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ILO Offers Social Support to World Economy
By Gustavo Capdevila, IPS, 26 March 1999
GENEVA, Mar 26 (IPS) - The basic responsibility of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is to provide a social pillar serving the needs of the world economy, stated its new director general, Juan Somavia.
ILO purposes agree with what the people care for, said the Chilean diplomat who took over as director of the tripartheid United Nations dependent entity - workers, employers and governments - three weeks ago.
"I want the ILO to form links with the people and for citizens to understand what we are doing," stressed the new official in his first press conference."
When he mentioned the "social clause," the thorniest issue to face the ILO since the end of the cold war, Somavia promised to promote the intermediate solution discovered by the tripartheid organisation.
Last year, the ILO approved a Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, backing the ratification and fulfilment of the basic norms of labour protection.
This decision differed from what the industrial North had lobbied for, which was a social clause making the validity of multilateral trade agreements conditional to fulfilment of labour regulations.
In the opposite corner, a broad majority of countries in the developing South hope to maintain the regime which limits social questions to the ILO ambit, without the interference of other institutions of the international system, like the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Somavia stated the declaration will be promoted in the spirit in which it was approved, as "a promotional instrument" of fundamental rights.
He stressed there "is no question of conditionality attached to the declaration."
The social clause has been the most debated and complex issue the OIT has confronted in the recent past, admitted Somavia.
Now, "my responsibility will consist of following up the application of the declaration," according to the mechanisms provided by the Governing Body.
In the Council session, which will end this week, Somavia's plans for his five-year term in office were approved.
The new director general announced the ILO will persue the strategic objective of promoting the basic principles and rights at work, which constitute the historical mandate of the institution.
He said the ILO will also work for job creation - the political mandate of the entity, "which comes from the street and is what people would like to see."
The other strategic objectives refer to Social Security, which has undergone many changes in recent years, and social dialogue - the specific instrument of the tripartheid institution.
Over the next few weeks, the ILO directors will concentrate on preparing negotiations for the convention on working children slated for June, "a key stage for the institution in the fight against child labour."
The Governing Body also asked Somavia to present a report, before May 21, on the government reaction in Burma to ILO pressure against "the generalised use of forced labour imposed on the civilian population."
Somavia will have to inform the Rangoon government of the "Grave, serious and deep preocupation of the ILO Governing Body" about that situation.
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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