ILO supervisory machinery
What does it do? How is it relevant to my work?
Since 1919, representatives of governments, employers and workers have come together to adopt international labour standards – 189 Conventions, giving rise to international treaty obligations, as well as over 200 Recommendations.
Eight of these Conventions have been designated by the ILO as “fundamental”, with “particular significance both as human rights and enabling conditions for the achievement of other ILO strategic objectives, and for the creation of decent jobs”. These include the Conventions addressing child labour, forced labour, non-discrimination in employment and occupation, and freedom of association. Most recently, ILO constituents also adopted the 2014 Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930. The foundation of the right to decent work is respect for the fundamental rights of workers, as set out in these Conventions. Human rights are not only the foundation of decent work; decent work has been recognized as a human right itself which is also recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which has provisions dealing, not only with the right to work, but with the various aspects of decent work, including just and favourable conditions of work, protection against unemployment, equal pay, social protection and the right to form and join trade unions. Similar provisions are included in other international human rights treaties. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has made it clear, in general comment No. 18, that “work” as referred to in the ICCPR, means “decent work”, making specific reference to a range of ILO Conventions. The ILO Conventions and Recommendations, and the comments of the ILO supervisory bodies, elaborate on and provide substance to the right to decent work.
|Fundamental Conventions||Date||Ratifications (as of March 2017)|
|Forced Labour Convention (No. 29)||1930||178|
|Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No. 105)||1957||175|
|Minimum Age Convention (No. 138)||1973||169|
|Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182)||1999||180|
|Equal Remuneration Convention (No. 100)||1951||173|
|Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111)||1958||174|
|Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention (No. 87)||1948||154|
|Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention (No. 98)||1949||164|
ILO supervisory bodies
The ILO has a comprehensive and long-standing supervisory system, with a range of different and mutually reinforcing mechanisms. The main ILO supervisory mechanism linked to governments’ regular reporting obligation under ratified Conventions, and addressing all Conventions, is the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (Committee of Experts). The Committee of Experts considers annually over 2000 country reports. The Committee of Experts makes two kinds of comments: observations and direct requests. Observations, which are published in the Committee’s annual report, generally contain comments on fundamental questions raised by the application of a particular Convention by a State. Direct requests relate to more technical questions or requests for further infomraiton, and are directly communicated to the Governments concerned. The Committee of Expert’s annual report, containing over 800 observations on a wide range of Conventions, is then examined by the Conference Committee on the Application of Standards of the International Labour Conference. The reports of these supervisory bodies contain observations and conclusions that touch upon people’s daily lives. They address violations of rights, as well as a range of issues relating to conditions in labour markets that can enhance opportunities for enterprise and job creation, and improve pay and working conditions, social protection, productivity, and labour-management relations.
In addition to the regular reporting procedures, the ILO Supervisory machinery includes a number of complaints or grievance mechanisms to deal with allegations of a breach of specific Conventions, in this connection, there are also representation and complaints procedures, as well as special freedom of association procedures. Individual communications are not addressed, but workers’ and employers’ organizations have an important role in each of the supervisory processes. The various mechanisms are described in the Table below.
The ILO supervisory machinery and the UN human rights mechanisms reinforce and complement each other. The ILO supervisory bodies regularly refer to information provided to and the reports of the Treaty and Charter-based bodies, and these bodies, as well as in the context of the UPR, refer to ILO conventions and procedures. Ratification of ILO conventions is, for example, regularly recommended in the context of the UPR. The ILO provides reports to the Treaty and Charter-based bodies, and the ILO Committee of Experts meets annually with members of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to exchange views.
|Mechanism||Composition||Role||Role of employers’ and workers’ organizations||Periodicity||Outcome|
|Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations||20 independent experts||Established in 1926.
Under ILO Constitution, articles 22 and 23 – regular reporting obligation on implementation of ratified Conventions in law and practice
|Employers’ and workers’ organizations may submit observations in the context of the examination of the Government’s report. These observations are examined by the Committee of Experts.||3 years – for fundamental and governance Conventions
5 years for all other Conventions
|Observations and directs requests to Governments. General survey on particular Conventions for broader guidance.
