By the International Centre for Trade Union Rights,
The purpose of ICTUR's latest project (undertaken together with the
Institute of Employment Rights, a UK labour law think tank) is to set
out those basic trade union rights which the international labour
movement regards as fundamental rights, with a view to then
campaigning for their incorporation into international instruments and
domestic law by national governments
ICTUR aims to commence the process of formulating the body of trade
union rights which it would like to see embodied in both international
labour instruments and the national law of governments around the
world. It is not put forward as a definitive statement of what those
rights should be. It is primarily an examination of the existing body
of international trade union rights (and the law and practice of
various countries) with some suggestions for improvement, and is
intended to inspire discussion and debate on the subject.
The initial booklet which began this project, Anthony Forsyth's Trade
Union Rights for the Next Millennium (published last year by ICTUR),
and the 1st draft of the 'Millennium Project' are drawn from examples
found in mainly European and Australian labour law systems. ICTUR has
called upon its representatives in various contrasting jurisdictions
for comment but, in view of the need to make the project truly
representative, comments and suggestions are invited from all.
The next stage of the project, the 1st draft of the Millennium
Project, is to be published on this website (and in print form) to
coincide with ICTUR's Administrative Council meeting in Geneva, and
has been prepared by Professor Keith Ewing of King's College London
(Legal Editor of International Union Rights journal). An introductory
article explaining the project further follows the timetable below.
Summer 1999 Publication of Anthony Forsyth's Trade Union Rights for the Next Millennium.
May 2000 Publication of 1st draft of Millennium Project.
June 2000 Discussion of draft and comments at 16th Session of ICTUR's Administrative Council in Geneva.
June 2000 Publication of International Union Rights journal 7.2 (focus on Core Labour rights).
Summer 2000 ICTUR International and the National Committee's promote the draft and invite discussion.
September 11th 2000 ICTUR fringe meeting at the UK TUC to launch the final text of the Millennium Project.
October 2000 Publication of the Millennium Project.
November 25th 2000 ICTUR Conference on Core Labour Rights and the Millennium Project, London.
Other events Conferences to launch the Millennium Project are being planned in the UK, New Zealand and Australia. For more information or to assist
with launching the project in another country please contact ICTUR Head Office.
Modernising Labour Standards ICTUR's Initiative
Under the chairmanship of Professor Keith Ewing a group of London
based ICTUR activists have been preparing a draft paper on the future
of international labour standards. This draft is now available from
ICTUR's Head Office and will be posted on this website in June. It is
planned, with financial support from the Barry Amiel and Norman
Melburn Trust, to publish a final report later this year in
conjunction with the British based Institute of Employment Rights, a
labour movement supported think-tank. The draft paper has been
circulated to all ICTUR National Committees and Correspondents and to
a number of trade union organisations in all parts of the world. ICTUR
is asking those organisations and IUR readers to send comments and
suggestions by the 1st August 2000 for inclusion in the final
Freedom of Association
ICTUR believes that the principles of freedom of association need to
be significantly strengthened. If we now live in a new global economy
it ought to be an economy in which the dignity of everyone is
respected. It should be an economy in which the benefits should not be
confined to the owners of the multinational corporations; nor should
it be run to serve the interests of global corporations. These
concerns have important implications for freedom of association. One
of the most effective ways by which people can protect the dignity of
themselves and their families is through the medium of strong and
independent trade unions. Neither modernity nor post - modernity have
yet devised a better alternative.
New Rights in a Globalised Economy
The draft proposes a new international code on Freedom of Association to include the following:
- The Right to Trade Union Membership, Participation and Representation
- the right of workers to belong to an independent trade union for the protection of their interests;
- the right of workers to take part in the activities of a trade union outside working hours and during working hours with the consent of the employer;
- the right of workers to be represented by a trade union official in matters relating to their employment.
The Right to Trade Union Autonomy
- the right of trade unions to organise their internal affairs free from state interference, and free from interference by employers;
- the right of trade unions to elect their own officials and develop their own programmes free from state interference.
The Right to Trade Union Recognition
- the right of trade union access to an employer's premises at the request of workers employed there;
- the right of a trade union to be recognised for the purposes of collective bargaining on all matters relating to the contract of employment;
- the right of a trade union to facilities for the purposes of collective bargaining, including the disclosure of information.
The Right to Strike
- the right of a trade union to organise strike or other industrial action in order to promote the social and economic interests of their members;
- the right of workers to take part in lawful industrial action without being discriminated against or dismissed by their employer or the State;
- the right of trade unions and workers to take strike or other industrial action in support of other trade unions and workers in dispute with an employer.
The Rights of Trade Union Representatives
- the right of trade union representatives elected or nominated by
a trade union to be recognised as such by an employer
- the right of trade union representatives to protection from
dismissal or other prejudice by reason of their trade union activities
- the right of the trade union representative to access to
workers and to facilities at the workplace to enable him or her to
carry out his or her duties The Rights of International Trade Union
- the right to bargain with multinationals on the observance
of core labour standards;
- the right to be consulted by multinationals about
transnational issues affecting employment by the company in question;
- the right to organise industrial action against
multinational enterprises, and the right of national affiliates and
their members to take part in such action.
International Union Rights
In terms of the Code proposed above, the most novel proposal relates
to the last group, which deals with rights for international trade
unions. This must be a focal point of any future strategy. Trade
unions must have the right not just to be in association with trade
unions from other countries, but also to act in association. To this
end they should be empowered to initiate discussions with a view to
reaching Ethical Trading Agreements with multinational companies.
The essential features of these agreements are as follows:
- They should include a commitment to the core freedom of
association conventions, as well as a prohibition on the use of child
labour and forced labour , no discrimination, and a safe and healthy
- They should be 'central to all the company's
activities. They should be incorporated into all contracts between the
company, its contractors, and sub-contractors'.
- They should be jointly monitored by a 'Compliance Council'
which should also include independent members. Any interested party
should be free to complain to the Council, and any complaints should
be independently investigated.
- They should provide for practices among contractors and
sub-contractors to be regularly inspected by independent inspectors.
This process of inspection should take place in addition to and
independently of any complaints procedure. But a multinational should
not have the opportunity to avoid its social responsibilities by the
failure to reach an agreement with a union. Tthere ought to be a
procedure whereby an international or national trade union
organisation can refer a complaint to the ILO Freedom of Association
Committee alleging a breach of Conventions 87 or 98 by a corporation
in respect of its conduct in a third country. The right to complain
should apply in respect of the conduct of the company, its
subsidiaries, its suppliers, and any other body in the supply chain.
Strategies for Compliance
Turning to the need for a range of strategies for enforcement and
compliance with freedom of association principles, it is anticipated
that international trade union action of the kind proposed here would
have a valuable role to play. Ethical trading agreements would help
ensure that trade union rights are observed through the deep roots of
the multinational supply chain, in a manner which would be based on a
process of supervision in which trade unions would be closely
involved. But it is not only multinationals which bear the
responsibility of respecting trade union rights. Governments also play
a major part: indeed it is on States that the obligation to implement
and comply with conventions principally lies. It for this reason that
a range of devices is necessary to encourage and promote compliance.
So what else can be done? In the first place, there is the potential
provided by international agencies such as the IMF and the World Bank:
both should be required to follow and apply ILO Conventions in their
relationships with national governments. Compliance could be a
condition of aid; and at local level compliance by contractors could
be a condition of a public works contract. Initiatives linking trade
with union rights such as those taken recently by the EU should also
be encouraged, linked as they must be to wider reforms of
international trade arrangements to advance social and economic
development particularly of poorer countries.
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