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ILO Meeting Adopts Draft Code of Practice on Protection of Workers' Data


Press release | 07 October 1996


GENEVA (ILO News) - A Meeting of Experts on workers' privacy today adopted a Draft Code of Practice Endnote on the protection of workers' personal data at the ILO in Geneva today. Though the draft code is non-binding and the guidelines are voluntary, it represents the first international effort designed "to provide guidance on the protection of workers' personal data."

The Draft Code, which can be used "in the development of legislation, regulations, collective agreements, work rules, policies and practical measures" affecting collection, storage, dissemination and monitoring of workers' data, will be submitted to the ILO's Governing Body, which meets in November 1996.

The Meeting of Experts recognized "that a number of national laws and international standards have been established binding procedures for the processing of personal data."

The general principles of the draft code state that "personal data should be used lawfully and fairly, and only for reasons directly relevant to the employment of the worker."

It says that in principle, personal data should be used "only for the purposes for which they were originally collected."

With respect to data collected in connection with technical or organizational measures "should not be used to control the behaviour of workers" and that "decisions concerning a worker should not be based solely on the automated processing of that workers' personal data."

The Draft Code calls upon employers, workers and their representatives to "cooperate in protecting personal data and in developing policies on workers privacy" consistent with the principles in the code.

It stresses that "all persons ... who have access to personal data, should be bound to a rule of confidentiality" in their handling of the data. It also says that "workers may not waive their privacy rights."

With respect to collection of personal data the code states that employers "should not collect personal data concerning a worker's sex life, political, religious or other beliefs or criminal convictions" unless "the data are directly relevant to an employment decision and in conformity with national legislation." In addition, "polygraphs, truth-verification equipment or any other similar testing procedure should not be used." Genetic screening "should be prohibited or limited to cases explicitly authorized by national legislation."

The code states that "Employers should ensure that personal data are protected by such security safeguards as are reasonable in the circumstances to guard against loss and unauthorized use, modification or disclosure." Personal data covered by medical confidentiality "should be stored only by personnel bound by rules on medical secrecy and should be maintained apart from all other personal data."

Personal data should not be communicated to third parties without the worker's express written consent unless the communication is necessary to prevent threats to life or health, required by law, necessary for the conduct of the employment relationship or required for the enforcement of criminal law."

The Code also states that "workers should have the right to be regularly notified of the personal data held about them and the processing of that data," and that they should have "access to all of their personal data."

The 24 independent experts came from over 20 countries. The ILO Governing Body had named them after consulting governments, employers' and workers' groups. The ILO, founded in 1919, has 174 member States.

Endnote :

Draft code of practice on the protection of workers' personal data. ISBN 92-2-109827-3. International Labour Office. Geneva, 1995.