The International Labour Organization (ILO) - Activities

A. International Labor Standards

One of the principal achievements of the ILO has been the formulation of an extensive international labor code through the drafting and adoption of various standard-setting conventions and recommendations. The first international convention adopted was the 1919 Hours of Work Convention, establishing the eight-hour day and the six-day week in industry.

A convention is similar to an international treaty and is subject to ratification. Recommendations do not require ratification. They serve as guidelines for national policy.

By 2002, the various sessions of the International Labour Conference had built up the edifice of the international labor code through the adoption of 184 conventions and 194 recommendations, covering such questions as the following:

  • employment and unemployment: employment services, national development programs, and provisions for unemployment;
  • various aspects of conditions of work: wages, hours, weekly rest periods, annual holidays with pay, and allied topics;
  • employment of children and young persons: minimum age of admission to employment, medical examination for fitness for employment, vocational training and apprenticeship, and night work;
  • employment of women: maternity protection, night work, and employment in unhealthy work;
  • industrial health, safety, and welfare;
  • social security;
  • industrial (i.e., management-labor) relations;
  • labor inspection;
  • social policy in nonmetropolitan areas and concerning indigenous and tribal populations;
  • protection of migrants; and
  • trade unionism and collective bargaining.

At first, the effort to build up minimum labor and social standards that would be internationally valid was considered by many as utopian. In these fields, international action used to be virtually unknown. But the freely accepted conventions and recommendations and the ILO machinery of mutual supervision have helped to improve working conditions and managementlabor relations, protect the fundamental rights of labor, promote social security, and lessen the frequency and intensity of labor conflicts.

The international labor code is continually being revised and extended, not only to broaden its scope but also to keep pace with advancing concepts of social and economic welfare. The following conventions represent the heart and soul of the organization's commitment to its mandate to social justice:

Selected ILO Conventions

The International Labour Organization (ILO)

No. 29 Forced Labor Convention (1930)
No. 87 Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize (1948)
No. 98 Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention (1949)
No. 100 Equal Remuneration Convention (1951)
No. 105 Abolition of Forced Labor Convention (1957)
No. 111 Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (1958)
No. 122 Employment Policy Convention (1964)
No. 135 Workers' Representatives Convention (1971)
No. 141 Rural Workers' Organizations Convention (1978)
No. 144 Tripartite Consultation (International Labor Standards) Convention (1976)
No. 151 Labor Relations (Public Service) (1978)
No. 155 Occupational Safety and Health Convention (1981)
No. 169 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (1989)
No. 174 Prevention of Major Industrial Accidents Convention (1993)
No. 182 Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention (1999)

Other important conventions are, for example, the 1960 convention and a recommendation on the protection of workers against ionizing radiations. These instruments, in essence, provide for the establishment of maximum permissible doses and amounts of radioactive substances that may be taken into the body. Appropriate radiation levels are fixed for workers over 16. Under these international instruments, workers under 16 are prohibited from working in direct contact with ionizing radiations.

In pursuit of ILO efforts to help extend the scope of social security coverage throughout the world and eliminate discrimination based upon nationality, the 1962 International Labour Conference adopted a convention on the equal treatment of nationals and non-nationals in social security. Under this convention, a ratifying country shall give to nationals of other ratifying countries, within its territory, equal treatment with its own nationals under its social security legislation. Countries may accept the obligations of the convention in any or all of the following types of social security: medical care, sickness benefits, maternity benefits, unemployment benefits, and family allowances.

The adoption of protective standard measures against occupationally caused cancer was taken up at the 1974 session of the International Labour Conference. Two international agreements were drawn up, aimed at limiting the use and the adverse effects of carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substances and strengthening protective measures to be used against them.

In 1983, a convention was adopted on the rights of handicapped people, aimed at increasing employment opportunities for the disabled. In 1986, a convention to protect workers against serious risks from the use of asbestos was adopted.

The following recommendations are representative of the ILO's work during the last two decades of the 20th century.

The International Labour Organization (ILO)

No. 175 Safety and Health in Construction Recommendation (1988)
No. 176 Employment Promotion and Protection against
Unemployment Recommendation (1988)
No. 177 Chemicals Recommendation (1990)
No. 178 Night Work Recommendation (1990)
No. 179 Working Conditions in Hotels, Restaurants and Similar Establishments (1991)
No. 180 Protection of Workers' Claims in the Event of the Insolvency of Their Employer (1992)
No. 181 Prevention of Major Industrial Accidents (1993)
No. 184 Home Work Recommendation (1996)
No. 188 Private Employment Agencies Recommendation (1997)

For a complete listing of ILO conventions, visit their Internet site . Recommendations are also listed at the site.

