The International Labour Conference (ILC) remains the only international conference where governments share national representation with employer and worker delegates- a basic feature of its work throughout the years which has enabled the International Labour Organization (ILO) to stay attuned to social and economic priorities. The First Session of the ILC, which brought together delegations from 40 countries, was held in Washington in October-November 1919. Photo:ILO/
From its earliest days, the International Labour Organization developed a mandate that was quite distinct from the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations. While the League was established with considerable difficulty, the ILO was in full swing early in its existence. Its first years were marked by its first Director, Albert Thomas (pictured here), a Secretariat engaged in interactive dialogue with labour ministers and an International Labour Conference overflowing with energy. Between 1919 and 1920 alone, nine Conventions and ten Recommendations were adopted that changed the face of the world of work. Photo:ILO/
The first ILO Convention dealt with the regulation of working time, one of the oldest concerns of labour legislation. The ILO sought to safeguard the regulation of working time by implementing the Hours of Work (Industry) Convention, 1919 (No. 1) which established the famous eight-hour day and the 48- hour week. ILO present-day standards on working time provide the framework for regulated hours of work, daily and weekly rest periods and annual holidays. These instruments are highly valued, as they ensure high productivity while safeguarding workers' physical and mental health. Photo:ILO/
Another function of the ILC is to supervise the application of Conventions and Recommendations at the national level and the compliance of all member States in the ratification of Conventions, as well as their law and practice in respect of these standards- whether or not they are ratified. The Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations was established in 1926 to examine the growing number of government records on ratified Conventions. The Committee provides an impartial and technical evaluation of the state of application of international labour standards. Upon request by Member States, the ILO provides substantial technical assistance in drafting and revising national legislation to ensure its conformity with international labour standards. Photo:ILO/
The ILC is also responsible for passing resolutions that provide guidelines for the ILO's general policy and future activities.
In the early 1930's, the Organization's work was directly linked to proposing solutions for the overriding problem of the time- the Great Depression. The global economic crisis of 1929 led to mass unemployment and overwhelmed the capacity of the existing mechanisms to cope with unemployment, namely unemployment insurance. The ILC adopted a resolution in 1932 calling for a comprehensive programme of concerted international action on monetary, trade and public works as a means of overcoming the Great Depression.
In 1934, the ILC adopted the Unemployment Provision Convention (No. 44), which was later revised in 1988 by the Employment Promotion and Protection against Unemployment Convention (No. 168). Photo:ILO/
The ILO's work was severely hampered by the Second World War. The League of Nations, with which the ILO was associated, was defunct and the ILO was evacuated from Europe to Montreal. If the ILO survived and was soon in full swing again, this was largely due to adoption of the Declaration of Philadelphia in 1944 by the delegates of the ILC. The Declaration established that labour is not a commodity and set out basic human and economic rights for all persons.
The instruments adopted in the decade which followed actually laid down the intellectual foundation of much of the human rights standard-setting in the United Nations.These standards have exercised a major influence in setting a floor under workplace policies, and human rights more generally, in the emerging postcolonial world.
The Declaration also embodies the core principles of the work of the ILO and set the stage for the ILO's focus on Decent Work which was articulated some decades later.
The above picture shows US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and ILO Director-General Edward Phelan signing the Declaration of Philadelphia. Photo:ILO/
The Declaration of Philadelphia also opened the door for the adoption of new ILO standards on Freedom of Association and the right to collective bargaining. In 1948, the International Labour Conference adopted the Freedom of Association and the Protection of the Right to Organize Convention (No. 87). The right to organize and form workers' and employers' organizations is the prerequisite for sound collective bargaining and social dialogue between the social partners, protected by the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98) adopted by the Conference one year later. Photo:ILO/
The right to organize is deeply rooted in political democracy, which cannot fully function unless Freedom of Association is recognized. The ILO has guided many countries towards the achievement of this unalienable right. One example of the ILO's successful engagement occurred in Poland. An electrician named Lech Walesa, who later became the President of Poland, led a strike that launched the first independent, self-governing trade union in the then Eastern bloc.
