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Minister Pat Breen, Minister for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection addresses the 108th Conference of the International Labour Organisation on its centenary

Today (12th June) Minister Pat Breen addressed the Plenary of the 108th session of the International Labour Conference during this, the ILO’s Centenary year.  This Organisation’s Centenary resonates very strongly with Ireland, given the central role which Irishman Edward Phelan played in the foundation of the ILO in 1919.  During his term as Director General from 1941 to 1948 he was principal author of the seminal Declaration of Philadelphia which charted a new path for this Organisation whilst reaffirming its founding values

Minister Breen said “Ireland’s close relationship with the ILO is evidenced by the fact that the ILO was the first international organisation which the Irish Free State joined in 1923.  In addition, the Centenary year coincides with Ireland’s first ever term as a Full member of the Governing Body which is a source of great pride for us”

Furthermore, he continued “International labour standards remain at the heart of this Organisation.  In this regard I am very pleased to say that in February of this year Ireland became the 29th member State to ratify the Forced Labour Protocol, demonstrating Ireland’s commitment to combatting forced labour in all its forms. The strong relationship which we have with our Social Partners is fundamental to our ability to play an active role within the ILO, and this was amply demonstrated by the cooperation from Social Partners, ICTU and Ibec, in respect of the ratification process”.

One of the Centenary Conference Committees is negotiating a standard on combatting violence and harassment in the world of work. The Irish Government is fully committed to the adoption of a convention which is as widely ratifiable as possible on this very important topic. 

As it enters its next 100 years the continued work of the ILO will be key to ensuring a brighter future for everyone in the changing world of work.  Many of the elements in the report of the ILO’s Global Commission on the Future of Work are reflected in the Irish Government’s Future Jobs initiative. Ireland’s economic turnaround over the past seven years has been remarkable. However, there is no room for complacency as Ireland faces a range of new challenges, including declining productivity levels in SMEs, infrastructural constraints, skills deficits and labour availability, as well as concentrations in some sectors and markets.

A comprehensive new framework, called “Future Jobs Ireland” is the Government’s response to these challenges.  It reflects considerable input from stakeholders, including our social partners, who engaged in the consultation process for its development.  “Future Jobs Ireland” echoes many of the themes highlighted in the report of the Global Commission on the Future of Work. 

Minister Breen noted that at this year’s Conference Governments, Workers and Employers are together negotiating a Centenary Declaration which will guide this Organisation into its next 100 years.  He finished by saying that “The level of ambition at this year’s Centenary ILC is unparalleled.  However, I am sure that this Organisation’s unique tripartite structure, which facilitates the meeting of minds and cultures of Governments, Workers and Employers from 187 countries, will enable the delivery of these ambitious goals. I wish everyone success in the important work being undertaken at the Centenary ILC”

Minister Breen met with Ireland’s tripartite delegation which includes senior officials from his own Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, as well as senior representatives of both Ibec and ICTU and congratulated them on their strong input to the business of the conference and its committees.


Note for the Editor

The Centenary International Labour Conference (ILC) is underway in Geneva from 10th to 21st June.  To mark the occasion of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Centenary year the conference will include high level visits from several heads of state, including, President of South Africa, Cyril Ramphosa, the Swedish Prime Minster Stefan Lofven, President of France Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Teresa May. Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection Pat Breen TD is attending the Conference on Wednesday, 12th June and is delivering an address to the Plenary. 

The ILO, one of the UN’s oldest agencies, was founded in 1919 and brings together governments, employer and worker representatives of 187 countries to develop international Labour Standards and policies to promote decent work and social justice. Many of the employment rights which we currently benefit from; such as minimum working age, maternity leave, maximum weekly working hours and annual leave, are the result of negotiations over the past 100 years by the constituents of the ILO.

Ireland became a member of the ILO in 1923, this was the first international organisation which the new State joined. Ireland’s links with the ILO can be traced back to Edward Phelan, a Waterford born civil servant who became the ILO’s first official.

In June 2017 Ireland was elected to a Titulaire (speaking and voting) seat for the first time since we joined the ILO in 1923. The seat will be held for three years and will coincide with an ambitious and active period in the ILO as it celebrates it.

In line with the unique tripartite nature of the ILO, Ireland is represented by a delegation from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) together with representatives of Ibec and ICTU.

At the Centenary Conference, Ireland is playing a high-profile role on all of the ILO committees:

  • Ireland will chair the Committee on the Application of Standards which examines cases of countries alleged to have infringed ILO standards.
  • On the Conference Committee which is preparing a Centenary Declaration, Ireland is negotiating for the EU.   
  • And finally, in the standard setting Committee on Violence and Harassment, which is negotiating a convention on combatting violence and harassment in the workplace, Ireland is playing an active and high-profile role in the EU group. The convention being negotiated will be the first ever international instrument on this important topic.


In September 2019, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation in collaboration with the National University of Ireland will hold a national event to commemorate the ILO centenary. The event will highlight the significant role Ireland has played in the ILO over the past hundred years. Details of the conference will be released in the coming weeks.


The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) plays a key role in implementing the Government’s policies of stimulating the productive capacity of the economy and creating an environment which supports job creation and maintenance. The Department has lead responsibility for Irish policy on global trade and inward investment and a remit to promote fair competition in the marketplace, protect consumers and safeguard workers.

For further information please contact Press Office, D/Business, Enterprise and Innovation, or (01) 631-2200