilities, as GB members, officials, staff, and participants in this and future conferences. We are not in it for ourselves but for our members and for all actors in the economy, formal or informal. Let us deliver on sustainable growth, decent work, proper protection, prosperity and peace. Like Guy Ryder said in his opening statement: “First, we need to discuss the right issues, secondly, we have to organize our work efficiently, and thirdly, we need to produce results.” Keep that in mind, all of you, all the time!

“You may not remember the time you let me go first.

Or the time you dropped back to tell me it wasn’t that far to go.

Or the time you waited at the crossroads for me to catch up.

You may not remember any of those, but I do and this is what I have to say to you:

Today, no matter what it takes, let’s ride home together.”



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