ILO labour standards and social justice | Sunday Observer

ILO labour standards and social justice

25 July, 2021

The International Labour Organization – ILO, a specialised agency of the United Nations aims at establishing social justice and promoting human rights through enacting conventions and recommendations and laying down standards. The main object of the conventions and recommendations is to reconcile the desire to stimulate national efforts - that social progress goes hand in hand with economic progress.

The International labour code is now a vast document, the main principles of which can only be summarised with extreme difficulty.

Basic Human Rights

The ILO has attached particular importance to certain basic human rights which constitute an essential element in all actions designed to improve the conditions of workers.

In 1998, the ILO produced the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

In the Declaration, ILO member states agreed that they should all respect, promote, and realise core labour standards (whether they have been ratified or not. Sri Lanka as a member of ILO has also ratified, among others, these eight core-labour conventions.

These core labour standards consist of five standards, laid down in eight conventions: they are; Freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining (Conventions No. 87 & No. 98) The elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour (Conventions No. 29 & No. 105) The effective abolition of child labour (Conventions No. 138 & No. 182)

The elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation (Conventions No. 100 & No. 111)

The Right to Work

This right is one of the fundamental rights in the whole system of human rights and freedoms. Its realisation is necessary not only for the material well-being of the individual but also for the harmonious development of his personality.

Termination of Employment

The recommendation of 1963 (No. 119) which-in addition to excluding termination of unemployment on various specified grounds- establishes the general principle that a worker’s employment should not be terminated by an employer unless there is a valid reason connected with the worker’s capacity or conduct or based on the operational requirements of the enterprise.

The fact that an employer’s right to terminate an employment relationship is limited in this way provides no justification for restricting the worker’s right to leave a job; on the contrary, the right of a worker to terminate a contract of employment of indefinite duration by notice of reasonable length constitutes an essential aspect of the right to free choice of employment.

Just and favourable conditions of work

The ILO has adopted a considerable number of conventions and recommendations which spell out the right to just and favourable working conditions.

More standards, with particular reference to developing countries, have been laid down in the Minimum Wage-Fixing Convention (No. 131) and Recommendation (No. 135), of 1969 and 1970. They provide for creation or maintenance of machinery for the fixing of binding minimum wages, in full consultation with representative organisations of employers and workers, and define the elements to be taken into consideration in determining the level of minimum wages.Provisions for the implementation of the principle of equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value have been laid down in the Equal Remuneration Convention of 1951 (No. 100).

Several ILO Conventions have as their main object the protection and equality of treatment in employment of alien workers, such as the Migration for Employment Convention (Revised) of 1949 (No. 97), the Equality of Treatment (Social Security) Convention of 1962 (No. 118), and the Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention of 1975 (No. 143).

Many ILO Conventions regulate matters of occupational safety and health. Standards laid down in these conventions relate to safety conditions in particular sectors or occupations-such as the Safety Provisions (Building) Convention of 1937 (No. 62), the Hygiene (Commerce and Offices) Convention of 1964 (No. 120) and the Prevention of Accidents (Seafarers) Convention of 1970 (No. 134)- and to protection against particular hazards-such as the Radiation Protection Convention on 1960 (No. 155), the Guarding of Machinery Convention of 1963 (No. 119), the Occupational Cancer Convention of 1974 (No. 139) and the Working Environment (Air Pollution, Noise and Vibration) Convention of 1977 (No. 148.).

A series of ILO Conventions regulate matters of working hours, rest and paid leaves. As far back as 1919, ILO adopted the Hours of Work (Industry) Convention (No. 1) which laid down the standard of the eight-hour day and forty-eight hour week Convention (No. 47), which provides for application of the principle of a forty-hour week in such a manner as not to entail a reduction in the standard of living. The Reduction of Hours of Work Recommendation of 1962 (No. 116), while laying down the maximum limit of 48 hours a week, calls on member states of the ILO to formulate and pursue a policy aimed at a progressive reduction of working hours with a view to attaining a forty-hour week.

The ILO has also adopted a number of Conventions on weekly rest and annual paid leave, such as the Weekly Rest (Industry) Convention of 1921 (No. 14), the Weekly Rest (Commerce and Offices) Convention of 1957 (No. 106).

A basic policy instrument, the Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102) is based on the principle of a general standard of social security, which could be reached by each State whatever its stage of economic and social development. It provides for a general scheme of social security, covering all risks and benefits, and being extended gradually to all the population. It covers the nine main recognised branches of social security, namely: medical care, sickness benefit, unemployment benefit, old-age benefit, employment injury benefit, family benefit, maternity benefit, invalidity benefit, and survivors’ benefit.

Comprehensive guidelines on social security were adopted in 1944 in the Income Security Recommendation (No. 67) and in the Medical Care Recommendation (No. 69).

The former advocates the provision of protection, by means of compulsory social insurance, in respect of all contingencies in which an insured person is prevented from earning his living. The Medical Care Recommendation related to the provision of comprehensive medical care covering all members of the community.

