Issue 63: Special Sitting of the International Labour Conference

The International Labour Organization recently held an acrimonious “special sitting” on the “situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories” at its annual Conference.

Analysis: The ILO is meant to serve as a forum for discussion among labor, employers and governments. In this “special sitting,” though, the labor relations focus is overwhelmed by political attacks against Israel. Predictably, the result is a long list of Arab League speakers, each repeating Palestinian positions on Permanent Status issues and other anti-Israel arguments, whose connection to labor is tenuous at best.

Despite the implication of being exceptional, the “special sitting” aimed at Israel has in fact become standard practice at the ILO’s annual meetings. Beginning in 1990, such a session has been held for eight of the past twelve years. The only exceptional aspect is that Israel is the one country singled out for such treatment.

The UN Charter stipulates equal treatment for all UN Member States. The decision to focus the only “special sitting” on “workers of the occupied Arab territories” is not justifiable with regard to any non-political criterion. That Palestinian workers are in a conflict zone and suffer from high unemployment (around 50% according to both Palestinian and Israeli sources) is neither unprecedented nor unique today.

The ILO itself has lamented the “near catastrophic destruction in all sectors of society” in war-torn Sierra Leone, where unemployment was at the perilous level of 70% earlier this year. In Liberia, wracked by civil war as well as electricity and water stoppages, unemployment hovers around the same figure.

Neither of those African cases, nor the situations in the Balkans, nor any other conflict has produced a “special sitting” in recent years. This double-standard leaves little doubt that the Governing Body of the ILO has allowed Algeria and Saudi Arabia, the sponsors of the resolution, to conduct a “special sitting” to abuse the ILO for political purposes.

The effect of this abuse is to inflame the conflict in the Middle East, an act to which no Specialized Agency or UN institution should be a party. If the ILO feels compelled to be involved in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, it should search for non-political projects which might promote peace through cooperation.

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