In its 100th year, the ILO came together to explore how the next century could progress the “Decent Work” agenda - one that seeks to prioritise the quality of employment alongside the quantity - as well as deal with the rapidly changing nature of work due to technology, demographics, automation and climate change.
The ICYCW attended the Conference as observers, alongside a wider group of Catholic-inspired organisations and NGOs. The YCW in England and Wales sent a member - Eamonn O’Brien - to join the ICYCW delegation in Geneva, where the Conference was being held.
The Conference structured its agenda around the desire for an agreed Centenary Declaration, a specific focus on violence and harassment against women and men in the world of work and a series of thematic debates and events on various work issues.
Each day had a range of sessions, meetings and committee gatherings, as well as speeches in the main hall.
Outside of the main programme, there was also a series of events for the Catholic Inspired Organisations (CIOs) to get involved in. This included training around fundraising, sessions on how we can build links between organisations and strengthen our advocacy efforts.
Importantly, there was also the opportunity to think more strategically about how we can influence the discussion on the future of work, global value chains social dialogue.
It was great to be able to work together with out brothers and sisters in the International Young Christian Workers (IYCW), who were also in attendance. We used this time to share ideas and reinforce our common mission, as well as socialise and get to know each other.
Due to the special nature of this years Conference, there were a lot of high-profile visits and speeches from world leaders. We were able to observe these in the plenary hall and listen to the remarks alongside the delegations.
Angela Merkel - the German Chancellor - praised the work of the ILO and expressed her commitment to the idea that “labour is not a commodity”, a cornerstone of the ILO since the 1944 Philadelphia Declaration.
President Emmanuel Macron of France described how the foundations of peace since World War Two had been laid on social justice. He explained how a crisis in capitalism risked the rise of populism and required a multilateral response to put humanity at the centre of decision-making.
The then Prime Minister - Theresa May - highlighted the work of the UK Government in tackling modern slavery. She argued that this despicable practice was far more pervasive than many realised and that it required authorities to be continually vigilant in rooting it out.
There was also an opportunity for the ICYCW to address the Conference Hall and the honour was given to our delegate from England and Wales - Eamonn O’Brien - to present our contribution. This was the first time in YCW history that we have had this opportunity. The speech was prepared collaboratively and sought to use testimony from YCW members around the world. This was because a key part of our international mission is to be a voice for young workers.
Overall, the Centenary Conference had a dual purpose. It was an opportunity to reflect on the genuine advances in the world of work over the past 100 years, but with a very clear understanding that these gains were not permanent or globally shared.
It resulted in an ambitious centenary declaration to maintain the progress made but also action to tackle the future challenges around mechanisation, automation and environmental needs.