85th Session of the International Labour Organisation

  • Max Bradford

Palais des Nations
Geneva, Switzerland

Mr President

My delegation congratulates you on your election.

New Zealand supports the ideals and objectives of the ILO, and the role the ILO can play in improving the lot of working people of the world, and the people who employ them.

The real challenge is to ensure the standards embodied in the Conventions, and the way they are applied, are relevant in today's contemporary world.

For a number of reasons, New Zealand supports a fundamental re-assessment of the ILO's labour standards:

the ILO's standard setting processes,
the manner of surveillance of labour standards,
and the ILO's budgetary and administrative structures.
For a decade, New Zealand has been a consistent voice in support of such changes.

For over six years now, New Zealand itself, has implemented labour legislation which has always been consistent with the principles behind ILO Conventions.

On a few occasions we have not been able to satisfy the ``printed letter'' of one or two Conventions, most often those we have not ratified.

We simply deliver the principles of the ILO in a different way than ILO processes slavishly require.

For it to be relevant in today's world, where increasing diversity and changing economic systems are the norm, New Zealand strongly believes the ILO must adjust to the changing reality around it.

ILO standards deserve constant review.

Effectiveness and relevance are key tests to apply.

New Zealand strongly supports 3 complementary and fundamental initiatives.

First, existing standards -- not excluding the contents of the core human rights standards -- must be reviewed against the key tests.

We should not be bound to the past, nor complacent that small successes are enough.

Secondly, the bureaucratic proliferation of subject matter on standards raises questions about the appropriateness of approach.

Less prescriptive, more flexible standards may be better able to promote the core principles of the ILO.

We must avoid the "death by a thousand cuts" of bureaucratic intervention telling member countries not only what to do, but how to do it.

The ILO needs to concentrate on measuring and promoting the outcomes of the principles making up labour standards.

Thirdly, we would support an initiative to improve ILO evaluation procedures.

Has a particular standard really achieved what it set out to do?

In other words -- measure and evaluate outcomes against the ILO's principles, rather than simply assess and criticise compliance with labour standards of questionable moment in a modern world.

The Director-General's Report contains some helpful suggestions on the use of Recommendations as a more flexible vehicle for achieving outcomes.

But another suggestion -- "social labelling" -- is one New Zealand cannot accept.

Social progress can only be made in conjunction with economic growth.

Restrictions on trade will rebound against the achievement of social progress.

The social labelling proposal has the capacity to destroy the very objectives it wants to achieve.

It also raises questions of consistency with the obligations in the GATT and WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade.

The Director-General has also floated the idea of some form of statement of principles to strengthen the universal application of core worker rights.

New Zealand is prepared to contribute to a process to consider establishment of such an instrument, but we have some fundamental questions to pose.

For example, what objectives do member countries want to achieve?

What alternative ways are there to achieve the objectives?

Will the proposed solutions compromise the principles of voluntarism and flexibility in achieving the objectives?

The core conventions will have to be fit for the challenges of globalisation and the 21st Century, not the wish for a past long gone.

Mr President, the challenge for the ILO is to cast aside the yoke of prescription in favour of a renewed commitment to achieving -- in a flexible way -- the outcomes intrinsic to the ILO's core principles.