In the run-up to the United Nations (UN) Day on October 24th and as part of The CSR Journal’s new UN-Bodies series, let us explore International Labour Organization (ILO), the only tripartite agency of the UN.
ILO, established in 1919, brings together governments, employers and workers of 187 member States, to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes promoting decent work for all women and men. Its founding mission was to establish social justice which is essential to universal and lasting peace. The organization received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1969 for improving peace among classes, pursuing decent work and justice for workers, and providing technical assistance to other developing nations.
The organization has played a key role in ensuring labour rights during the Great Depression, the decolonization process, the creation of Solidarność (trade union) in Poland, and the victory over apartheid in South Africa.
Structure of ILO
The ILO accomplishes its work through three main bodies which comprise governments’, employers’ and workers’ representatives:
International Labour Conference: it sets the International labour standards and the broad policies of the ILO. It meets annually in Geneva. It is often referred to as an International Parliament of Labour. It is also a forum for discussion of key social and labour questions.
Governing Body: it is the executive council of the ILO. It meets three times a year in Geneva. It takes policy decisions of ILO and establishes the programme and the budget, which it then submits to the Conference for adoption. The work of the Governing Body and the Office is aided by tripartite committees covering major industries. It is also supported by committees of experts on such matters as vocational training, management development, occupational safety and health, industrial relations, workers’ education, and special problems of women and young workers.
International Labour Office: it is the permanent secretariat of the International Labour Organization. It is the focal point for ILO’s overall activities, which it prepares under the scrutiny of the Governing Body and under the leadership of the Director-General. Regional meetings of the ILO member States are held periodically to examine matters of special interest to the regions concerned.
The Functions of the ILO
The functions of the UN body include:
– Creation of coordinated policies and programs, directed at solving social and labour issues.
– Adoption of international labour standards in the form of conventions and recommendations and control over their implementation.
– Assistance to member-states in solving social and labour problems.
– Human rights protection (the right to work, freedom of association, collective negotiations, protection against forced labour, protection against discrimination, etc.).
– Research and publication of works on social and labour issues.
Objectives of the ILO
1. To promote and realize standards and fundamental principles and rights at work.
2. To create greater opportunities for women and men to secure decent employment.
3. To enhance the coverage and effectiveness of social protection for all.
4. To strengthen tripartism and social dialogue.
International Labour Standards
The ILO sets international labour standards with conventions, which are ratified by member states. These are non-binding. In order to set them, conventions are drawn up with input from governments, workers’ and employers’ groups at the ILO and are adopted by the International Labour Conference. In ratifying an ILO convention, a member state accepts it as a legally binding instrument. Many countries use conventions as a tool to bring national laws in line with international standards.
Decent Work Agenda
As part of its mission, the ILO aims to achieve decent work for all by promoting social dialogue, social protection and employment creation, as well as respect for international labour standards. The ILO provides technical support to more than 100 countries to help achieve these aims, with the support of development partners.
ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work
It was adopted in 1998, the Declaration commits member states to respect and promote eight fundamental principles and rights in four categories, whether or not they have ratified the relevant conventions. They are:
– Freedom of Association and The Right to collective bargaining
– Elimination of forced or compulsory labour
– Abolition of child labour
– Elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation
Core Conventions of the ILO
The eight fundamental conventions form an integral part of the United Nations Human Rights Framework, and their ratification is an important sign of member States’ commitment to human rights. Overall, 135 member States have ratified all eight fundamental conventions. Unfortunately, 48 member states (out of 183 member States), including member states with the highest populations, have yet to complete ratification of all eight conventions.
The eight-core conventions of the ILO are:
1. Forced Labour Convention
2. Abolition of Forced Labour Convention
3. Equal Remuneration Convention
4. Discrimination (Employment Occupation) Convention
5. Minimum Age Convention
6. Worst forms of Child Labour Convention
7. Freedom of Association and Protection of Right to Organised Convention
8. Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention
The eight conventions, taken together, are more relevant today in the face of global economic and other challenges impinging on the welfare and livelihood of workers in all regions. They are part and parcel of the overarching architecture for the universality of human rights, offering protection to all, and responding closely to the quest for social justice in a globalized setting. They are catalytic to the UN system, the international community and local communities as a whole.
India and ILO
India is a founding member of the ILO and it has been a permanent member of the ILO Governing Body since 1922. In India, the first ILO Office was started in 1928. The decades of productive partnership between the ILO and its constituents has mutual trust and respect as underlying principles and is grounded in building sustained institutional capacities and strengthening capacities of partners.
Trade Unions at the ILO
Trade unions play a crucial role in developing policy at the ILO, Worker group representation is drawn from national trade union confederations. The Bureau for Workers’ Activities at the secretariat is dedicated to strengthening independent and democratic trade unions so they can better defend workers’ rights and interests.
The ILO’s supervisory role
The ILO monitors the implementation of ILO conventions ratified by member states. This is done through:
– The Committee of Experts on the Application of conventions and Recommendations.
– The International Labour Conference’s Tripartite Committee on the Application of conventions and Recommendations.
– Member states are also required to send reports on the progress of the implementation of the conventions they have ratified.
ILO’s Global Commission on the Future of Work
The formation of an ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work marks the second stage in the ILO Future of Work Initiative. The commission outlines a vision for a human-centred agenda that is based on investing in people’s capabilities, institutions of work and decent and sustainable work. It has undertaken an in-depth examination of the future of work that can provide the analytical basis for the delivery of social justice in the 21st century. It outlines the challenges caused by new technology, climate change and demography and calls for a collective global response to the disruptions they are causing in the world of work.