B. Obligation of Members after Adoption of International Labor Standards

The ILO, it should be borne in mind, is not a world lawgiver. The International Labour Conference cannot pass legislation that by itself is binding on any country. However, ingenious arrangements have been written into the ILO constitution to make sure that conventions and recommendations adopted by the International Labour Conference are not regarded as mere pious pronouncements. Member governments must report back to the ILO on the measures they have taken to bring the ILO convention or recommendation before their competent legislative authorities, and they must also keep the ILO informed of decisions made by those authorities.

Supervision of Application of Ratified Conventions

Once a convention has been ratified and has come into force, every country that ratified it is obligated to take all necessary measures to make its provisions effective.

By ratifying a convention, a country automatically agrees to report every year to the International Labour Office on how the convention is being applied in its territory. These reports are much more than a formality. For each convention, the Governing Body formulates a number of questions that include requests for information on the results of labor inspection, relevant court decisions, and statistics on the number of persons covered. Copies of each annual report prepared by a government are to be sent to the country's most representative employers' and workers' organizations, and the report, as finally submitted to the ILO, has to state whether the government has received any comments from them on the practical implementation of the convention in question.

These annual reports on the application of ratified conventions are first considered by a committee of independent experts and then by an employer-worker-government committee, which in turn reports to the full International Labour Conference. The object of this whole system of supervision is to enable the conference to determine what progress has been made in implementing the standards set forth in the conventions. On the basis of the intelligence it receives, the conference may, if it feels this to be necessary, make "observations" to governments, that is, suggest to them ways in which they may overcome discrepancies between the provisions of the conventions that they have ratified and existing national laws or practices.

The effectiveness of this supervisory machinery depends, naturally, on the cooperation of member governments in submitting their annual reports. On the whole, an increasing number of governments have been living up to their obligations in this respect. If required reports are not forthcoming or if the reports submitted by certain countries are not really informative, the ILO supervisory committees express their dissatisfaction in polite but quite unmistakable terms. These criticisms are included in the printed reports of the committees and may occasion debates in the conference itself, thus giving the matter further publicity.

The ILO constitution provides two other procedures that may be followed to induce governments to carry out the provisions of conventions that they have ratified. First, workers' or employers' organizations may make representations to the International Labour Office if they believe that any government, even their own, has failed to live up to a convention that it has ratified. If the government concerned fails to provide a satisfactory answer to the allegation, the Governing Body may decide to publish the allegation and, if one has been submitted, the government reply. Second, any ILO member government may file a complaint against any other member for alleged noncompliance with a ratified convention. The ILO constitution provides that, in this event, a commission of inquiry shall examine the matter, report on its findings, and recommend such remedial steps as it thinks proper. The fact that the ILO constitution provides for specific machinery to take up such complaints itself has contributed to the observance of ratified international labor conventions on the part of member governments.

In his report to the 81st ILC in 1994, Director-General Michel Hansenne reported that in the preceding 30 years, close to 2,000 cases of progress were recorded by supervisory bodies. "That means 2,000 situations in which national legislation and policy have been brought into line with the requirements of ratified Conventions," said the Director-General.

Reports on Recommendations and Unratified Conventions

Recommendations adopted by the International Labour Conference, unlike the conventions that it adopts, are not international treaties and are not subject to ratification. Hence, these recommendations can never be binding on a member government in the sense that the provisions of a ratified convention are binding. Nevertheless, the recommendations constitute an important part of the international labor code, and, since 1948, the Governing Body of the ILO has had the right to ask member governments periodically to what extent they have given or intend to give effect to conventions not ratified and to recommendations. In such case, the governments also have to state the reasons that have so far prevented or delayed the ratification of conventions and the modification of national law and practices according to recommendations.


The number of ratifications that a given convention has received is not, in itself, an accurate measure of its acceptance or impact. The fact that a convention has not been ratified by a particular country does not necessarily mean that that country has not met the standards prescribed in the convention. The UK, for example, advised the ILO that it did not intend to propose parliamentary ratification of the convention requiring a minimum 24-hour weekly rest period for commercial and office workers. It explained that such workers in the UK were already assured a rest period of at least that length through established custom and that it was not the policy of the government to intervene in matters that had already been satisfactorily settled by the parties concerned.

New Zealand, which in many ways has pioneered in labor legislation, waited until 1938 to ratify the eight-hour-day, six-day-week convention of 1919. At the same time, New Zealand also ratified the more restrictive 40-hour-week convention of 1935 and, in fact, remained for 18 years the only country ratifying it. Ratifications may be withheld for various reasons by a country for a number of years, after which a number of ratifications may be approved at once. Thus, in 1962 alone, Peru ratified 31 different international labor conventions.

