The principal organs of the ILO are the International Labour Conference, the Governing Body, and the International Labour Office, headed by a Director General.
The International Labour Conference is the organization's policy-making and legislative body, in which every member state is represented. It holds one session a year at ILO headquarters in Geneva.
Each member country sends to the International Labour Conference a national delegation consisting of four delegates. Two represent the government, one represents the country's employers, and one represents the country's workers. Alternates and advisers may be sent as well. Each delegate has one independent vote. Discussing this system of tripartite representation in 1959, the Director General noted that the ILO is "the only intergovernmental agency in whose work nongovernment delegates take part on an equal footing with government representatives as a matter of constitutional right. Representatives of employers' and workers' organizations are included in its policy-making, standard-setting, and executive machinery and participate, with full voting rights, in all these aspects of its work."
The government, employers', and workers' representatives to the conference act in many respects as three separate groups, functioning somewhat as political parties function in a national legislature: the three groups meet separately for informal discussions of strategy; they hold caucuses; and, voting separately, they elect the government, the employers', and the workers' delegates to the Governing Body and to tripartite committees. If the tripartite system is to function as intended, it is essential that employers' and workers' delegates be true representatives of their respective groups. The ILO constitution provides that governments must appoint these delegates in agreement with the "most representative" organizations of employers or workers "if such organizations exist."
Members of the ILO
(as of 20 June 2002)
Antigua and Barbuda
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Central African Republic
Congo, Democratic Republic of the
Iran, Islamic Republic of
Korea, Republic of
Lao People's Democratic Republic
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Macedonia, Former Yugoslav
Moldova, Republic of
Papua New Guinea
St. Kitts and Nevis
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
São Tomé and Príncipe
Syrian Arab Republic
Tanzania, United Republic of
Trinidad and Tobago
United Arab Emirates
The Governing Body is the executive council of the ILO. It is composed of 56 titular members (14 representing employers, 14 representing workers, and 28 representing governments) and 66 deputy members (19 representing employers, 19 representing workers, and 28 representing governments).
Members of the Governing Body are elected by the corresponding groups in the International Labour Conference, except that 10 of the government representatives are appointed by countries that do not participate in the election of the other government representatives since these 10 countries are entitled to permanent seats as "states of chief industrial importance." The 10 governments permanently represented on the Governing Body are Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. The remaining government members, elected for three years by the 2002 conference were from Africa—Gabon, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Mali, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan; from the Americas—Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Uruguay; from Asia—Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia; and from Europe—Bulgaria, Lithuania, Norway.
The 14 employers' representatives on the governing body, elected for three years by the 2002 conference, included leading industrialists from Argentina, Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Tunisia, United Kingdom, and United States.
The 14 members of the workers' group, elected in 2002 for three years, were ranking trade union officials from Algeria, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Côte d'Ivoire, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States, and Venezuela.
Under amendments to the ILO constitution adopted by the International Labour Conference in 1986—to become effective when ratified or accepted by two-thirds of the members, including 5 of the 10 permanent members of the Governing Body—the members of the Governing Body will be increased to 112 (56 representing governments, 28 representing employers, and 28 representing workers) and the 10 permanent seats will be eliminated. As of 2002, this amendment had not yet entered into force.
Meeting several times a year, the Governing Body coordinates and in many ways shapes the work of the organization. It draws up the agenda for each session of the International Labour Conference; while the conference is empowered to change this agenda, it rarely does. The Governing Body appoints the Director-General of the International Labour Office. It examines the proposed budget submitted to it each year by the Director-General and approves it for adoption by the conference. The Governing Body also is responsible for convening the scores of other conference and committee meetings held under ILO auspices every year in various parts of the world and decides what action ought to be taken on their resolutions and reports.
The International Labour Office in Geneva, headed by the Director-General, is the ILO's headquarters and its permanent secretariat. In April 2000, its staff consisted of about 1,900 persons from more than 110 countries in Geneva and in 40 field offices.
During World War II, when for a time Switzerland was entirely surrounded by Axis forces, the International Labour Office and a skeleton staff were temporarily moved to Montreal, where, thanks to the hospitality of the Canadian government and McGill University, the office was able to continue its more urgent work.
The International Labour Office services the sessions of the conference, the Governing Body, and the various subsidiary organs and committees. It prepares the documents for these meetings; publishes periodicals, studies, and reports; and collects and distributes information on all subjects within the ILO's competence. As directed by the conference and the Governing Body, it carries out ILO operational programs that have been decided on in various fields.
The ILO has had nine Directors General—Albert Thomas, France, 1919–32; Harold Butler, UK, 1932–38; John G. Winant, US, 1939–41; Edward J. Phelan, Ireland, 1941–48; David A. Morse, US, 1948–70; Wilfred Jenks, UK, 1970–73; Francis Blanchard, France, 1973–89; Michel Hansenne, Belgium, 1989–99; Juan Somavia, Chile, 1999 to present.