International Labour Standards

Development of international standards governing conditions of work and employment was the reason for the creation of the ILO and remains its main means of action. International labour standards derive their authority from their adoption by the International Labour Conference, a body in which governments, employers and workers from virtually all countries of the world are represented. These standards take two forms: Conventions and Recommendations. While Recommendations are intended to provide guidance for national policy and practice, Conventions are international treaties creating obligations under international law for countries that ratify them. The ILO supervisory machinery seeks to ensure that ratifying member States put the provisions of the Conventions in effect, both in law and practice. For that purpose, it relies in large part on the reports on ratified Conventions that must be periodically submitted by governments. Employers’ and workers’ organizations have the opportunity to provide information and express their views.

The eight Conventions underpinning the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work of 1998 – on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of forced labour, the effective abolition of child labour and the elimination of discrimination in employment or occupation – are ratified by all countries in the region but one. In addition to these fundamental Conventions, the ILO attaches a special importance to four other “priority” Conventions – on employment policy, labour inspection (two conventions) and tripartite consultations. Except for the Employment Policy Convention, 1964 (No. 122), the regional ratification status of these priority Conventions is less favourable. Many countries have yet to ratify the Labour Inspection Conventions (Nos. 81 and 129) and, by comparison with the rest of the world, the ratification level of the Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards) Convention, 1976 (No. 144) is low. In addition, some governments appear to encounter serious difficulties in discharging their reporting obligations. Reporting remains insufficient or erratic in many countries. The involvement of workers’ and employers’ organizations in implementation and reporting seems limited.

In that context, the ILO Office offers its constituents:

  • its full support for efforts to fulfil their reporting and other obligations under the ILO Constitution. Training and technical advice regularly provided to the governments and social partners are intended to help improve the regional reporting record;
  • assistance in a tripartite review of their existing and contemplated commitments under ILO Conventions. Ratification of certain key Conventions – in particular on private employment agencies, occupational safety and health, migration for employment or workers with family responsibilities – is identified in several ILO Decent Work Country Programmes as instrumental in advancing priority objectives. This calls for a careful examination of the conditions required for ratification. On the other hand, some countries have inherited from the period of the Soviet Union ratifications of outdated or irrelevant Conventions and their replacement with up to date instruments should be considered;
  • its technical expertise in developing labour law reforms to improve implementation of ILO standards and principles through domestic law and procedures and, in this way, to improve conditions of work in priority areas such as freedom of association, collective bargaining, gender equality, child labour, and occupational safety and health.