Very often, countries do not ratify conventions on subjects that they feel do not concern them. The various maritime conventions, for example, are primarily of interest to nations with sizable merchant marine fleets. Occasionally, however, countries as a matter of principle ratify conventions on conditions quite alien to them. Thus, Switzerland ratified the 1957 Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labor on the recommendation of the Swiss Federal Council, which called for ratification because of the convention's humanitarian significance, although "forced labor in any of the forms mentioned in the Convention has never existed in Switzerland."

For a growing number of workers in an increasing number of countries, wages, working conditions, vacations, and so-called fringe benefits are being determined not through government legislation but through collective bargaining. The international standards embodied in the ILO's conventions, even though they may not show on the statute books, frequently serve as guides for labor-management agreements. The widening impact of ILO standards owes much to the various arrangements that have been worked out to make the provisions of the international labor code more widely known to employers' and workers' organizations.

The significance of the sharply increased rate at which governments have been ratifying ILO conventions since 1960 is very great. Ratification, particularly in a developing country, regularly signifies a step forward.

C. The ILO as a Promoter of Human Rights

Freedom of Association

World War II stimulated the growth of trade unions and increased their responsibilities. In many countries, labor was recognized as an equal partner in the effort that won the war. Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, the position of unions was far from secure, and in many countries, such a basic freedom as the worker's right to join a union of his choice was respected neither in law nor in practice.

In 1948, the International Labour Conference adopted the Convention on Freedom of Association and the Right to Organize, and in 1949, it adopted the Convention on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining. These conventions stipulate that all workers and employers shall possess the right to establish and join organizations of their own choosing without having to obtain government authorization. Such organizations shall have the right to function freely and without interference from public authorities; they may be dissolved or suspended only by normal judicial procedure and never by administrative authority. Workers must be protected against discrimination on the grounds of union membership or activities; thus, a worker may not be discharged because he joins or is active in a union. Employers and workers must not interfere in the establishment or operation of one another's organizations; this provision outlaws such devices as employer-dominated unions. By September 2000, the first of the two conventions had been ratified by 131 countries and the second by 147.

The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) has recorded a dramatic rise in the numbers of complaints lodged under this convention: before 1990 a total of 61 complaints were received; 49 complaints were received in 1990 alone. In total, the CFA handles hundreds of cases each year. Cases are received even when the government concerned has not ratified the ILO's freedom of association convention.

The ILO has been particularly concerned with safeguarding the rights enumerated in these two conventions. It has made full use of its regular procedure to ascertain whether all member states have presented the conventions to the appropriate domestic authorities for ratification and to supervise the implementation of the conventions by states that have ratified them. In addition, the International Labour Conference has conducted reviews concerning the extent to which member states, whether bound by the conventions or not, have put their provisions into effect.

In 1969, a special review was made, in connection with the 50th anniversary of the ILO, of the problems and prospects of ratification of 17 key conventions. Special bodies were set up to deal with complaints against governments for violation of trade-union rights: a committee of the Governing Body, known as the Committee on Freedom of Association, composed of government, employer, and worker representatives; and the quasi-judicial Fact-Finding and Conciliation Commission, composed of nine independent persons serving as individuals. The Fact-Finding and Conciliation Commission is authorized to make on-the-scene investigations, but it cannot consider a case unless the government concerned gives its consent. Japan, in 1964, was the first to do so; Greece was the second, in 1965. The government-employer-worker Committee on Freedom of Association, however, not being a semi-judicial body, may consider complaints whether or not the government concerned gives its consent.

Feeling that fuller factual information was needed about conditions in various countries affecting freedom of association, the ILO Governing Body decided in 1958 to inaugurate a worldwide survey to be carried out through on-the-spot studies. The first country to invite such a survey was the US; the second was the USSR. An ILO survey mission visited both countries in 1959. At the invitation of the governments of Sweden, the United Kingdom, Burma, and Malaya, surveys on freedom of association in those countries were made in 1960 and 1961.

The Committee on Freedom of Association considered complaints of infringements of trade union rights in Poland following the proclamation of martial law in that country in December 1981 and in response to measures taken against the Solidarity trade union. In November 1982, the Governing Body urged the Polish government to lift martial law; it noted with deep concern that the government had dissolved all existing trade unions, including Solidarity, and deplored the fact that fundamental provisions of the new Polish labor law did not conform with ILO principles of freedom of association and collective bargaining. A commission of inquiry set up by the ILO in 1983 reported in the following year that Poland had infringed trade union rights laid down in two ILO conventions to which it was a party, and it rejected Poland's objection to its inquiry.

