‘Women at Work: the Role of the ILO’
By Professor Mary Daly, President, Royal Irish Academy
Venue: The College Hall, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2
Date: Thursday 16 February 2017
Dr Maurice Manning, Chancellor of the National University of Ireland and Mr Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization presided at this third Edward Phelan lecture, jointly organised by NUI and the ILO.
In her lecture, Professor Mary Dalysaid that it was “timely to reflect on the importance of international agencies such
as the ILO and their determination to ‘make the world a better and fairer place’, given the major challenges at present to the values of internationalism”.
The paper posed a key question: given that the ILO does not have the power to enforce its directives, how then can it be effective? To answer this question, Professor Daly charted the development of the ILO decade by decade since its foundation in 1919. In particular, she will drew attention to two key phases in ILO history and associated policies; ILO Convention 100 issued in 1951, which laid out the principle of equal remuneration and the ILO Decent Work Agenda of the 1990s.
Professor Daly argued that as we here in Ireland celebrate the decade of centenaries, it is fitting to acknowledge the ILO,another near centenarian, especially as it was the first international organisation to admit the Irish Free State in 1923. It was this recognition and that of the League of Nations that enabled the Irish Free State to assert its standing as an independent country. More specifically, Professor Daly outlined the critical role Edward Phelan played in guiding and forging Ireland’s relationship with these organisations.
Professor Daly demonstrated that women and women’s work were core interests of the ILO from its foundation, beginning in March 1919 when representatives of international women’s organisations presented ILO with a list of demands. She examined the unstated assumption at that timethat men’s working conditions could be regulated through collective bargaining between employers and workers, whereas women and children required legislative protection.
Professor Daly argued that the climate of 1930s was not favourable to the expanding rights of working women. During the Depression women were frequently scape-goated as the cause of male unemployment. In the 1940s, World War II disrupted traditional patterns of employment. The end of war again brought the vision for a better future and the foundation of the United Nations and with it the reinvigoration of the ILO.
In 1951, the ILO enacted Convention no 100 – the Equal Remuneration Convention, Professor Daly discussed how this brought a focus on equality relating to women over the following decades. In 1956, the ILO passed a resolution prohibiting sex as groundsfor discrimination on pay and later in 1965 ILO Recommendation 123 addressed the integration of women with family responsibilities in employment on a footing of equality.
A central tenet of Professor Daly’s paper was that though the ILO lacked the power to enforce these directives, they exercised influence in other ways, for example ILO research underpinned the work of the UN Economic and Social Council which culminated in the UN 1966 International Covenant on Economic Cultural and Social Rights and the 1967 Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against women. In the case of Ireland, she suggested that international forcessuch as the ILO were important in bringing about change as Ireland was determined to present an international image as a modern progressive nation.
Professor Daly outlined how after the1970s the story is one of progress but continuing frustrations. The number of women at work in Ireland rose by over 40% between 1971 and 1992. The major change has been the substantial rise in the number of mothers of young children in the labour-force. ILO 100 first issued in 1951 remains relevant; in 2015, the gap in male and female earnings was 14%.
Professor Daly highlighted the 1990s as another pivotal phase, when the ILO moved away from its traditional emphasis on conventions with specific obligations, to focus on core principles. This move was motivated by a desire to reflect the changing nature of the global economy. Through its Decent Work Agenda – the ILO commits ‘to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equality, security and human dignity’.
In conclusion, Professor Daly proposed that ‘at a time when some of the ugliest aspects of nationalism are raising their head, it is important to recognise the importance of international organisations, such as the ILO, while also recognising that if the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda is to succeed, this will require advocates at national level, and in other trans-national networks such as the EU’.
This lecture series was established by NUI and ILO to honour Edward J. Phelan.
Edward Phelan, born in Tramore, Co. Waterford in 1888, had a distinguished career at the International Labour Organization. He was official advocate of the ILO Project at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, became its fourth Director in 1941 and Director-General under its new constitution in 1946. He died in 1948.