Address to the 100th Session of the International Labour Conference
Mr. Jan GUZ, workers delegate of Poland
The current 100th Session of the International Labour Conference is an exceptional event. For the 100th time, the Government, Employer and Worker representatives are seeking solutions to social and economic problems that are crucial for the world of labour. Once again, we are contributing to the rich history of the International Labour Organization by approving principles for international labour standards and ensuring that those principles are put into practice. For the trade union movement all over the world, the most important of these standards and principles are those contained in the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87), and the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98). Unfortunately, these extremely important Conventions have not been ratified by a large number of countries, including those that aspire to teach us democracy. It is worth noting that more than half of the workers in the world do not enjoy the right to freedom of association.
I am speaking at this Conference in my capacity as the Worker delegate from Poland, one of the founding member States of the International Labour Organization. Over the centuries, the Poles have experienced much injustice. The idea of social solidarity and social protection for the most vulnerable is therefore very important to us. The economic crisis we have experienced has served to remind us that the foundations of the current socio-economic system are extremely fragile. Risky financial speculation by small groups of bankers led to a recession, resulting in a rise in unemployment and poverty, as well as many human tragedies. Governments and employers are proposing draconian austerity policies in order to tackle the problem, which will hurt ordinary citizens, worsen poverty and lower living standards. The Governments, instead of increasing the scope of social expenditure, in order to foster socioeconomic development, are targeting the field of social policy for tough spending cuts. Social protection provides a tool to mitigate the effects of the crisis. It is a fundamental human right that helps to reduce the uncertainty which follows any loss of income, health problems or disability. Unfortunately, as is clear from the Director-General’s Report, around 80 per cent of the world population has no access to basic social protection. We cannot accept this as the norm and continue with “business as usual”. Unemployment poses one of the most serious challenges for the world of labour. It is a basic cause of poverty, social exclusion and the ever-growing gulf between the rich and the poor, as Mr Somavia correctly pointed out in his opening ad-dress. We are particularly concerned that the army of unemployed is mainly made up of young people, including a large number of well-educated graduates. The level of unemployment benefit which should, in theory, provide means of survival, is very low in Poland and covers only about 20 per cent of the unemployed. In Poland, the average monthly unemployment benefit is equal to two-thirds of the minimum living level. It is estimated that approximately one third of the unemployed have an income that falls below the subsistence level. It is not hard to imagine the poverty in which the unemployed and their families are forced to live. At the moment, even a job cannot guarantee an escape from poverty for workers. As we can see, the number of working poor continues to grow.
Despite the soaring cost of living, the amount of money spent on social protection has been drastically reduced. In Poland, the income thresholds for benefits have remained frozen since 2006. This means that, in order to qualify for benefits, people need to have an income that falls below the mini-mum subsistence level.
The International Labour Organization’s main labour standards in the field of social protection provide the basis for socio-economic and social development in a globalized world. Polish trade unions have long been calling for the full ratification of the Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102), in particular with regard to unemployment benefit. In this context, it is also crucial to ratify the Employment Promotion and Protection against Unemployment Convention, 1988 (No. 168). We need to work together to ensure that the abovementioned Conventions are ratified and properly implemented all over the world. In order to ensure that these Conventions are adopted, it is necessary to engage in social dialogue. Mr. Somavia stressed that all the delegates gathered at this Conference share the conviction that social dialogue, rather than violence or war, provides the means to solve the problems we face, and we all agree that the standards that we approve here are extremely important. Such convictions form the basis of the ILO’s existence. However, as the Director-General pointed out in his opening speech, the belief in the strength of social dialogue must now move from the international organization to the national level. I am convinced that these standards will also be translated into practice in Poland.