Forced Labor

Before World War II, ILO's efforts in regard to forced labor, including the adoption of the 1930 Convention on Forced Labor and the 1936 Convention on Recruiting of Indigenous Workers, were directed primarily toward stamping out abuses in non-selfgoverning territories. A convention adopted in 1939 prescribed that contracts for the employment of indigenous labor must always be made in writing, and an accompanying recommendation called for regulation of the maximum period of time for which an indigenous worker could bind himself under contract. Another convention adopted in 1939 required all penal sanctions exacted against indigenous labor for breach of contract to be progressively abolished "as soon as possible"; when applicable to juvenile workers, the sanctions against breach of contract were to be abolished without delay.

After World War II, emphasis shifted from protection against exploitation in colonial areas to the abolition of systems of forced labor wherever they occur, as part of the promotion of human rights. The first step in this broader attack was an impartial inquiry into the nature and extent of forced labor, including prison labor, gang labor, labor service, and the like. A joint UNILO committee studied the existence in the world of systems of forced or "corrective" labor as a means of political coercion or as punishment for political views. In 1953, the committee reported that it had found two principal forms of forced labor existing in fully self-governing countries: one used mainly as a means of political coercion or political punishment, and the other used mainly for economic reasons.

In 1957, the International Labour Conference, by a vote of 240 to 0, with 1 abstention, adopted the Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labor. The convention outlaws any form of forced or compulsory labor (a) as a means of political coercion or education or as punishment for political or ideological views, (b) as a means of obtaining labor for economic development, (c) as a means of labor discipline, (d) as punishment for participation in strikes, or (e) as a means of racial, social, national, or religious discrimination. The convention, one of the farthest-reaching adopted by the ILO, has been in force since 17 January 1959.

Discrimination in Employment and Occupation

The Convention on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation, adopted by the International Labour Conference in 1958, constitutes another effort to promote the principle of equal rights. The convention defines such discrimination as any distinction, exclusion, or preference based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction, or social origin that impairs equal access to vocational training, equal access to employment and to certain occupations, or equal terms and conditions of employment. Measures affecting a person justifiably suspected of being engaged in activities prejudicial to the security of the state are not to be deemed discrimination, provided such a person is guaranteed the right of appeal. Furthermore, special measures of protection or assistance required because of sex, age, disablement, family responsibility, or social or cultural status are not to be considered discriminatory, but workers' and employers' organizations must in certain cases be consulted on such measures.

Every state ratifying the convention thereby undertakes to declare and pursue a national policy designed to promote, by methods appropriate to national conditions and practice, equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of employment and occupation, with a view to eliminating discrimination. This goal is to be accomplished through cooperation with employers' and workers' organizations, through legislation, and through educational programs. Ratifying states also agree to pursue nondiscriminatory public employment policies and to ensure the observance of such policies by public vocational guidance, training, and placement services.

D. Maritime Questions

The problems of merchant sailors differ in many respects from those of other workers. When plans for an international labor organization were being worked out in 1919, world seafarers' organizations urged the creation of a separate "permanent general conference for the international regulation of maritime labor" and of a separate "supervisory office for maritime labor." Although it was eventually decided to include maritime questions as falling within the purview of the ILO, special ILO machinery was established to deal with them, including special maritime sessions of the International Labour Conference and a Joint Maritime Commission.

Maritime sessions of the International Labour Conference are periodic full-scale sessions of the conference devoted exclusively to maritime questions. The first such conference was held in 1920. Since then, some 50 conventions and recommendations concerning seafarers have been adopted, pertaining to conditions of employment, health and safety, welfare, and social security. Together, these conventions and recommendations form the International Seafarers' Code, which is binding on all subscribing countries.

The Joint Maritime Commission keeps questions regarding the merchant marine under review on a year-to-year basis. Since it began its work in 1920, the commission has been enlarged several times, mainly to provide wider geographical representation.

Conditions of Employment

The first of the ILO's maritime conventions, adopted in 1920, forbids the employment of children under 14 at sea, except on family-operated vessels. A convention adopted in 1936 raises the minimum age to 15. A convention adopted in 1926 prescribes the standard form and content of seafarers' articles of agreement or employment contracts, signing procedures, and the conditions under which such contracts may be terminated.

At the 1987 maritime session of the International Labour Conference, a number of conventions and recommendations were adopted, some of which revised and updated earlier instruments. A 1926 convention guaranteeing repatriation of seafarers was broadened to take into account developments in the shipping industry. The new instrument lists the circumstances under which repatriation rights shall apply, including cessation of employment, illness, shipwreck, and bankruptcy of the shipowner. Another revision of previous instruments was adopted on seafarers' welfare at sea and in port. States ratifying it will undertake to ensure that cultural and recreational facilities and information services are provided in appropriate ports and on board ship. A convention on health protection and medical care aims at providing seafarers with care comparable to that which is generally available to workers ashore.

