​Claire Courteille-Mulder: It is about prioritizing decent work

Ms Claire Courteille-Mulder is the Director of the ILO Country Office for China and Mongolia. Before joining the ILO in early 2014, she was a director at the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The Country Office Director spoke to the Mongolian Economy Magazine about the work of the ILO in the past century and its future aspirations.

- Would you please tell me what is ILO and what is the uniqueness of the ILO?

The ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN). It was created 100 years ago - even before the foundation of the UN after the Second World War. It is the oldest UN organization and this year we will celebrate its centenary anniversary. The ILO is also the only UN organization that has a tripartite structure, though which not only governments, but also workers’ and employers’ organizations are involved in the governance of the Organization. In Mongolia, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, the Mongolian Employers’ Federation (MONEF) and Confederation of Mongolian Trade Unions are the ILO’s constituents

- So what is the ILO’s priority currently?

The current ILO’s top priority is about the future of work. The ILO’s Director General has decided to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the Organization, by launching a global reflection on the future of work. How can the ILO and its constituents react to the profound changes currently affecting labour markets? Truly, the world of work has always been transforming itself and adapting to new situations, but today the pace of change has dramatically accelerated. Mega drivers of change such as technological innovations, globalization, climate change and demographic shifts have direct implications for the daily life of workers and employers. A key question is how can we respond to those changes while pursuing the objective of decent work for all? This is the topic on which the ILO wants to engage the discussion on a global scale. Of course, the response may differ from one country to another because every situation is peculiar. But we need a global vision on how to approach the challenges of our times.

- The ILO recently launched the global commission report on the future of work. What is the major issue the report is going to examine?

This report has been written by an independent Global Commission. As such, it is not an ILO document or policy, but it is a useful contribution which will inform upcoming ILO decisions. The Global Commission was co-chaired by the Prime Minister of Sweden and the President of the Republic of South Africa. It was made of 20 experts with different perspectives and backgrounds including representatives of employers and workers’ organizations, politicians, academics, economists, sociologists etc.. The report calls for a human-centred agenda. This means putting people first. The report identifies three broad areas of interventions. The first one is investment in human capabilities. At a time where technology and occupations are evolving so rapidly, skills become quickly obsolete. The need for re-skilling or up-skilling is a key feature of today’s labour markets. Hence the recommendation of the Global Commission that everyone should have access to lifelong learning opportunities to keep up with the needs of the labour market. The second area of intervention is investment in the institutions of work. An interesting idea which comes out of the Report is the notion of a Universal Labour Guarantee. This Guarantee would ensure that all workers, regardless of their contractual arrangements, enjoy their fundamental workers’ right, an adequate living wage, and health and safety protection. The Commission also recommends to strengthen social dialogue and collective bargaining through public policies. The third area of intervention is investment in decent and sustainable work in line with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Employment promotion should occupy a prominent place in national development plans. Today, this is not always the case as many countries tend to focus exclusively on economic growth. Yet, unless growth is inclusive and generates decent jobs, poverty and inequality cannot be reduced.

- What are the some of the most notable achievement from the half a century that ILO operated in Mongolia?

Mongolia became a member of the ILO 50 years ago. During the communist time, the focus of the ILO’s work was on skills and skills development. When the transition to a market economy occurred, the ILO started to provide technical assistance to help Mongolia adapt to the new model. Throughout the years, Mongolia ratified a number of international labour standards, including the ILO Core Conventions which focus on the elimination of child and forced labour, the promotion of non-discrimination at work, and the protection of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Additionally, the ILO assisted the creation of the Mongolian employers’ organisation as this did not exist during the communist time. More recently, our focus has been on the labour law reform which is currently in the Parliament for adoption. The ILO has been providing technical assistance to ensure that the new law will be in conformity with these international labour Conventions that Mongolia ratified. Other areas of cooperation include social protection, the promotion of fundamental rights at work and the support to youth employment. .

- There are seven centenary initiatives to the ILO, one of which is the future of work initiative. To what extent are the initiatives being implemented in Mongolia?

Firstly, in agreement with its constituents in Mongolia, the ILO wants to stimulate the discussion on the future of work in Mongolia along the lines mentioned before. We hope that the outcome of these discussions could inform new policy making and action plans. Secondly, a new international labour Convention on the prevention of harassment and violence at the workplace is in the making under the Centenary Initiative. If adopted in June of this year, this new Convention would provide useful guidance for Mongolia as for many other countries to strengthen its legislative framework and adopt effective plan of action to tackle violence at work. This could improve the lives of many Mongolian men and women. Thirdly, the green jobs initiative promoted under the ILO centenary anniversary and whose ambition is to reduce carbon emissions while promoting the creation of decent jobs, could be useful for Mongolia.

- Mongolia has a number of issues regarding employment and social security. What are some of the problems that are the most difficult to tackle and what approach will the ILO take?

The ILO promotes tripartism that is the engagement of public authorities as well as workers’ and employers’ organizations. Tripartism is at the very heart of ILO’s interventions. Further, the ILO has also an important role to play in providing advice and assistance to the stakeholders. As a global organization, we bring the experience of other countries which can sometimes be an important source of inspiration in solving problems.