Annual report with observations , as well as general survey, submitted to Conference Committee
|Conference Committee on the Application of Standards||Equal representation of workers’, employers’ and government delegates||Standing Committee of the annual International Labour Conference. Examines the annual report of the Committee of Experts and its general survey.||Employers’ and workers’ organizations take part in the discussions and in the adoption of conclusions||Approximately 25 individual cases examined annually – chosen at the beginning of the Conference by the Committee’s officers||Conclusions recommending specific steps be taken. Follow-up missions and technical assistance often result.
Situations of special concern are highlighted in “special paragraphs” of the Committee’s report. Discussion further feeds Committee of Experts’ reflections.
|Three member committee of the Governing Body – one worker, one employer and one Government representative.||Under articles 24 and 25 of the ILO Constitution, examines allegations of failure to secure effective observance of a ratified Convention.||Representations can be submitted only by workers’ and employers’ organizations, and a workers’ and employers’ representative sits on the tripartite committee that examines each case.||The Committee is established by the Governing Body for each representation which is has determined to be admissible.||Report to the Governing Body with information submitted, conclusions and recommendations. This report further feeds Committee of Experts’ examination.|
|The Governing Body may establish a Commission of Inquiry, the ILO’s highest-level investigative procedure, consisting of three independent members.||Under article 26 of the ILO Constitution, a complaint against a member State for non-compliance with a ratified Convention may be filed by another member State having ratified the Convention, a delegate to the International Labour Conference, or by the Governing Body. A Commission of Inquiry is set up to address persistent and serious violations.||As a delegate to the International Labour Conference, a workers’ or employers’ organization can initiate a complaint.||The Governing Body determines if a Commission of Inquiry will be established.||The Commission of Inquiry investigates the complaint and adopts a report with recommendations. When a member State refuses to fulfil the recommendations, the Governing Body can take further action under article 33 of the ILO Constitution, to secure compliance.|
|The Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA)||Eighteen members (titular and deputy) – 6 representatives of government, 6 of workers’ organizations, and 6 of employers’ organizations, with an independent Chair.||A standing Governing Body Committee. Established in 1951 to examine complaints of violations of freedom of association, irrespective of ratification of the relevant Conventions.||Employers’ and workers’ organizations can submit complaints to the CFA, and are also represented on the CFA.||Complaints are addressed as they are received. CFA meets and adopts reports three times per year.||CFA reviews complaints and either recommends no further action or issues recommendations and requests Government to keep it informed. CFA may also propose a “direct contacts” mission to address the issues.|
|Fact-Finding and Conciliation Commission on Freedom of Association||3, independent experts . Similar to the article 26 complaint, but with a focus on freedom of association||Constituted on the basis of an agreement with the UN Economic and Social Council. Ratification of the relevant Conventions is not necessary, nor is membership in the ILO (UN would obtain consent)||Employers’ and workers’ organizations can submit complaints and provide evidence for the investigation.||The Governing Body decides whether to appoint a Fact-Finding and Conciliation Commission.||The Fact-Finding and Conciliation Commission investigates the complaint and adopts a report with recommendations, which is followed up by the CFA.|
How is the work of the ILO supervisory bodies relevant to UNCTs?
The work of the various international human rights mechanisms, including the ILO supervisory mechanisms, are mutually reinforcing – their observations, conclusions and recommendations need to be examined together if UNCTs are to have a complete picture of the country’s human rights situation, including any specific challenges and areas of concern. The comments, conclusions and recommendations of the ILO supervisory bodies are thus important as analytical input to the UNDAF preparation, in identifying priority areas for programming interventions, and in assessing progress.
At least every three years, governments must submit reports with respect to the eight fundamental Conventions. The Government can even be asked to report outside the regular cycle, if there is a communication by a workers’ or employers’ organization. There may also be supplementary information and conclusions for cases that are brought before the Committee on the Application of Standards, or if representation or complaints reports have been issued regarding a particular country. Together, these mechanisms provide a wealth of information and guidance to assist UNCTs in understanding and analysing the human rights situation in the country, and the elements that contribute to the violation or promotion of a particular human right.
The comments, conclusions and recommendations of the ILO supervisory bodies are important as analytical input to the UNDAF preparation, in identifying priority areas for programming interventions, and in assessing progress. Decent Work Country Programmes (DWCP) also provide key elements for the UNDAF process. The role of the supervisory bodies and DWCPs in the UNDAF process was highlighted in the 2010 UNDAF Guidance Materials. See useful resources section.