Social Security for Seafarers

The first step toward social insurance for seafarers was taken by a 1920 convention which required a shipowner to pay two months' wages to crew members of a lost or foundered vessel.

Three conventions affecting seafarers were adopted at the 1976 maritime session: continuity of employment, annual leave with pay, and merchant shipping (minimum standards). The third convention provides that a state which has ratified the convention and in whose port a ship calls may take account of a complaint or evidence that the ship does not conform to the standards of the convention.

A new convention adopted in 1987 revised a number of existing instruments dealing with social security and insurance against illness; it requires ratifying states to provide seafarers with social security protection not less favorable than that enjoyed by shore workers for which the state has legislation in force. Member states would be bound to apply either minimum standards, as specified in the Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, or superior standards, as laid down in other ILO instruments.

The standards set by these conventions, even when not ratified by many countries, have an influence on collective agreements, national statutes, and regulations.

E. Technical Cooperation

Member states have always been able to count on the direct cooperation of the ILO. The expression "technical assistance" is to be found in an ILO report as early as 1930. ILO officials who were then sent on consultative missions to governments were the precursors of today's experts.

Depending on priority programs established by governments, the activities of consultants have become an increasingly integral feature of national development plans. Among these priorities are the development of human resources, the raising of living standards, and the promotion of full employment. The ILO works actively with the authorities to set up and put into effect concrete cooperative projects. These tasks range from brief preliminary missions to major projects, such as the setting up of networks of vocational training or management development centers, to the establishment of full-scale rural development programs.

A cooperative project is deemed a success when it can be fully taken over by the national counterparts of the country concerned after the ILO experts have left. To encourage this trend, the ILO has made it possible for national officials to complete their training overseas. Many cooperative projects also provide for study grants and the organization of training courses and seminars. The supply of specialized equipment for certain services is another form of ILO aid—for example, equipment to set up vocational training centers.

The international technical cooperation effort is financed in part by UNDP. Some of the industrialized countries also make funds available to the ILO for cooperative projects.

The ILO concentrates its efforts on activities that produce maximum long-term results, such as the creation of institutions of various kinds or of training centers for trainers. It also seeks to enlist the aid of employers and workers in the technical cooperation effort.

Technical cooperation is linked to action promoting adherence to international labor standards, such as aid in the area of labor legislation and administration. This policy improves workers' conditions while taking into account the realities of the situation in the country concerned.

Unemployment and Underemployment

The ILO considers help to member states in the struggle against unemployment to be one of its major responsibilities. Much work has been carried out in this area. Guided by international labor standards, and often with the practical aid of the ILO, many countries have taken steps to ease the lot of the unemployed, to organize employment bureaus, and to develop vocational training facilities. However, these measures are far from enough to solve the immense unemployment problem facing the world today.

A coherent set of measures is needed to solve the unemployment and underemployment problem: development of rural areas, as well as urban industrialization; training of citizens in modern employment techniques; and taking a census of the active population and concentrating the development effort on the sectors and techniques calculated to absorb the maximum number of workers. In short, employment does not automatically flow from economic expansion unless it is geared to a policy designed to promote employment systematically. The International Labour Conference recognized this point when, in 1964, it adopted a convention and a recommendation on unemployment policy; the promotion and planning of employment are now an integral part of the development effort. Faced with the unemployment crisis, the ILO launched the World Employment Program in 1969. This program was the starting point in the ILO's efforts to help combat unemployment and underemployment.

It was in keeping with the recognition that growing world poverty required new initiatives that the World Employment Conference was held in 1976. The resulting declaration of principles and program of action called the world's attention to the need for full employment and an adequate income for every inhabitant in the shortest possible time.

The ILO-developed concept of basic needs is paramount to the effort to get to the root of poverty. Basic needs include two elements: certain minimum requirements of a family for private consumption—adequate food, shelter, and clothing are obviously included, as would be certain household equipment and furniture; and essential services provided for the community at large, such as safe drinking water, sanitation, public transportation, and health and education facilities.

The program of the 1976 conference emphasized that strategies and national development plans and policies should include explicitly, as a priority objective, the promotion of employment and the satisfaction of the basic needs of each country's population. The people should participate in making the decisions that affect them through organizations of their own choice. The concept of freely chosen employment is an integral part of a basic needs strategy. Among measures to be taken by governments to meet the target of creating sufficient jobs for all in developing countries by the year 2000 are ratification of selected ILO conventions; selection of development projects with a view to their employment and income distribution potential; and implementation of active labor market policies, with consideration given to social policies designed to increase the welfare of working people, especially women, the young, and the aged.

