Date: Fri, 13 Jun 97 10:53:27 CDT
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: Battle Over World Labor Code
Article: 12691
** Topic: Battle Over World Labr Code **
** Written 9:50 PM Jun 11, 1997 by labornews in **
From: Institute for Global Communications <>

Battle over a world labour code

ICG LaborNews, 11 June 1997

The battle for a set of minimum labour standards around the world reopens at the ILO conference in Geneva, with proposals to issue certificates of good standing to countries that comply.

THE battle over the introduction of social standards to accompany the globalisation of the economy has resurfaced at the annual conference of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) which opened on Tuesday (June 3) in Geneva.

Six months after the Ministerial summit of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Singapore where, while rejecting the social clause, governments made a commitment to respecting fundamental collaboration between the ILO and the WTO, the debate has reopened among the 3,000 government, employer and worker delegates of the 174 countries meeting from June 3 to 19 in Geneva for the 85th international labour conference.

“The standard setting role of the ILO is the backbone of our organisation. (…) Without strengthening it, the promised progress of the world economy risks being placed in jeopardy or never materialising for all too many workers” stated Director General Michel Hansenne at the opening of what is considered by some to be the parliament of the labour world.

Taking the WTO Conference participants at their word, Mr.Hansenne proposed a three-stage plan to protect labour standards, the most spectacular of which would be the introduction of of a “global social label”, a sort of certificate of a country's good social conduct.

The first measure would be the adoption next year by the international labour conference of a declaration making the respect of the seven core conventions underpinning fundamental principles, such as the freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of forced labour and child labour and non-discrimination in employment, compulsory even for those countries which have not ratified them.

The second measure would be the establishment of regular ILO reports on social progress, or the lack of it, in the Member States. The third is the introduction of the “global social label”, which would commit countries to respecting fundamental labour rights and to submitting to international inspections. Trade union organisations, who support the strengthening of the ILO, will also be proposing the creation of new supervisory mechanisms which, similar the current Freedom of Association Committee, would examine complaints about the violation of non-ratified conventions. So far, only conventions 87 and 98 on the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining can be the subject of complaints, whether or not the government has ratified these instruments.

So far most governments and employers have been opposed to the trade unions' proposals, but last March, during the spring session of the governing body, progress was made and the employers said they were ready to discuss new supervisory mechanisms, provided the unions accepted the idea, taken up by Mr. Hansenne, of a new declaration of principles on fundamental rights.

On the trade union side, although they do not reject the idea of a new declaration in principle, they are cautious and want to see guarantees both on the setting up and the effectiveness of new supervisory mechanisms and the content of such a declaration, to ensure that it does not weaken existing standards.

A compromise between employers and the trade unions would force governments to face up to their responsibilities. For the time being they remain divided on the strengthening of social standards, owing to the fierce opposition of countries known for their systematic violations.

On June 12, ICFTU General Secretary Bill Jordan will address the Conference, setting out the trade union proposals. On the same day the ICFTU Survey on Violations of Trade Union Rights will be presented in Geneva, listing violations in 108 countries.