Address by His Majesty the King at the International Labour Conference
(Address pronounced in French)
Distinguished members of the Conference,
I am pleased to be able to participate in your centenary session. This is an opportunity for all our countries to reaffirm our commitment to the advancement of social justice and the promotion of decent work. As the International Labour Organization is the oldest institution in the UN system, this is also an opportunity to recall our unwavering faith in multilateralism.
The ILO was born out of the deep wounds of the First World War with the aim of fighting the exploitation of workers in the industrialised nations of the time. The founders of the ILO, which include Belgium, affirmed the importance of social justice in guaranteeing peace and security. The preamble to the ILO Constitution recalls that "universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice," and also that "whereas conditions of labour exist involving such injustice, hardship and privation to large numbers of people as to produce unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world are imperilled." The founding fathers of the ILO realised that "an improvement of those conditions is urgently required".
Belgium has been engaged actively, and always in a spirit of consensus, in both the preparation and the implementation of the Organization's strategic objectives. Many Belgians have been heavily involved in this work, with idealism and conviction. Exactly 75 years ago, when Belgium introduced social dialogue and tripartism, it was inspired by the values and conventions of the ILO. Tripartite social dialogue has been central to the organisation of work in my country to date, and we are profoundly attached to this principle. My country has ratified 113 conventions in the field of the promotion and implementation of fundamental rights and principles. We will soon deposit the instrument of ratification of the 2014 Protocol to the Convention on Forced Labour. The Protocol targets contemporary forms of forced labour, such as human trafficking, and it marks a major step in the fight against forced labour worldwide. Access to and the creation of decent jobs remain at the heart of our employment policy, as illustrated by the interprofessional agreement for 2019-2020, which forms the basis of the sectoral collective agreements that determine the working conditions of 96% of Belgian workers and employees.
I would like to pay tribute here to the sustained efforts throughout this century of existence and to the progress made all over the world thanks to the action of the ILO. The Organization has managed to adapt to the many events that have marked these hundred years. It has survived the abolition of the League of Nations, the Second World War, the Cold War, the fall of communism, and globalisation. Its standard-setting role has allowed the development of workers' rights and the improvement of their working conditions. As a result of its action, child labour has been significantly reduced, women have been able to access the labour market, millions of workers have escaped poverty, working time has been reduced, and most countries have at least a basic social security system. Progress has been uneven, but real, and this must remain a source of hope and encouragement for your future action.
Today, after the enormous progress made, there are still very serious decent work deficits. As early as 1919, it was recognised that the failure of any nation to adopt humane working conditions of labour was an obstacle in the way of other nations desiring to improve conditions in their own countries. The ILO has responded to economic interdependence through international social cooperation to harmonise working conditions. These considerations are still very relevant one hundred years later. The ILO's raison d'être as a world labour parliament is even more justified in today's changing world.
In a context of increased globalisation and interdependence, growing inequalities and the sense of insecurity they create, discrimination against women, migration, the resurgence of nationalist and identity-based movements, the crisis of multilateralism, the technological revolution and global warming all represent challenges that have to be met if we are to ensure a better future for humanity. These challenges are an opportunity for the ILO to gain new momentum and formulate new responses based on the proven principles of solidarity and economic democracy. In this regard, I welcome your initiative, Director-General, to create the Global Commission on the Future of Work. In its report "Work for a brighter future", the Commission recommends ten human-centred objectives to be pursued in national strategies, and several more specific areas of action for the ILO.
The Organization has an important role to play in encouraging all its Member States to make a concrete commitment to greater social justice and to invest in people. Working methods will have to change profoundly under the combined effect of technological change and the urgent need to preserve our environment. The classic growth model has reached its limits and something radically new will have to replace it.
Digitisation will not only kill jobs, but also create new ones. A recent study in Belgium calculated that 3.7 new jobs will be created for every job lost due to digitalisation. The very content of many existing jobs will change. The vast majority of workers will have to retrain and a significant number will have to completely change profession. This is a major responsibility for authorities, employers and trade unions. Employers must commit themselves to providing their employees with the opportunity to update their skills. Workers in declining trades need timely support to retrain.
All these transformations require considerable vigilance in our countries, as well as great inventiveness on the part of the ILO. The social advances of the past will have to be secured against new economic interests. The inclusive tripartite model and social dialogue must be protected and boosted. They are both stabilising factors and great assets for better managing the transition.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The protection of human dignity is an absolute principle that must guide us through the current and future turmoil of the 21st century. It is in light of this conviction that the main areas of action proposed by the Global Commission on the Future of Work are measures aimed at investing in human potential and decent and sustainable work. The achievement of such objectives will require further profound changes in the advanced economies, let alone in those that now host the world's nearly two billion informal sector workers.
Distinguished members of the Conference,
Full and productive employment and decent work for all are part of the Sustainable Development Goals. The road to achieving this objective will be difficult and long. The world of the 21st century, with its radical transformations and new challenges, needs an experienced organisation as yours to ensure that human dignity is preserved.
I hope that, within the broader framework of the United Nations, the ILO will continue to guide the development of social justice and that your efforts will help to create a better future for all workers, men and women alike. I wish you every success as your fine mission continues.
Only the spoken word counts.