The photo shows Mr. Lech Walesa, the then Chairman of the Polish trade union Solidarnosc at the 67th session of the International Labour Conference, Geneva, June 1981. Photo:ILO/
The period after the Second World War saw growing numbers of women entering the workforce. The protection and recognition of women's rights as a fundamental human right became a priority for the ILO. In 1951, the delegates of the 20th ILC adopted the Equal Remuneration Convention (No. 100) in 1951. The Equal Remuneration Convention (No. 100), which was adopted in 1951 by the ILC went well beyond the "eequal pay for equal work" provision of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted three years prior by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Today, the four key ILO gender equality Conventions cover equal remuneration, discrimination in employment, workers and families and maternity protection. Photo:ILO/
The fight against apartheid in South Africa marked the first major test of ILO policies in favour of equality. In 1964 the International Labour Conference unanimously approved the Declaration concerning the Policy of Apartheid of the Republic of South Africa and the ILO programme for the elimination of apartheid in the field of labour. The Declaration reasserted the principle of equal opportunity, condemned the South African Government's racial policy and demanded that South Africa renounce its policy of apartheid.
In 1990, Nelson Mandela, the then Vice-President of the African National Congress (ANC), attended the 77th Session of the ILC, where he paid tribute to the ILO for its struggle against apartheid. Photo:ILO/
Child labour has been a priority for the ILO since the beginning of its existence. The First Session of the ILC adopted the Minimum Age (Industry) Convention in 1919, fixing the minimum age for employment of children at 14 years. Although the ratification of the early ILO conventions was slow throughout the long period up to 1973, through the adoption of Convention No. 138 on the Minimum Age for Admission to Employment and the creation of the ILO's programme on the Elimination of Child Labour in 1992, the movement gained widespread interest. Convention No. 38 was ratified by 85 per cent of Member States. Photo:ILO/
In response to growing concern about the grave and inhumane nature of certain forms of child labour, delegates at the 87th Session of the Conference unanimously adopted another instrument relating to child labour. The Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention was adopted in 1999 (No. 182) by the ILC. This Convention has been ratified by about 95 per cent of the ILO's member states. Photo:ILO/Khemka A.
Multinational Enterprises and Labour related and social policy issues became hot topics during the 1970s. The ILO's search for international guidelines in this area led to the adoption of the Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration) by the ILO Governing Body of the Tripartite Declaration in 1977. The MNE Declaration has since been joined by other international instruments, including the UN's Global Compact introduced in 1999. Today there is much greater recognition in the business community of the importance of corporate social responsibility. This declaration remains unique in having been a product of the ILO's tripartite process of social dialogue. Photo:ILO/Crozet M.
According to the ILO, about 80 per cent of occupational deaths and accidents could be prevented if all ILO member States would use the accident prevention strategies that are already in place. The Occupational Safety and Health Convention (no.155), which was adopted by the Conference in 1981, remains a cornerstone in the system of ILO standards on occupational safety and health as it covers a wide range of sectors and generic hazards. The Promotional Framework for occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187) and its accompanying Recommendation (No. 197), together with management systems for safety and health, are also important tools which seek to promote a preventative safety and health culture. Photo:ILO/Mirza A.
Dignitaries and Heads of State are invited to address the annual International Labour Conference, where they speak about recent developments in the world of work in their countries and in the world. In 1982 the Conference welcomed His Holiness Pope John Paul II, a particularly appropriate speaker given his early life as a manual worker, and his desire to promote the dignity of labour, as noted in his encyclical Laborem exercens. Photo:ILO/
Much of the contemporary discussion about the rights of the 350 million indigenous peoples worldwide is based on the ILO's work. The International Labour Conference has adopted the only two international Conventions which address the concerns and rights of indigenous and tribal peoples: the Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention, [1957 (no. 107)] and the Indigenous and Tribal People Convention, [1989 (No. 169)]. Countries such as Bolivia, Guatemala, Norway and Sweden have adopted Convention No. 169, in recognition of the multi-ethnic character of their respective populations. Photo:ILO/
On 18 June 1998, the ILC was poised to adopt the Organization's first explicit and comprehensive statement of a commitment to human rights since the Declaration of Philadelphia in 1944. The principles and rights of this Declaration refer to the right to freedom of association, collective bargaining, the elimination of child labour, forced labour and discrimination linked to employment. The ILO declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work can be viewed as the first step towards building a social floor to the global economy. However, at the time of its enactment in 1998, opinion amongst the delegates of the ILC was not unanimous. Since that time, the popularity of this Declaration has grown significantly resulting in the ratification of the eight core labour Conventions concerned, with a ratification rate amongst the ILO member states of 80 per cent. The key feature of this Declaration was its universality- it laid down principles and rights that all member countries of the ILO should respect, irrespective of whether they ratified the standards concerned. Photo:ILO/
Another responsibility of the ILC is to serve as a forum through which social and labour issues are discussed freely. Delegates explore the course of social progress in the world, with the central theme presented in an annual report by the ILO Director-General. In the 1999 report, Juan Somavia, the ninth ILO Director General, discussed the topic of Decent Work and established it as the overarching policy agenda of the ILO. Realizing that employment alone would not lead to equity, social progress and eradication of poverty, the Decent Work Agenda sought to work towards the creation of decent and productive employment for men and women. Photo:ILO/pool photo ILC
In 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which Article 22 recognizes that ''Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security.'' The ILC expanded on this by adopting the Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention (No. 102), Social Security Convention in 1952 ensuring that income security and access are extended to the entire population, but they also in 2001, and launching a Global Campaign on Social Security and Coverage for all. The global campaign lead to the creation of a Social Protection Floor advisory group led by the ILO and the World Health Organization, which would promote a set of basic social security rights and transfers, as well as access to essential services to protect and empower poor and vulnerable people to rise above their social and economic circumstances. Photo:ILO/
From its earliest days, the Member States of the ILO have acknowledged the difference between seafarers and ship owners. Not land-based but working on the seas, not only were they responsible for transporting huge amounts of world trade even 90 years ago, but this group represented the most fluid and wideranging workforce on the planet. In all, the ten Maritime Sessions of the International Labour Conference have adopted 68 Maritime Conventions and Recommendations, covering all aspects of working conditions at sea. However in 2006, the 94th Session of the ILC recognized that the needs of ship owners and governments also needed to be addressed, and that the rights of seafarers should also be expanded. This gave rise to the Maritime Labour Convention, which was not only a landmark of the seas, but a pioneering contribution to a fair globalization. Photo:ILO/Legoupi S.
Amid widespread uncertainty in the world of work, ranging from financial turmoil and economic downturn to growing unemployment, informality and insufficient social protection, the 97th Session of the International Labour Conference adopted the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization. Governments, employers and workers from all Member States called for a new strategy to sustain open economies and open societies based on social justice, full and productive employment, sustainable enterprises and social cohesion. This was a landmark declaration which marked the most important renewal of the Organization since the adoption of the historic Declaration of Philadelphia (1944). The Declaration also marked an advancement from the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which was adopted in 1998. Photo:ILO/Ripper J.
Faced with the prospect of prolonged unemployment, poverty and inequality and the continuing collapse of enterprises, the 98th session of the ILC in 2009 adopted a Global Jobs Pact designed to guide both national and international policies aimed at stimulating economic recovery, generating jobs and providing protection to working people and their families. The Global Jobs Pact was adopted following strong support voiced during a three-day Jobs Summit by heads of state and government during the 98th ILC.
Here former President of Brazil, H. E. Mr Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva addresses the ILO Summit on the Global Jobs Crisis which was held during the 98th Session of the ILC in 2009. Photo:ILO/pool photo ILC
2011 marked the anniversaries of the adoption of the ILO Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and the world of work (2001) and the Recommendation concerning HIV and AIDS and the World of Work (2010).
These standards, which were adopted with overwhelming support during the respective sessions of the ILC, were the first of their kind to focus on HIV and AIDS in the world of work by defining a broad range of rights and responsibilities for workers, employers and trade unions to guide their complementary or joint actions. Photo:ILO/Crozet M.
This year, the 100th Session of the ILC adopted a historic set of international standards aimed at improving the working and living conditions of tens of millions of domestic workers around the world.As the ILC looks forward to another year of campaigning for labour rights and opportunities for decent work, it continues to work to craft and adopt standards in areas which are relevant to our changing times and conditions.
Here, a group of domestic workers celebrate the groundbreaking achievement with the ILO's Director-General, Mr. Juan Somavia, after the result of the vote on the Convention on Domestic Workers at the 100th ILC in June, 2011. Photo:ILO/pool photo ILC