ILO operational activities and advisory missions remain important elements of the program. Regional employment teams in Asia, Africa, and Latin America provide technical advisory services and training courses in response to requests from a large number of countries.

Technical cooperation projects in the fields of employment planning, personnel planning, and labor-market information range from multiexpert, long-term projects to short-term consultancies and special advisory missions.

ILO technical advisory missions for special public works programs not only help governments define and, where appropriate, expand the scope of special public works programs and determine the technical feasibility of projects and organizational and staffing needs, but also assist in the preparation of technical cooperation components and in management reviews of ongoing programs.

At the 78th Session of the ILC in 1991, Director General Michel Hansenne raised the issue of the "working poor," the approximately 300 million people around the world who work in jobs that fall into what is called the "informal sector." Almost one-third of the world's gross domestic product is believed to be contributed by these millions working on the fringes of the recognized labor market. Such activities range from small manufacturing enterprises to a single person selling rolled cigarettes on a street corner. Generally, products of the informal sector require a low level of capital investment, technology, and skills. Low productivity or low wages imply that very long hours have to be worked to achieve a subsistence income.

The ILO initiatives focussed on the informal sector are the Regional Employment Program for Latin America and the Caribbean (PREALC) and the Jobs and Skills Program for Africa (JASPA). These initiatives include gathering data, providing training and technical cooperation, promoting income-generating projects for specific vulnerable groups, studying ways to open traditional apprenticeship and training for production schemes to women, and examining case studies of regulatory barriers.

Development of Human Resources

In an age when production techniques and structures are rapidly changing, simultaneously with a rapid increase in the world's active population, the entire concept of labor and vocational training must be viewed in a new light.

Many trades for which young people are being prepared will undergo radical transformation, and the qualifications that workers hold today will be obsolete without frequent refresher courses. Moreover, there will be a steady increase in the number of workers switching from one sector to another—for example, from agriculture to industry or from industry to commerce.

Any modern conception of developing human resources must take these factors into account by extending and diversifying vocational training facilities: apprenticeships, technical training and education, advanced training, and refresher courses. Vocational guidance must be developed not only to aid young people to make a wise choice of a career but also to retrain adult workers for different jobs. A coherent policy aimed at utilizing human resources must, therefore, include measures that make it possible for the worker to continue education and training, depending on the person's aptitudes and the opportunities in the labor market.

Vocational training is one of the key elements of ILO's technical cooperation program. Hundreds of projects have been mounted on all continents, some designed to create or strengthen national vocational training systems and others aimed at specific sectors of the economy: specialized industries, agriculture, handicrafts, commerce, the hotel trade, and tourism, among others.

The ILO also cooperates in projects for management development and is active in the field of vocational rehabilitation. Its long-standing interest in handicapped people was expressed anew in 1983 with the adoption of a recommendation and a convention recognizing the importance that it attaches to the formulation and implementation of coherent national policies. The convention emphasizes collective participation—notably that of the representatives of employers' and workers' organizations and of the disabled themselves—in determining needs and developing vocational rehabilitation services at national as well as community levels.

The ILO's International Training Centre at Turin trained over 90,000 men and women from some 170 countries from 1965 through 2002.

Social Institutions

The ILO's efforts to foster social justice in order to improve working and living conditions and to encourage balanced economic and social development would be wasted if there were no social structures promoting large-scale participation.

To assist governments, employers' associations, and trade unions in building or consolidating the necessary institutions and mechanisms, the ILO is active in such fields as labor law and administration, labor relations, workers' education, promotion of cooperatives, and rural institutions.

The ILO's work in standard-setting has had a formative effect on social legislation and labor law throughout the world. The ILO also has supplied expert advice to countries requesting it on the measures needed to bring their legislation up to the level of international labor standards or to solve certain social problems. Many developing countries have sought ILO help in establishing or codifying their labor and social legislation. To ensure that the legislation is effectively applied, a country must have a labor administration that includes the necessary services. To meet this need and to help labor ministries play an active role in designing a development policy, the ILO has mounted an increasing number of projects in this field.

The ILO has always been keenly concerned with labor-management relations and with the relations among trade unions, employers' organizations, and governments. When such relations are cordial, they foster a climate conducive to economic and social progress. When they are unsatisfactory, they can impede united national development. The ILO considers labor relations to be good when they are based on the full recognition of freedom of association, in law and in practice, and when they permit labor, management, and government representatives to handle common problems.

Here again, technical cooperation is an extension of the action designed to set up standards and guidelines. ILO help is increasingly being sought in the field of industrial relations. Bipartite ILO missions comprising trade-union and management experts from industrialized countries have been sent to developing nations to encourage the establishment of a healthy working relationship between workers and employers. Study courses and seminars have been organized in various parts of the world.

