Poetry: If I Were a Rich Man
Interview: League of Nations
Industrial: 20/20 Hindsight
Organising: On The Buses
Unions: National Focus
History: The Banner Room
International: The Slaughter Continues
Legal: A Legal Case For War?
Culture: Singing For The People
Review: The Hours
Poetry: I Wanna Bomb Saddam
Satire: Diuretic Makes Warne's Excuses Look Thin
The Locker Room
Re-considering The Accord
Strangers in the House
Nursing Home Concerns
League of Nations
Starting with the war in Iraq, what is the ICFTU's position on the way the process has been unfolding?
I think it's pretty clear statement about where we stand. The first point to be made is that we are very much committed to peaceful resolution of conflicts in general, and we believe that the multilateral system in the United Nations is the right way to pursue a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis. We have said more specifically that in the current situation countries are going to have to pursue the UN process, that the only authorities which can give legitimation to the international community in whatever it does is that of the United Nations and its Security Council. And we said that any military action outside the framework of the UN Security Council's decisions, not only would be unnecessary on current evidence, but would simply be unacceptable to it.
Does it concern you that if international security protocol's break down, as they appear to be, that other international forums such as the ILO, will also be denigrated?
I think the point is the following: That if any country or set of countries departs from the UN system as a way of dealing with these issues, it can have a weakening effect on the international system's authority and legitimacy - really across the board. So I think the point that you make is a real one. That the multilateral system will suffer if people take a part other than that of the United Nations. And in an era of globalization, we actually need to be building the credibility and authority of institutions, not undermining them. So there is that wider significance to what is happening.
It is an important time for the international industrial framework. We are just have seen the ILO actually enforcing its powers for the first time with respect to Burma, so that has been a very significant move hasn't it?
Yes, I think what has happened in the ILO on Burma is very significant. For the first time in its history, which goes back to 1919, it has invoked powers that have been in the ILO constitution, but have never been used. Go back to June 2000. The first time the ILO conference called on member states, because it is basically an open mandate. It has asked member states to take whatever action they considered necessary and appropriate to put an end to forced labour in Burma.
Now what is significant is that that resolution has been important leverage for the ILO to gain access to Burma. They now have a presence in Burma, but our information is that forced labour persists. We are extremely dubious about the genuine commitment of the regime in Burma to make any significant progress. And the fact of the matter is that member states have not taken measures in the field for example, of trade and investment, that the ILO has invited them to take.
So you are right. The ILO has made important forward steps but national states actually have to act on the opportunity that the ILO offers them, and if they fail to do so, well they can hardly be surprised if the ICFTU and other parts of the international trade union movement are out there seeking enforcement powers in other places.
How responsive was a country like Australia to that call? Did they join the labour equivalent of the Coalition of the Willing on Burma?
Well, Australia I think in some senses has been helpful on Burma, but you have to understand that Australia absented itself from the ILO, at least from the ILO governing body, when it, in a very deliberate step in the view of the international trade union movement, decided simply not to present its candidacy as a government member of the ILO governing body. So although in some respects Australia might have had some positive influence in relation to Burma, more generally it seems to be downgrading its presence as a multilateral actor, and that has to be cause for concern.
So the Australian government has pulled out of the ILO effectively?
No, not out of the ILO. It is still a member state and remains one, but it decided of its own volition simply not to seek membership of the ILO governing body, which is effectively the ILO's executive board. That was done, I think, as a very clear statement.Australian workers continue to be represented because governments, trade unions and employers elect their representatives in entirely separate processes. So, Australian workers are still there, and making their voices heard very, very effectively. But there is a problem is at the level of government.
That is a bad sign and a bad reflection of the Australian government's regard, not just for the international system and its willingness to be a player in the international system. In terms of the specific issues on the table at the ILO, it does show that the Australian government is not attentive to, or perhaps ready to be guided by, the advice and the findings of the International Labor Organisation concerning domestic labour policies here.
Is this a fallout in direct reaction to the negative reports that were issued against the Federal Government's Workplace Bill?
Well, that was certainly not a stated motive on the part of the government, but it is true that when the Australian government - and these are issues going back some years now - did decide not to take up the seat - or to compete I should say, for the seat that it has always occupied in the ILO governing body, it was widely interpreted as being a reaction to some of the findings that the ILO had produced in previous years, which related to trade union rights issues in Australia. . The elections in the ILO governing body take place every three years, so they have just gone through another set of governing body elections. Australia's absence from the ILO governing body is bad for Australia and it is bad for the ILO.
Back to the ILO sanctions. We have seen action on bonded labour and I think that there would be a universal acceptance that bonded labour and slaves and child labour are abhorrent. Do you have hopes that the third plank of core global labour standards - the right to organise - may at some point become enforceable as well?