Employment of women

The earlier ILO standards on the employment of women aimed essentially at protecting them against abuses in their conditions of work, particularly in the case of maternity, whereas later standards including Convention 111 on Discrimination are designed to secure for women workers the same rights and treatment as those enjoyed by men.

The adoption in 1951 of a Convention (No. 100) concerning equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value proved to be one of the landmarks in the ILO’s standard –setting activities and led to action in a great many countries. It provides that ratifying states must promote and in so far as is consistent with the methods in operation for determining wages, ensure the application of this principle of equality and that this should be done by means of legislation, collective agreements or wage fixing machinery.

The Maternity Protection Conventions (Nos. 3 and 103 of 1919 and 1952) provide for social security benefits and medical care. In addition, however, they established the right to maternity leave of not less than 12 weeks.

Thus Convention 3, which applies only to industry, provides that 6 weeks of leave must be taken before child birth and 6 weeks after. Convention No. 103, which is of general application, is more flexible and merely specifies that at least 6 of the 12 weeks’ leave must be taken after child – birth. Under both Conventions the post- confinement leave is obligatory and must be extended in certain cases.

These instruments also provide that an employer may not dismiss a women while she is on maternity leave, or give her notice of dismissal at such a time that would expire while she is on leave.

Three conventions prohibiting the employment of women at night have been adopted: No. 4, of 1919 was revised by No. 41 of 1934 and again by No. 89 of 1948.

This last convention which is more flexible than the earlier ones, prohibits night work by women industrial undertakings during a period of 11 consecutive hours. A Convention (No. 45) adopted in 1935 prohibits the employment of women on underground work in mines of all kinds.

Employment of children and young persons

The constant and continuing concern in the ILO for the protection of children is shown by the fact that the first Convention on the subject was adopted in 1919 and latter in 1999. In 1973 the Conference adopted the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 ( No. 138 ) which provides that the minimum age for admission to employment is to be specified by each State when ratifying the Convention and this age shall not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling and in any case, shall not be less than 15 years.It also provides that the minimum age must not be less than 18 years in dangerous occupations. The Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention ( No 182 ) adopted by the ILO in 1999 supplements Convention No 138. It requires member states of the ILO to eliminate all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, sale of children, debt bondage, and Serfdom forced recruitment of children for rehabilitation and social integration.

The ratifying states must ensure access to free basic education and wherever possible vocational training for such children after removal from worst forms of labour.

General Policy Instruments

The Convention No. 6 of 1919 provides that young persons under 18 years of age may not be employed in industrial undertaking at night. This prohibition applies to of 11 consecutive hours including the period between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. This text was revised by Convention No. 90 of 1948 which increased the period to 12 consecutive hours and provided for measures of applications but otherwise allows for greater flexibility. As regards non-industrial employment Convention No. 79 of 1946 prohibits night work for minimum periods of 12 or 14 hours according to specific circumstances.

The Social Policy (Basic Aims and Standards) Convention of 1962 (No.117) provides more generally for policies and measures for the improvement of standards of living and states, inter alia: that “ascertaining the minimum standards of living, account shall be taken of such essential family needs of the workers as food and its nutritive value, housing, clothing, medical care and education”. Basic principles are that all policies shall be primarily directed to the well-being and development of the population; and that the improvement of standards of living shall be regarded as the principle objective in the planning of economic development.

Beyond this, the Convention deals more specifically with issues including migrant workers, remuneration of workers, non-discrimination, education and training.

Educational and training concerns inevitably arise in a wide range of ILO standards, with those dealing with employment and general social policies, or those addressing the needs of particular occupational categories. However, the most comprehensive instrument is the Human Resource Development Convention 1975 (No. 142).

The basic principle is contained in its Article 1. Accordingly “Each Member shall adopt and develop comprehensive and coordinated policies and programs of vocational guidance and vocational training, closely liked with employment, in particular through public employment services”.

Article 2 provides some fairly general guidelines for achieving these objectives, specifying that “With the above ends in view, each Member shall establish and develop open, flexible and complementary systems of general, technical and vocational education, educational guidance and vocational training, whether these activities take place within the system of formal education or outside it”. It is again envisaged that policies and programs of vocational guidance and training shall be formulated and implemented in cooperation with employers’ and workers’ organisations.

International labour standards are primarily tools for governments which, in consultation with employers and workers, are seeking to draft and implement labour law and social policy in conformity with internationally accepted standards.

In addition to shaping law, international labour standards can provide guidance for developing national and local policies, such as employment and work and family policies.

They can also be used to improve various administrative structures such as labour administration, labour inspection, social security administration, employment services, and so on.

Standards can also serve as a source of good industrial relations applied by labour dispute resolution bodies and as models for collective agreements. Advocacy groups and non-governmental organisations draw on international labour standards to call for changes in policy, law or practice.

(The writer is a retired Professor in Law in the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. He is an Attorney –at – Law practices in courts and holds a Ph.D in law with four other University post degrees)