POLITICS – A “ugh” of relief mixed with “hurrahs”. The former Minister of Labour, Muriel Penicaudwho led the reforms of the Work code or even from unemployment insurance for start of Emmanuel Macron’s five-year term (2017-2020), was defeated this Friday, March 25, in the elections for the presidency of the International Labor Organization (ILO).
It was the former Prime Minister of Togo, Gilbert Houngbo, the favorite on the ballot, who emerged victorious with 30 votes against 23 for whom he notably managed the Human Resources of the Danone group before his entry into government and who is currently France’s permanent representative to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Muriel Pénicaud hailed the victory of Gilbert Houngbo, “the first African in this position, at a key moment when the issues of social justice, the future of work and multilateralism will be more important than ever”.
But almost two weeks before the first round of the presidential elections, his defeat is above all a political victory for France Insoumise (LFI), which after the departure of its presidential candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchonwelcomed the election of the 56 world representatives of governments, workers and employers to the UN agency in 187 member states.
“Wonderful victory of the trade union candidate to the International Labor Organization. Muriel Pénicaud hit hard: hooray!” greeted Jean-Luc Mélenchon, underlining the “ridiculous score” of the candidate from France and the “European bloc” during the elections.
Francois Ruffin he hailed the defeat of the “minister who dismissed the Remolinos against labor legislation, the Minister of Ordinances Macron” and therefore the “victory of the workers of Picardy and elsewhere”. The president of the groupe LFI à l’Assemblée nationale, Mathilde Panot, a de son côté capé sur “la casseuse du Code du travail” who “n’a rien à faire à la tête d’une organization de défense des droits des salariés dans the world”.
The rest of the left was rarer in greeting the defeat of the Macronist minister. The MEP of the Esquerra Republicana y Socialista, Emmanuel Maurel, “was guarded against all bad cheer” but greeted “a new welcome!”
Gilbert Houngbo, 61, is originally from a rural prefecture in Togo and has spent most of his career in international organizations, where he is considered an experienced senior civil servant. He will take office in early October, replacing former British trade unionist Guy Ryder, in office for 10 years and who has reached the two-term limit.
“I am profoundly and absolutely honored by the first representative of the African region who chose to lead the ILO after 103” of existence, declared Gilbert Houngbo, after being elected to the oldest specialized agency for United Nations. “You made history,” he assured them.
The result of the election, he stressed, “carries strong symbolism.” And to add: “Your election (…) responds to the aspirations of a young African, a young African whose humble education has become a lifelong search for social justice.”
It will have the heavy task of adapting the standards of this centennial organization to a labor market in full mutation under the effect of new technologies. Especially since the Covid-19 pandemic has given a boost to teleworking technologies. In his candidacy, he stressed that his vision of the ILO is inspired by the preamble of the Organization’s Constitution: “Considering that universal and lasting peace can only be founded on the basis of social justice.”
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