But you see, what we have is a very clear package of fundamental rights at work, and these are being defined and globally accepted in an ILO declaration adopted in 1998. This is The Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and it is accepted, not just by trade unions, but by governments and employers. And the bundle of rights we are talking about are indeed the right to organize in collective bargaining; the right to freedom from forced labour and child labour, but also in the field of discrimination: freedom from discrimination at work. These are basically set out in eight ILO conventions, well defined and well accepted.
The importance of this is that we now have a common definition, universally accepted, of what actually constitutes fundamental human rights at work. And they include the whole of the package. They are not things that can be separated. So when we talk about enforcing workers rights in a global economy, we are talking about that whole package. We are not trying to take out, for example, forced labour or child labour separately, important as they undoubtedly are. We need mechanisms and enforcements to cover the lot.
But it is going to be a lot easier to act on one of those more basic criteria, than it is on something like the right to organise?
It may be more difficult. I mean public opinion is easily mobilised around child labour issues, and understandably so. But that doesn't detract from the fact, and I think it has been a major step forward, that we do now have that recognition that human rights at work are this indivisible clump of issues. I think there is wide acceptance out there at the policy level that these are the rights that need to be assured in the global economy. This is what constitutes the very minimal floor on which the global economy should be based. The ILO is proceeding on that basis and the ICFTU is proceeding on that basis.
One of the phenomena that have really been growing in the last couple of years in Australia is the excesses of the corporate sector and particularly issues like executive pay. Is that a global phenomenon, and if so, what is the ICFTU doing to address the issue?
It certainly is a global issue. Executive pays is one aspect of what you describe as the excesses of the corporate world. But I think even above and beyond that, there is a basic notion of social justice there. I think the United States show that average executive pay compared to the average pay of the standard employee in a company can be in a ratio of 400:1 typically. And that is just extraordinary. And that ratio has skyrocketed in recent years. It is not an accident. It is part of a wider phenomenon of corporate behaviour and the extent to which corporations are free to act in specific ways.
But the wider picture is that of corporate governance. The Enrons and the WorldComs of this world - and they are only two - and the Arthur Andersens - have focused the issue of corporate governance in its wider aspect very firmly at the centre of people's agendas and of course the trade unions' agendas. And we are acting internationally in different ways. Corruption is a major issue in the corporate world as well, and in the OECD there is work going forth on that as well. So, very, very much at the centre of what we are doing and what we are trying to change. It really is something that needs to be approached globally, otherwise for one country to clamp down is just going to suffer.
You are over here for the International Women's Conference. Is there a difference in the attitude towards trade unions between the genders?
I think there is a great deal more in common that differentiates the genders on trade unionism. I think men and women, women and men find that they are coming to trade unions for the same things. I think where the question lies, is rather how trade unions have to adapt and to change their policies, their behaviour, to ensure that women come to trade unions in greater numbers, and once in trade unions, not only find an environment in which they feel that their issues are being addressed adequately in ways that they feel they are able to contribute to, but then as they take up participatory roles in decision making bodies and in leadership. So, I think women are looking to trade unions to be more attentive to the things that concern them at work and to be providing the sorts of environment and sorts of space that enables them not just to be trade union members, but active and leading trade unionists.
What do you see as the responsibility of unionists and workers in wealthier countries towards those from the developing world?
We could start from the reflex which is there and very clearly there. Solidarity is the reflex, and I think that trade unionists from the industrialized world - although their trade unions may not always feel very secure in what they are doing at home - do feel a strong reflex of solidarity to those in developing and transition countries. The need to promote trade unions remains a fairly basic instinct.
But beyond that, I think there is the common interest in actually finding the way towards changes in the global economy that actually gives developing and transition countries a better deal. So it is not simply about assistance. It is actually about establishing the sorts of systems in a global economy that enable working people in the developing world to get the sorts of opportunities to benefit from the process of globalization rather than being victims of it.
Finally, we obviously do a lot of our work over the internet, communicating with workers around Australia. What excites you about the Internet in terms of global labour?
I think the internet can mean a tremendous opportunity for working people, particularly in the international perspective. It enables networking. It enables communication to take place in ways that it simply wasn't possible to imagine 10 or 15 years ago. It also offers a tremendous organizing opportunity I think. And I think trade unions - we are making progress in this area.
We are working more and more in isolated workplaces. People are not working in the big units that they used to work in. People can find themselves physically isolated in the workplace and that creates real challenges for organizations in building up solidarity. The internet is actually a way of actually breaking down that type of isolation and fragmentation that people might feel at work. We have to harness that potential.
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