Adequate training of workers' representatives is a prerequisite if they are to play an effective role in economic and social life. The trade unions themselves are aware of this fact and are increasing their own training programs accordingly. To assist them in this task, the ILO established a workers' education program to enable trade unions and workers' education bodies to develop their services and to provide workers and their representatives with the social and economic training they need. ILO efforts have been directed to such objectives as the training of unionists to help them take part in the planning and execution of development policies, the encouragement of cooperative action, and the organization of union research and information services.

As part of this program, the ILO has organized seminars, study courses, and technical discussions, often on a regional basis. An average of 50 courses of this type, including discussions on such matters as population and family planning, are held each year in different parts of the world. There is also a publications program, consisting of handbooks, booklets, bulletins, and educational material, in addition to a film and filmstrip lending library.

Since its earliest days, the ILO has played an important role in developing the cooperative movement. Its range of activities in this field has grown with the introduction of the cooperative system in many developing countries. The governments of these countries recognize that cooperatives provide an instrument that can facilitate social and economic advancement. With their builtin system of controls and internal management, their freely elected councils, and public discussion of their programs, cooperatives can be compared to grass-roots civics classes, giving their members a true sense of responsibility and involvement in national development. They are a unifying agent in bringing men and women together for constructive tasks, and they contribute to training for leadership. Above all, cooperatives are a key factor in rural development, for both production and marketing.

The creation of processing cooperatives in rural areas for handling produce, as well as the organization of cooperatives for small enterprises and handicraft workshops, can aid progress toward industrialization. Whatever form they take, cooperatives raise living standards and increase employment opportunities. At the request of the governments, and with the financial support of UNDP, ILO experts are helping countries set up or develop cooperative movements.

The interregional project for the production of materials and techniques for cooperative management training ended in 1990 after 13 years of operation. The terminal evaluation considered the project to have achieved results of high quality and relevance, with almost 200,000 people having been trained in more than 60 countries.

Enterprise and Cooperative Development

A major program to promote the establishment and effective operation of enterprises in the formal and informal sectors, in both rural and urban areas, was implemented in 1991. The Entrepreneurship and Management Development Program seeks to develop managerial resources at various levels and in various sectors of the economy in an environment characterized by rapid change.

Projects in operation focus on four major areas: strengthening national institutional mechanisms to monitor and manage productivity improvement; developing small and microenterprises; assisting structural adjustment processes; and strengthening management development institutions.

F. Problems of Key Industries

During World War II, and even earlier, it was felt that a gap existed in the structure of the ILO: special machinery was needed for the detailed and continuing study of specific industries by people with a thorough practical knowledge of their particular problems. Acting on a plan prepared by British Minister of Labour and National Services Ernest Bevin, submitted in 1943 by the UK government, the Governing Body established seven ILO industrial committees in 1945 "to provide machinery through which the special circumstances of the principal international industries [could] receive special and detailed consideration." By 1946, industrial committees had been created to deal with the problems of the following key industries: inland transport; coal mines; iron and steel; textiles; petroleum; building, civil engineering, and public works; and chemicals. In 1994 a total of 12 industrial committees were active: the Inland Transport; Coal Mines; Iron and Steel; Metal Trades; Textiles; Building, Civil Engineering, and Public Works; Chemical Industries; Committee on Work on Plantations; Advisory Committee on Salaried Employees and Professional Workers; Hotel, Catering and Tourism; Forestry and Wood Industries; Food and Drink Industries.

Other ILO committees that deal with special problems of international significance include the Advisory Committee on Salaried Employees and Professional Workers, the Permanent Agricultural Committee, and the Committee on Work on Plantations. The ILO has also established Asian, African, and inter-American advisory committees, which provide information on special regional problems. The ILO industrial committees are, in effect, small-scale specialized international labor conferences.

Resolutions adopted by these committees may call for further action on the part of the ILO. They may also be designed for the guidance of employers' associations and trade unions in their collective bargaining, and they may contain suggestions addressed to the UN, to other specialized agencies, or to governments. The following are a few examples of subjects concerning which important resolutions or recommendations have been adopted:

Inland transport: prevention of accidents involving dock labor; inland transport working conditions in Asia and Africa; automatic coupling of railway cars; transport and handling of dangerous goods; limitation of loads carried by one person; marking of weights on loads; and interport competition;

Coal mines: principles for incorporation in a coal miners' charter; coal miners' housing; productivity in coal mines; safety in coal mines; and the social consequences of fuel and power consumption trends;

Iron and steel: regularization of production and employment at a high level; dismissal pay and payment for public holidays; and cooperation at the industry level;

