What stands out in the candidacy of Greg Vines is the sentence, “I know the ILO and the ILO knows me.” This is a very credible claim. With extensive experience in labor relations in his home country of Australia, he came to Geneva as his country’s representative to the ILO and served as GB Chair in 2011-12 when Guy Ryder was first elected to the post that Mr. Vines is now seeking for himself. Mr. Ryder then appointed Mr. Vines as Deputy Director-General for ILO Management and Reform, a position he has held for the past 10 years. It is no wonder that he gave the most well-informed responses to the questions in his open interview. And it should come as no surprise when he asserted: “I am the right person with the right experience for the crises we are facing”, rolling out a long list of crises – including the pandemic, technology, climate change, demographic change plus women, youth and people with disabilities. He is, nonetheless, only one of the five candidates each with a different set of credentials – and policy positions and leadership styles. In this commentary, the focus has been on getting a sense of what each of these five candidates had to say on the four issues of informality, gender equality, multilateralism and the normative future of the ILO.
This issue came up several times during the interview with Mr. Vines. Pulling together his responses to these different questions, there are three outstanding points. First, he recognized that there is an “enormous variety” in informality today. The ILO, he remarked, has been “completely under-resourced” on the issue and has yet to crack it. More research is needed to understand more about how to formalize employment, which should be done in a transitional way, recognizing that some work can temporarily be in the informal sector. The second point is that he recognized that the “formalizing” of work must include all three parties. He even described the important role of governments as requiring a “whole-of-government” approach. He then gave an example of how he did this when he was industrial relations government official in Australia. And thirdly, he was challenged by the Employers’ representative who expressed the view that the transition from informal to formal employment is blocked by ILO standards, a point on which he firmly disagreed. In his view, the ILO system delivers opportunities to formalize, not barriers. While the ILO needs to pay more attention to enterprise development, including how to improve productivity, he believed that it should be done in a way that all parties can benefit from it, including workers. So here we have a comprehensive grasp of the complexities on informality and a firm approach to addressing it. One should add here that Mr. Vines also affirmed a willingness to be educated if Employers (or anyone else) can show where there are obstacles in the ILO standards and to better understand how to make the transition to formality as easily as possible.
There is no question that Mr. Vines is competing with two other candidates (Ms. Kang and Ms. Pénicaud) with very strong credentials on advancing gender equity. While no candidate could be described as being against gender equality, it is encouraging that Mr. Vines made a point of highlighting his commitments to gender parity, including bringing the ILO Gender Bureau into his cabinet but also ensuring gender balance in general, including in the field. Oddly enough, the subject of gender as a priority issue did not come up during the interview, and he himself did not bring it up as a separate issue in his remarks. In his written statement, though, there are references both to the Covid-19 impact on gender and a broader commitment to having a “transformative approach to gender equality across the activities of the ILO”. It is noteworthy, too, that he includes the idea that the “caring” responsibilities that have been highlighted by the pandemic should be “shared” responsibilities. I wish that he had displayed evidence of this “transformative approach” during the interview – that is to say, that gender sensitivities were indeed permeating his approach across all of his ILO-related activities. And one can also observe that no specific initiative on gender is featured in his professional record. But OK. He has a strong platform on gender and has said all the right things.
Let’s see. Here are the points to consider. First, I would have expected Mr. Vines to defend the current state of multilateral relationships, but in reality, it was more Ms. Kang who did this (while also describing how to build on it). What we heard from Mr. Vines, in contrast, was a specific criticism that the ILO’s multilateral relationships are “too ad hoc” right now. And yet, what that seems to mean, as he elaborated further on how to build “partnerships for success” as he put it in his written statement, is that the future work of the ILO needs to be more strategic, which is to say, more focused on world of work issues. Secondly, the implication here is that the ILO has been drawn into relationships on a lot more than just these world of work issues. His remark, to focus on world of work issues and “not anything else” even came up in the context of distinguishing collaborative from competitive action on climate change. And yet, thirdly, he also acknowledged that climate change does have a “most direct impact” on the world of work, that the ILO is under-resourced in this area and that the ILO should be increasing its resources on climate change. Elsewhere in his remarks, my fourth point, he spoke about the fact that many other international organizations are “working in parallel on our issues”, and the problem is competition for scarce resources. He specifically committed, then, to sitting down “with the heads” of these other international organizations to “fix this” problem. This does not mean, though, that everything is to be narrowed down to an existing world of work mandate. Mr. Vines does include that more collaboration is needed in support of ILO priorities and that includes building “new partnerships to support research, policy development and ILO action on the ground”. But on the whole, one has the impression that he wants to pull the ILO back from overly zealous partnering with other multilateral organizations, in contrast to some of the other candidates.
Again on this issue, Mr. Vines displayed the depth of his knowledge of the ILO and world of work issues. On the need for any new standards, he stated a willingness to consider how the world of work has indeed changed, thus meriting a look at how the application of the ILO’s overarching principles, which are still the same, could be applied in whatever new environment might show gaps in the realization of these principles. He took note, as have others, of occupational safety and health, as well as technology more generally and the gig/platform economy. On ratification and implementation of ILO standards, he described the importance of appreciating the historic link of the ILO to industrial countries of the West and how the ILO needs to reach out and reflect the diversity of its constituents in the dynamism of the rest of the world. This strikes me as rather obvious and something that happened decades ago, but fair enough. It is useful to have a candidate speaking about the importance of building capacity to implement ILO standards in different geographic settings and different levels of development.
On two other aspects of the normative future, Mr. Vines is a bit more traditional. First, on the matter of the supervisory machinery, Mr. Vines firmly stated that he would oppose any change in the reliance on impartial expertise for appointments to the supervisory machinery. Although in the policy-making and implementation processes, there is a role, he affirmed, for a representational diversity of backgrounds (especially based on regional or gender diversity), but not in the supervisory machinery itself.
And finally, the other issue related to the normative future has to do with the “right-to-strike” ceasefire that has stirred such interest from the GB about how each candidate would handle going forward. And here, Mr. Vines was quite outspoken on a question raised by the Workers’ representative, asking him how he would deal with the division on this topic. He explained how he has been given the challenge to review the tough negotiations over the past ten years. He believed that the ILO must resolve the issue, listing the three options (continuing the negotiations to recognize the validity of the right to strike, setting up a special ILO tribunal to settle this, or taking it to the International Court of Justice). The longer it is left to fester, he said, the more risk there is for the Workers in the ILO. “I fundamentally believe in the right to strike,” he said, and thus he pledged to continue to play a hands-on role.
The world of work and tripartite relations make the ILO the catalyst for positive change – for building a new global solidarity and for “reinvigorating social dialogue” at all levels – local, national and global. The ILO, he concluded, needs a strong, committed and experienced leader, and he is “the right person with the right experience” to deal with the toughest of issues and to build consensus from all groups. Or, as he previously noted, “I know the ILO and the ILO knows me.”
“I know the ILO and the ILO knows me.” “I fundamentally believe in the right to strike.”