Director, Global Employment Policy & Special Initiatives, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
July 11, 2023
Every year, thousands of delegates representing the 187 member states’ government, employer and worker representative organizations descend into Geneva, Switzerland to participate in the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) annual International Labor Conference (ILC or Conference). Over the course of two weeks, delegates discuss and debate various labor related topics, culminating into newly adopted labor standards, conclusions, and supervisory actions. The U.S. Chamber joined the U.S. employer delegation for the second time this year.
The United States rarely ratifies ILO standards, and the probability of ratifying a standard in today’s political climate is exceedingly unlikely. This is not the case, however, for all nations. This means U.S. businesses operating outside of the United States should pay particular attention to the developments at ILCs and interpret the outcomes as policy priorities that will inevitably affect U.S. business practices abroad.
At this year’s 111th session, the Conference adopted new conclusions concerning a just transition and labor protection, as well as a new standard on apprenticeships. While none of these outcomes are hard law, they will influence policy making decisions and conversation in national legislatures and international organizations. Continue on to read the details of the three committee conclusions.
1. Just Transition
First and foremost, The U.S. Chamber represented U.S. business on the General Discussion Committee on a Just Transition. The committee, focused primarily on leaving no one behind in the transition towards a green economy, was expected to be relatively uncontroversial, but this was not the case.
Governments, workers, and employers alike agreed on three major principles – Action must be taken to respond to climate change, a just transition will promote higher standards of living, and skills development is essential to promoting decent and productive employment for all. The starkest disagreements erupted over the financing of a just transition and what grievance mechanisms should be available, if any, to those affected by climate change.
The worker group proposed various tax schemes to finance a just transition, including global corporate, wealth, and financial transaction taxes. The employer group successfully avoided the inclusion of specific tax schemes in the adopted text and negotiated limited language that encourages governments to establish pro-employment economic frameworks, including taxes, subsidies, incentives, and loans, to promote just transition activities.
In the end, consensus was achieved, and the conference adopted the committee’s conclusion. Importantly, the conclusion recognizes that governments, employers, and workers have a shared responsibility in achieving a just transition. The committee called on the ILO to guide members through a just transition in various ways. Concretely, the committee called on the ILO to consider convening a tripartite meeting on occupational health and safety – a convention adopted by the conference last year – on extreme weather events and changing weather patterns. This conversation will build upon the intersection of labor practice and climate change.
2. Labor Protection
The second conclusion adopted at the Conference came out of the Recurrent Discussion Committee on Labor Protection. The conclusion defines labor protection challenges as a lack of adequacy and implementation mostly related to wages and earnings. It also states that informal work is a driver of the lack of labor protection and that platform and telework have led to challenges for labor protection and the classification of workers. The conclusion goes on to recommend that member states extend access to labor protection and social security to all workers, limit worker hours, and ensure adequate, regularly updated minimum wages. It should be anticipated that the conclusion will serve as a point of reference during the 2025-2026 ILC standard setting discussion on platform work.
Finally, the Conference adopted a new standard on Apprenticeships. The Recommendation on Quality Apprenticeships clearly defines apprenticeships and provides guidelines for quality apprenticeship programs. The recommendation’s themes revolve around skills development for all, rights and protections for apprentices, and the promotion of apprenticeships in the green economy.
The endorsed conclusions and recommendations will serve as a foundation for future action and policymaking across the ILO’s member states. U.S. businesses, especially those that operate abroad, participate in apprenticeship programs, and/or hire independent contractors and teleworkers, should review the pertinent conclusions.
Agenda items for the 2024 ILC include the first standard-setting session on protection against biological hazards, and a general discussion on decent work and the care economy. To keep up with the 2024 ILC and international labor updates, check back here.
About the authors
Stephanie Ferguson is the Director of Global Employment Policy and Special Initiatives. Her work on the labor shortage has been cited in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Associated Press.