Metal trades: regularization of production and employment at a high level; and long-term estimates of raw material requirements;

Textiles: disparities in wages in the textile industries of different countries;

Building, civil engineering, and public works: reduction of seasonal unemployment in the construction industry; social aspects of the world timber situation and outlook; and national housing programs;

Work on plantations: the place of the plantation in the general economy of the countries concerned; living and working conditions as related to plantation productivity; and the need for international action on commodity regulation; and

Salaried employees and professional workers: rights of the inventor who is an employee; migration of salaried and professional workers; hygiene in shops and offices; employment problems of musicians, actors, and other public performers; employment conditions of teachers; professional problems of journalists; problems involved in collective bargaining for white-collar and professional workers; wages and working conditions of hospital and health-service staff; and wages and working conditions of civil servants.

G. Other Activities

The Occupational Safety and Health Information Center (CIS)

In 1976, the ILO launched the International Program for the Improvement of Working Conditions and Environment (PIACT), aimed at giving governments and employers' and workers' organizations help in drawing up and implementing programs for the improvement of working conditions and environment. The various means of action included standard-setting; technical cooperation, including the sending of multidisciplinary teams to member states at their request; tripartite meetings, particularly meetings of industrial committees, regional meetings, and meetings of experts; action-oriented research and studies; and gathering and dissemination of information, particularly through the International Occupational Safety and Health Information Center.

The International Occupational Safety and Health Information Center (CIS) has as its objective to collect and disseminate world information that can contribute to the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases. The center is assisted by more than 120 national centers representing all continents. The CIS also offers on-line compact disc and microcomputer databases.

The conditions in which men and women work are at the very heart of the ILO's mandate. Despite the progress achieved, the working conditions of a great many workers remain arduous or give rise to new problems as a result of technological developments. In this arena the ILO is concerned with the safety and healthfulness of the working environment, working time, organization and content of work, working conditions and choice of technology, and working and living environment.

In 1991, with the assistance of a grant from the German government, the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) was launched. More than 80 projects with government institutions, trade unions, employers' organizations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were implemented in at least 12 countries.

International Health Hazard Alert System

A new approach to dealing with newly discovered or suspected occupational hazards, which spread very quickly around the world, is the ILO's International Health Hazard Alert System, established in 1977. When a new hazard is discovered, an alert is sent out by the ILO to the participating countries for their assessment and reply. For example, the communication concerning possible health hazards in the use of carbonless copy papers was widely disseminated in several countries. In 1993 the Health Hazard Alert System circulated requests to member states for up-to-date information on major occupational health hazards and their prevention.

Tripartite Declaration Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy

The 1977 Tripartite Declaration Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy applies to the fields of employment, training, conditions of work and life, and industrial relations. Already operational in the ILO, where it will continue to affect its purposes, it was foreseen as the employment and labor chapter of the proposed UN Code of Conduct on Transnational Corporations that has been the subject of prolonged debate. In the early 1990s the General Assembly decided to discontinue work on this subject. However, the matter of a code of conduct for transnational corporations continues to be raised. In 1996, UNCTAD Secretary-General Rubens Ricupero stated it would be particularly important "within the context of how to establish a balance between the rights and obligations of the countries that are the source of investments and the countries that receive the investments." The declaration stresses the positive contributions that multinational enterprises can make to economic and social progress and aims at minimizing and resolving the difficulties that their various operations may create. The principles are commended to governments and employers' and workers' organizations of home and host countries and to the multinational enterprises themselves for their voluntary observance.

The subject areas covered by the declaration conform to the areas of substantive competence of the ILO within the overall program of the UN. There are 22 ILO conventions and 27 recommendations referenced in the declaration. The declaration is universal in scope; it is addressed to all of the parties in the ILO's tripartite structure; it ascribes a leading role to multinational enterprises when they operate in developing countries; and, finally, it is voluntary.

User Contributions:

Report this comment as inappropriate
Jun 16, 2012 @ 11:23 pm
really good article, it helpfull to undrestand ILO its implication towadr human rights.
mahadeo ghadge
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jun 20, 2014 @ 12:12 pm
very useful article.thanks for productive information on ILO
R . Lalhmunsiama
Report this comment as inappropriate
Sep 9, 2014 @ 3:15 pm
A good article ofcourse but I find it hard to realize that no challenges or shortcomings of the ILO we're written anywhere. ...but this article is indeed a good one...
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jan 22, 2016 @ 7:07 am
Why Are Some Countries Delaying To Curb Children Employments???
Thx Am From Uganda-kapchorwa District!
dilruba abdul majeed
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jan 14, 2018 @ 2:02 am
Thanks for clearing all my doubts regarding ILO.This was really informative and very useful.

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: