The Links between Collective Bargaining and Equality

Professors Blackett and Sheppard were commissioned by the ILO to write this Working Paper, as an input for preparing the ILO Director-General's Global Report to the 2003 session of the International Labour Conference 2. Their paper explores a complex and wide-ranging subject, i.e. the interface between collective bargaining and equality under current conditions of work. It argues that these two fundamental principles and rights are mutually reinforcing and can together promote workplace governance which reconciles economic with social goals. The paper draws upon a number of concrete examples of how the negotiation process has contributed to the promotion of equality of opportunities and treatment on grounds such as gender, disability, and religion, and shows how an equality agenda can enhance the scope, effectiveness and legitimacy of collective bargaining.

The ILO’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work could hardly be clearer: both the “effective recognition of collective bargaining” and the “elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation” are so central to the ILO’s social justice mandate1 and decent work agenda2 that Members have a good faith obligation to respect, to promote and to realize” them.3 Both “immutable”4 principles have their distinct, robust normative justification, with a deeply egalitarian and democratic thread underpinning them that stresses the centrality of enfranchisement within the world of work. For generations, both have received dynamic interpretations and have been generously applied through the painstaking work of the ILO’s sophisticated supervisory mechanisms.5 And now, with the ILO Declaration, both are urgently reaffirmed by the ILO and its Members “in a situation of growing economic interdependence” as essential components to promote a vision of “sustainable development” that sees the economic and the social as mutually reinforcing.6