Labour standards and law in Pacific island countries

The Challenge

The opening session of the 104th International Labour Conference.
A number of Pacific island countries have industrial relations systems with historical roots in legal frameworks implemented by colonial administrations that were in the past responsible for Pacific Island territories.

Labour legislation (with some exceptions relating to the public sector) in a number of countries is characterized by a protective approach largely directed at the health and welfare of private sector workers and reinforces the protectionist approach of early colonial administrations. Labour laws are also often missing a number of protections expressed in ILO standards. This includes the presence of provisions that discriminate against women, enable termination of employment “at will” by the employer, as well as limiting the right to freedom of association and bargain collectively.

In addition, dispute resolution processes are also often subject to lengthy delays. These weaknesses undermine confidence in the law, impact on transparency and undermine good governance.

Increasingly, there are more imperatives for ILO member States to pay greater attention to improving compliance with the ILO’s Fundamental Conventions. Most ILO member States in the Pacific Islands region have ratified these Conventions, but there is a continuing gap between ratified Conventions and their application in law and practice.

ILO Response

Pacific island governments are alert to weaknesses in existing labour law frameworks and have prioritised improving the application of ratified international labour standards.

During the last four years labour law reform to improve compliance with the eight Fundamental ILO Conventions has been a priority for Vanuatu, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tuvalu, Palau and Tonga.

The ILO Office for Pacific Island Countries promotes the principle of participatory law making and encourages Governments to work closely with representative organisations of employers and workers to develop labour law policy. To support labour law reform processes, the Office has been providing technical support for labour law reviews and has provided technical assistance for development of draft labour Bills. In addition, the office provides technical support for training labour and OSH inspectors implement new legislative responsibilities.

The ILO also provides support to member States to improve reporting practices on ratified ILO Conventions.

Key resources

  1. Reporting on ILO Standards: Guide for Labour Officers in Pacific Island Member States

    The ILO’s Constitution provides that member States’ have an obligation to report on the application of international labour standards. This Guide provides step-by-step help for labour officers in Pacific Island member States to report in relation to certain areas.