In our time at the ILO we were awarded the opportunity to spend time with Heads of departments and high ranking specialists to learn more about the day-to-day workings of the UN institution. On the final day in Geneva, we were introduced to Dorothea Schmidt-Klau, the Head, Department Management and Coordination Unit of the Employment Policy Department. Dorothea explained to us about the Departments policy centered research which monitored the effectiveness of employment policies of the ILOs member states. Not only does the department provide practical advice on how to improve employment policies and raise awareness, its assistance is based upon the demand of the employers. This unique function enables employers to ask the ILO for help than the ILO choosing where to help.
One of the ways the Employment Policy Department pursues the ILOs Post 2015 Development Goal of ‘Decent Work’ is its focus on capacity building. In Dorothea’s explanation she emphasised the importance of spreading knowledge and skills to people to ensure sustainability and counteract the ILOs financial constraints. To build capacities, the department uses a selection of workshops to help develop frameworks for employers to ensure that worker’s rights, fair wages and job certificate schemes are included within an employee’s contracts. These workshops seeks to place practical and logistical policy advice at the heart of their recommendations.
Using one of her ILO missions to a textiles factory in Egypt as an example, Dorothea explained how the ILO helped to advise the factories problems with worker retention. After observing the factory for a few weeks it was found that the factory only desired to employ women due to their skills and effectiveness. However, the factory had not accounted for the logistical issues that came from this decision. Firstly, for many of the women their walk to work was unsustainable as journeys could be anything up to 100km long. Secondly, the main production floor of the factory as on the second floor which meant that many of the women were unable to physically carry the materials needed to the top floor and lastly, many left because of the discontentment of husbands with their work being away from the home. In response the ILO were successful in helping to implement change through a selection of practical recommendations to move the production to the ground floor and provide transport for the women.
Although the ILO can only recommend changes to the employers, the fact that the ILO are invited to advise companies this has provided the institution with an invaluable resource for influence and research. Dorothea explained that despite the ILOs pursuits to ensure ‘decent work’ for all, challenges still remain in attitudes to jobs. This is because many workers are happy just to have a job that is not forced nor exploitative regardless of pay or the rights they hold. Unfazed, Dorothea expressed great optimism about the ILOs Post Development Goal and the successes that were being had in improving the lives of those in work. Although the steps may seem small in comparison to the amount of challenges that dominant the news, Dorothea ensured us that the work of the ILO is incredibly important and rewarding.