Regarding social protection, one of the ILO’s key priorities is the creation of social protection floors to provide basic income security to all these in need. Social security’s entitlements should be based on rights and the level of benefits should be in line with the country’s level of development while allowing people to live a decent life. In Mongolia, both the coverage and the level of social protection benefits could be improved so as to reduce poverty and inequality which will in turn promote better economic outcomes.

Another area of concern is the size of the informal economy. When workers and economic units operate outside the framework of labour law, everybody loses: the government loses revenue from taxes and contributions, workers have no rights and protection, and economic units cannot access credit and other services which hinders their growth.

Finally youth unemployment is an important issue. With 60% of its population under 30 years of age, Mongolia faces the challenge of creating new jobs for the new comers entering the labour market every year. The unemployment rate of the youth, is twice as high as the one of adults. In addition, an increased number of young people are neither in education nor in employment. Not relying on the talent and dynamism of young people is a lost for any country. Recently our Office in UB has been supporting a network of young people who campaigns for their employment and social protection rights. These initiatives are important to find sustainable solutions.

- There were many interesting new ideas brought up during the Future of Work conference. Are the ideas the youth presented from the panel discussions being implemented into the ILO agenda and which ones did you find the most interesting?

During the conference, I was struck by the level of awareness young people have about the world of work. For example, they understand very well the impact of new technologies and climate change on jobs. And interestingly, they want to be part of the discussions, they want to look for solutions, and they want their voice to be heard. Their ideas and proposals will definitely be an important reference for our work in the country.

- 2019 is celebrating the 100th anniversary of ILO. What will ILO’s second century of work look like?

There will be, in June of this year, a very important discussion in the ILO in Geneva about the future orientation to be taken by the Organization, which is directly linked to the Future of Work Initiative. I cannot preempt the outcome of these discussions as it will be for the ILO constituents to decide. However I see a global challenge in the rise of inequalities both within and between countries. To a certain extent these inequalities are rooted in the labour market. How can we reverse the trend toward the informalization of employment relationship and insecure jobs? How do we ensure that the poorest workers will have their conditions improve? How can we ensure that no one is left behind as stated in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda? I hope the upcoming International Labour Conference in June will provide targeted orientations on those key issues.

- Before joining the ILO, you were a director at the International Trade Union. What role do trade unions such as the Confederation of Mongolian Trade Unions serve to assist in the ILO motives?

The CMTU is an important organization because it expresses the voice of workers. Individually, workers are weak to defend their rights and interests but together their voice is stronger. Recently, the CMTU has adopted an action plan for workers in the informal economy which are among the most vulnerable workers. We look forward to working with them as well as with MONEF and the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection on this important issue.

The Labour Laws of Mongolia do not apply to workers of the informal economy in both rural and urban areas. Are any activities being done by the ILO Mongolia to protect their rights? In close consultation with the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, MONEF, the CMTU and other relevant stakeholders, we will look at how to provide concrete solutions and improve the conditions of workers and economic units operating in the informal economy. The ILO has some experience in creating pathways from the informal to the formal economy. We will have our first meeting at the end of February on the topic and we give us a couple of years to make a difference!

- Many different perspectives of the GSP+2 project was discussed during the project closing workshop. In your opinion, did the project reach its full potential in Mongolia and what can we look forward to in the GSP+3?

The project was helpful in supporting the Mongolian government to report to the implementation of these ILO Conventions that it ratified. In 2017, the National Human Rights Commission issued a report, which gave a clearer picture of the overall implementation of the fundamental principles and rights at work in small and medium-sized enterprises. The project was also successful in the sense that it supported the establishment of the youth network which aims to promote the rights of young men and women in Mongolia. In addition, this year, we will be focusing on forced labour issues as new types of forced labour are emerging such as human trafficking for labour and/or sexual exploitation. We should all work together to eliminate these unacceptable forms of work in Mongolia as in any other country.

- What steps should Mongolia take to achieve SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth?

This is a hard question and, of course, achieving decent work for all requires different types of actions at different levels. A general point though, is the prioritization of decent job creation in national development frameworks. A solid assessment of the impact of economic, trade, fiscal, industrial, and all other relevant policies on decent work should help guide decisions. In fact, SDG 8 is not only about economic growth it is about inclusive growth. This is an important nuance which reflects the idea that everybody should benefit from development.

At another level, having the labour law reformed, investing in job intensive activities, strengthening the skills of people especially young people are equally important.

- It is evident that technological advancements will continue to have a large role in labour and employment as a whole. Given Mongolia is currently behind on such advancements, how should the country prepare for such a change?

Mongolia is not a key driver country in technological innovation and development but yet again young people in the future of work conference showed that our world is really interconnected. New technologies have the potential to create jobs in Mongolia, then the challenge is to harness that potential and make sure that the jobs created are decent. Again, the world of work is full of opportunities and challenges. It is up to the actors and stakeholders to seize the opportunities, manage the challenges and shape the world of work they want for themselves, and for their children!