In addition, as workers’ and employers’ organizations are part of the ILO governance structure, ILO often has privileged access to national trade unions and business representatives. ILO constituents at the national level can be important in providing practical and up to date information on the human rights situation, and can be key partners in developing and implementing related strategies and programmes. They are often on the front line of addressing human rights concerns in a country.
|Myanmar Case Study: Forced Labour
The fundamental right to be free from forced labour is linked to the need for an enabling environment for freedom of association and collective bargaining. An important example of the impact of supervisory mechanisms can be seen from the long-standing engagement on the issue of forced labour in Myanmar and the efforts taken to promote its elimination. This has resulted in significant improvements in the legislative framework.
For a number of years, the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations had made comments on violations of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) in Myanmar. A Commission of Inquiry was appointed by the Governing Body in March 1997 under article 26 of the ILO Constitution and this was followed by the adoption of a resolution by the International Labour Conference which aimed to ensure measures to address the perpetuation or extension of the system of forced or compulsory labour referred to by the Commission of Inquiry. The cooperation between the ILO and the Government was strengthened in 2001 through the signing of an Understanding to allow a high-level team to assess the realities of the forced labour situation in the country and the appointment of an ILO Liaison Officer in Myanmar.
A complaints mechanism was established in a Supplementary Understanding between the ILO and the Government in 2007 aimed at giving victims of forced labour the opportunity to channel their complaints to the competent authorities with a view to seeking redress. Following the repeal of the Village Act and Towns Act of 1907, which was specifically requested by the Commission of Inquiry, the Committee of Experts also welcomed positive developments in the application of the Forced Labour Convention by the Government, and encouraged it to pursue on-going efforts towards the elimination of forced labour in all its forms, both in law and practice.
The Committee of Experts welcomed the passage of the Labour Organization Law which addressed gaps in the legislative framework in relation to the right of workers to form and join organizations of their own choosing. When in force, the Labour Law will provide that newly formed workers organizations will be in a position to exercise fully their trade union activities, including with a view to playing their part towards the full and effective elimination of forced labour. As a result of recent progress, the International Labour Conference in 2013 decided to discontinue the special measures put in place to secure observance by the Government of Myanmar of its voluntarily undertaken international obligations.
UNCT Checklist for engaging with ILO supervisory bodies
A print version of the checklist is available here.
|Know which ILO Conventions the member State has ratified and of those outstanding Conventions determine if the Government has committed to become a party|
|Read the observations and direct requests of the Committee of Experts relating to ratified ILO Conventions|
|For more information on a particular subject, read the relevant general survey of the Committee of Experts, and general observations on particular Conventions|
|Determine if any of the Committee of Experts’ observations regarding the country have been discussed by the Conference Committee on the Application of Standards|
|Read the discussion of the Conference Committee on the country concerned, and examine the conclusions adopted.|
|Check if any recent representations or complaints have been filed under articles 24 or 26 of the ILO Constitution|
|Read any reports arising out of representations or complaints and any follow-up|
|Read any recent cases of the Committee on Freedom of Association pertaining to the county and any follow-up|
|Determine which issues arising out of the ILO supervisory bodies should be priorities for UNDAF programming interventions|
|Engage with national employers’ and workers’ organizations and Ministries responsible for labour and employment in designing and implementing strategies and programmes|
|Contact the international labour standards department in Geneva or the International Labour Standards specialist in the relevant ILO country or regional office for further information and guidance|
Useful links and resources
Rules of the Game: a brief introduction to International Labour Standards (Rev. 2009)
Report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations
Report of the Conference Committee on the Application of Standards, 2013
Freedom of Association – Digest of decisions and principles of the Freedom of Association Committee of the Governing Body of the ILO, Fifth (revised) edition, 2006
Special procedures for the examination in the International Labour Organization of complaints alleging violations of freedom of association
Giving globalization a human face (General Survey on the fundamental Conventions)
Handbook of procedures relating to international labour Conventions and Recommendations (Rev. 2012), ILO – describes the procedures operating within the International Labour Organization in relation to the adoption and implementation of Conventions and Recommendations http://www.ilo.org/global/standards/information-resources-and-publications/publications/WCMS_192621/lang–en/index.htm
 Resolution concerning the recurrent discussion on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, International Labour Conference, 2012, para 5.
 Article 23. See also Articles 20, 22, 24 and 25.
 The right to decent work is also reflected in Article 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Article 11 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and Articles 25, 26, 40, 52 and 54 of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (CMW).