Just and sustainable workplace

Closing message at the National Conference of Employers in the Philippines

ILO Director-General Gilbert F. Houngbo addressed the National Conference of Employers on Human-Centred Transitions for a Just and Sustainable Workplace held in Manila.

Statement | Manila, Philippines | 28 June 2023
ILO Director-General Gilbert F. Houngbo recognizes the important role ECOP is playing to guide business on a recovery path that balances the need for growth with workers’ need for job security and protection. ©ILO/G. Carreon
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.

This year marks 75 years of ILO membership for the Philippines. So, first, let me offer my congratulations for this anniversary.

The Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP), and the other social partners in the Philippines, have played an important role in the ILO’s efforts to create a better world of work.

However, today, as we mark your historic contribution, the Philippines, like the rest of the world, is confronting multiple opportunities and interconnected crises.

From COVID-19, geopolitical unrest, economic instability, natural disasters, all of them have halted or reversed social progress globally.

More than ever before, we are going to need to work together if we are to overcome these challenges.

So, I am extremely encouraged by the theme of this conference: ‘Human-centred transitions for a just and sustainable workplace’.

It does recognize an important truth – that in order to have a recovery that is just and sustainable, it is essential that we put people and the planet at its core.

This is not only a task for governments, not only a task for multilateral organizations but for all of us. Businesses have an important role to play. Business fosters prosperity. It creates and sustains jobs. But good, responsible business does much more than that because it helps to break the cycle of poverty, inequality, and social injustice.

ECOP is already playing an important role in guiding Filipino business on a recovery path that is human-centred – a path that balances employers’ need to grow and expand their businesses and balances with workers’ need for job security and protection.

You have been providing leadership, and you have been providing support and solutions for employers, helping companies to become more resilient and productive.

And ECOP is working with the government and trade unions to create a strong social partnership that will help to build a very stable and prosperous future for this country.

Ladies and gentlemen.

A human-centred approach that creates just and sustainable workplaces recognizes the dignity and the rights of all workers, regardless of gender, regardless of age, regardless of ethnicity, or socioeconomic background.

It requires a fair and equal environment, in which workers’ voices are heard, and their well-being is prioritized.

And it also requires an environment where employers and businesses can maximize productivity. Without this, they cannot create jobs, they cannot innovate social solutions, and pave the way to greater prosperity.

Environmental sustainability is also integral to a just and sustainable workplace.

As employers and business leaders, you can help address these challenges:

First, we need to tackle informality. Informal employment is the status of more than 60 per cent of the global workforce. Here in the Philippines, I understand that micro-enterprises account for 90 per cent of businesses.

Informality perpetuates job insecurity, low wages, and inadequate social protection. In turn this restricts productivity and increases income inequalities.

If we are to progress to inclusive, equitable and sustainable growth, we must support the move towards formalization, improve labour market governance, and strengthen social protection.

Second, we must support sustainable enterprises. Creating conditions that allow businesses to thrive, supporting entrepreneurs, and ensuring equal connectivity are all crucial components.

Technology and artificial intelligence are tools with massive potential for good. They must be applied so that they can support decent work and inclusive employment; particularly in micro, small and medium enterprises.

Third, there must be more investment in education and skills development. Education and training programmes that give businesses the skills they need, require employers, educational institutions and the government to work together. In our fast-changing workplace and labour market, lifelong learning is now essential.

Fourth, we must address youth unemployment. To achieve sustainable development, the voices of young people must be heard. Today, far too many young people are struggling to get quality education, skills training, and decent work.

Here in the Philippines, we estimate one-in-10 young people are classified as the so-called NEET - in other words, not in employment, education or training.

Those young people who are in the labour force are twice as likely to be unemployed as adults.

It follows that, if we are to build a better future, it will be essential to invest in youth empowerment programmes, education, vocational training and entrepreneurship.

This is the only way to equip young people with the tools they need to succeed in the current fast-moving job market.

Next, we will have to address gender equality. Despite recent progress, women still experience unequal pay, limited employment opportunities, restricted career development. They remain under-represented in leadership positions.

No country can make the most of its future if it fails to fully use the talents of half its population. So, eliminating gender-related bias will be essential for the human-centred, just and sustainable future of work that we are talking of and this means promoting inclusive policies and practices, and providing equal access to education, training, and job opportunities.

And I am particularly pleased to see that ECOP is taking action in this area. The Diversity and Inclusion Committee will help to champion diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Lastly, Social dialogue. Genuine social dialogue, involving governments, workers’ and employers' organizations, is a powerful tool to resolve labour disputes, shape effective policies, and promote social justice.

The tougher the times, the more important it will be to move ahead by building consensus, by promoting understanding, and addressing the diverse needs and interests of stakeholders.

This may sound like a challenging shopping list of change.

But it can be summed up quite simply – we need greater social justice.

This is not a new idea. And I think the fact that the concept has not been front and centre in recent years can be directly linked to the situation we are in today.

This is why I am so humbled to have this opportunity to lead an organization like the ILO which has social justice at the heart of its constitution for the past 100 years.

Since then, our members – governments, workers, employers - have regularly reaffirmed the importance of social justice for human progress. I can go back to 1998, when our members and social partners adopted the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and in 2008 with the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization. And, most recently in 2019 with the ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work.

I think that, now, as we face the current complex mix of crises, we need to refocus once again. That’s why I am calling and working for the creation and launch of a very structured Global Coalition for Social Justice.

This will help all of us from the business to the workers organizations, to the government and the IFI to focus on any dimension that leads to and improves social justice.

If we work together, we can amplify our influence to create systemic changes that make greater social justice a priority at all levels. This way, we will have the power to achieve the sustainable economic and social progress we need for all mankind.

Thank you.