7:02 AM Nov 17, 1995
LABOUR: WORKERS SCEPTIC OVER ILO-BWIS COOPERATIONGeneva 16 Nov (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- The efforts at cooperation and collaboration of the International Labour Office and the IMF and World Bank to ensure better reflection of social policy by the IFIs received praise at the ILO governing body here. But while workers representatives remained sceptic as to how far the World Bank rhetoric on social policy would be reflected in country-policies, Indian government representative raised concerns over what he saw as disturbing implications in the inter-agency task force on employment. The governing body last year had discussed linkages between workers' rights and trade, and now the inter-agency discussions seemed to be leading to linkages between workers' rights and financial flows. The issue of cooperation between the ILO and the BWIs was discussed at the Committee on Employment and Social Policy, with an oral report from the ILO Deputy Director-General on the progress in the relations and a more systematic dialogue called for by the governing body. While appreciating the establishment of internal ILO mechanisms to bring its view to bear on policies of the IFIs, particularly in the light of the World Social summit call for greater emphasis on employment and social issues, the workers group stressed that closer contacts was not a goal in itself, but a means of influence of ILO principles on the IMF and the World Bank. In this regard, the worker's group, complained it was yet to receive written answers to questions posed by it at the 1994 November session of the Committee -- detailed information on ILO plans to collaborate with the World Bank in the follow up to the World Development Report -- which, the workers group thought, reflected a more enlightened view of labour unions and labour market policy -- and how the ILO planned to ensure that World Bank rhetoric was reflected in country-level policies. The ILO must protect its sovereignty and integrity and be sure not to abandon its core principles in order to get a seat at the table with the IMF, World Bank and the WTO, the workers' group vice-chairman, Mr. Ferguson declared. The Indian government representative drew attention to what he saw as "disturbing implications" of the Inter-agency task forces work and the meeting of the ILO director-general with the Interim Committee. Last year, he said, the governing body had discussions on linkages between workers' rights and trade, and now the inter-agency discussions seemed to be leading to linkages between workers rights and financial flows. "Introducing another form of coercion through financial channels to bring about upgrading of workers rights would not be the right approach for the ILO," he said. The World Bank provided funds either on commercial terms through the IBRD or concessional terms through IDA on which many developing countries were heavily dependent. Interagency interactions resulting in conditionalities would be a form of coercion to be avoided. The Indian government representative questioned the ILO's "moral right to advise on workers' rights embodied in ILO conventions, when differences of opinions existed on their implementation. When developing countries were sincerely trying to upgrade workers' rights, it would not be desirable for ILO to break with the past and resort to coercion. Establishing new conditionalities would block the process of raising purchasing power of developing countries which were the future markets of the developed world. "The ILO seemed to be racing for paramountcy among international organizations rather than seeking to maintain its independent style of functioning," the Indian government representative said. Earlier, the employer's group vice-chair, Mr. Katz, shared the workers group complaints about lack of adequate information, but argued that the ILO influence on the IFIs would depend on the substantive content of what it offered and while "useful contributions" would be listened to by the IFIs, "counter-productive ideology" would be ignored. Katz questioned the views and proposals in the ILO's World Employment Report and said ILO views based on these would be ignored by the BWIs. But the employers view was sharply questioned by several government delegates including those of France and Germany. The French government delegate vehemently disagreed with Katz's view that the ILO should not give "heterogenous advice" compared to the thinking of the big IFIs or "well-known economists". The French government, he said, was opposed to "the standardized thinking favouring total dependence on the market" and viewed the World Employment Report as an "interesting and fundamentally important document" and similar reports should be produced every year. Spain too disagreed with Katz about the ILO producing "counter-productive ideology" and said in terms of its fundamental principles and objectives, the ILO should advice the IFIs in the area of structural adjustment and other areas of major impact on employment. Germany also joined in the criticism of the employers' view and said for years ILO members had complained justifiably that the SAPs of the IFIs paid insufficient attention to the social aspects and this situation should be improved, particularly for developing countries. The Social Summit had enshrined these, and its message was that when structural adjustment measures were being applied, social requirements of the people should not be ignored. Referring to concerns of BWIs with workers' rights and ILO cooperation with them, the Pakistan government representative said ILO would be well-advised to emphasize that protection of workers' rights would largely depend on a country's economic development and withdrawal or suspension of assistance from IFIs would result in deterioration of situation. The employers' delegate in response to the criticism of his remarks said he was not opposed to "heterogenous thinking" but the need for ILO to avoid "absurd policy prescriptions" that lowered its impact on other institutions -- such as massive spending programmes to counter unemployment. He then went on to point to India's labour laws which precluded dismissal of workers as an example of legislation that made it difficult to carry out structural adjustment.