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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

President's Committee on the International Labor Organization

Esther Brimmer
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Department of Labor
Washington, DC
May 4, 2010


Madame Secretary, thank you for convening today’s meeting.

On behalf of Secretary Clinton, who unfortunately cannot be here today, it is an honor to have this opportunity to meet in this venerated building dedicated to the memory of Frances Perkins, a powerful voice for American membership and participation in the International Labor Organization (ILO). I am pleased to be here with Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner. Mike and his staff play a key role in advancing worker rights around the world, often in close cooperation with the ILO and other partners.

I also want to recognize my United States government colleagues, as well as our social partners, President Trumka and President Robinson. We all share a commitment to the ILO and a belief that tripartite consultation of this kind is one of its great strengths.

Madame Secretary, it is unfortunate that a decade has gone by since the last time this Committee met. During the decade, the United States continued to take an active role in the ILO’s standard-setting activities and provided generous funding for its technical assistance programs.

The Department of Labor has made extra-budgetary contributions of over $40 million a year during this period, a tribute, Madame Secretary, to the Department of Labor’s long-standing commitment to the ILO.

Last year the Department of State paid all the arrears on our assessed contribution to the ILO’s regular budget, and as of last month we have paid in full our assessment for 2009, a total of 79.2 million dollars, or 22% of the regular budget.

Turning to the agenda for today’s meeting, we agree that a high priority for this Committee is the reinvigoration of its Tripartite Advisory Panel on International Labor Standards. This is an example of the Administration’s efforts to revitalize mechanisms to support multilateral diplomacy. The United States played a particularly important role in negotiating the two new maritime standards on our agenda, and let me say a few words about them.

As we know, Convention 185 on Seafarers’ Identity Documents was in direct response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. As part of a broader effort to strengthen security at all of our ports of entry, the U.S. Government recommended that the ILO update an earlier convention on seafarers’ identity documents and provided technical assistance to the ILO for this purpose.

When the new Convention was put before the International Labor Conference in 2003, the tripartite U.S. delegation voted unanimously to adopt it. U.S. ratification might have been expected to follow quickly thereafter. But as the U.S. Government delegate explained in remarks to the Conference following the vote, the Convention contained a visa provision contrary to U.S. immigration law, a provision the U.S. Government had opposed during the negotiations. He pointed out, however, that the United States was considering steps to facilitate the visa application process for seafarers, in view of their special professional needs as described in the Convention’s preamble.

In 2005 the Tripartite Advisory Panel on International Labor Standards began an examination of Convention 185, with a view to determining whether to recommend it to the President’s Committee for ratification. This examination was never completed, but discussions within the Government about possible ratification continued, focusing on the problematic visa provision. In 2008 the ILO provided the U.S. Government with a document outlining some of the concepts relevant to this provision that might be considered during these discussions.

Today’s meeting is an opportunity to pick up where those earlier discussions left off, by asking the Advisory Panel to resume and complete the 2005 law-and-practice review of Convention 185. This review should be carried out in conjunction with all relevant agencies of the U.S. Government, particularly the Department of Homeland Security.

The Maritime Labor Convention should also be a priority for the Panel. The U.S. Government, U.S. ship owners and U.S. seafarers played an important role in negotiating this innovative instrument, and voted unanimously to adopt it at the special Maritime Conference in 2006. It is our hope that before we adjourn today, we can agree that the Panel should take up these two maritime conventions as a matter of priority.

Madame Secretary, let me highlight another ILO achievement, in which the United States actively participated—the adoption in 2008 of the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization.

This was a difficult negotiation, as many in this room will recall. But periodically, the ILO has found it useful to reaffirm its aims and purposes for a new age, as it did in Philadelphia in 1944. The Social Justice Declaration falls squarely within that tradition. It reaffirms the ILO’s historic mandate to examine and consider all international economic and financial policies in light of the fundamental objective of social justice.

I believe the President made it clear he shares this vision when he wrote to ILO Director-General Juan Somavia last summer, inviting him to participate in the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh. “The G20 has made tremendous progress since the Washington and London meetings,” wrote the President, “but there remain serious challenges to restoring confidence, jobs, and growth in the months ahead. We would welcome your participation in discussions of our continuing efforts to address the economic crisis and to develop a balanced and sustainable growth strategy, including taking actions to prevent this past year’s economic instability from occurring again in the future.”

In conclusion, Madame Secretary, let me once again express my gratitude for the initiative you have taken in reconvening this Committee, and assure you of the Department of State’s resolve to take an active part in its deliberations. We firmly believe in the value of the ILO’s contributions to our strategic objectives of helping to build democratic societies and prosperous free-market economies. Our commitment as a government to the work of the ILO is strong. The opportunity this Committee provides us for regular tripartite consultation on our policy toward the ILO will make it stronger. Thank you.

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