Preface: The fundamentals of labour administration

Article | 28 January 2010


In the context of the Global Jobs Pact adopted by the ILO in June 2009, the strengthening of labour administration is a core objective in the promotion of sound and efficient economic and social policies at both international and national levels. Current challenges such as the crisis in employment require the adoption and implementation of responsive and efficient labour policies that can be put into practice through well-coordinated and efficiently operating labour administration machinery, including viable labour ministries, effective employment services, adequate information and proper consultation of social partners.

Labour administration has been on the ILO agenda ever since the organization was founded 90 years ago. The creation of the ILO in 1919 led to the formation in many countries of ministries of labour, which went on to play a pivotal role within the broad framework of promoting good governance, shaping government activity on various levels. More recently, in the last two decades labour ministries in many countries have responded to contemporary challenges by formulating employment policies, providing employment services, building consensus on emerging labour issues, putting in place effective labour inspection systems and promoting sound labour–management relations. There is no doubt that the development of labour administration has been strongly influenced by international labour standards as embodied in the ILO Conventions and Recommendations.

The ILO has a long-standing commitment to strengthening labour ministries with the overall goal of enabling them to make significant inputs into broader economic and social policy-making as well as carrying out their regular functions with greater efficiency and impact. Labour ministries are the main interlocutors between the ILO and the governments of its member States. The ILO relies on the labour administration in each country, as well as the social partners, to highlight the importance of the ratification and implementation of international labour standards. At the national level, the labour ministry has the main responsibility for ensuring that the social partners have a place in policy-making and are recognized by government as major interlocutors. Today, the labour administration finds itself at the centre of the challenges and constraints resulting from the rapid changes affecting the world of work.

Labour administration, in particular labour inspection, has enjoyed an increasingly high profile in recent years, both nationally and internationally. Much of the increased interest is from governments, recognizing that in a globalized world labour administration is a key actor in the elaboration and implementation of national economic and social policies.

Labour administration is an important source of information in its fields of competence for government, employers and workers alike; it is an active intermediary in the prevention and settlement of labour disputes; it is an informed observer of the trends in society by virtue of its special links with the social partners; it is a provider of effective solutions to the evolving needs of its users. It already bears responsibility for an increasing part of public expenditure; yet employers and workers are now calling for better resources for ministries of labour and labour inspectorates, to promote fairness and a “level playing field”, and to make decent work a reality.

A specific interest in good governance and compliance also means increasing expectations of labour ministries and inspectorates. The World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization (2004) asserted the importance of responding to globalization through good governance, emphasizing that “the behaviour of nation States as global actors is the essential determinant of the quality of global governance. Their degree of commitment to multilateralism, universal values and common goals, the extent of their sensitivity to the cross-border impact of their policies, and the weight they attach to global solidarity are all vital determinants of the quality of global governance”. Similarly, the 2008 ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization reaffirmed the need to “strengthen the ILO’s capacity to assist its Members’ efforts to reach the ILO’s objectives in the context of globalization” and to promote “social dialogue and tripartism as the most appropriate methods for … making labour law and institutions effective, including in respect of the recognition of the employment relationship, the promotion of good industrial relations and the building of effective labour inspection systems” (ILO, 2008a).

Through its new Labour Administration and Inspection Programme (LAB/ADMIN), launched on 31 March 2009, the ILO pursues technical assistance and technical cooperation programmes with a view to assisting its constituents, in particular ministries of labour and labour administration/inspection systems, to play their crucial role in improving working conditions, ensuring compliance with labour legislation, preventing and settling labour disputes, promoting tripartism, working towards the transparency and fluidity of the labour market, modernizing employment services and developing adequate vocational training systems. To perform these functions most effectively, labour administration/inspection systems and ministries of labour need regularly to review and adapt their actions and services; they also need to develop new forms of organization, management and intervention. This new programme assists them by providing comparative information and advice based on ILO standards and international best practice. In addition, it carries out its technical assistance and activities with a view to assisting labour administrations, including labour inspection systems and employment services, in the design and implementation of more effective policies and measures for the protection of workers and the improved functioning of labour markets. It also ensures that labour inspection concerns are addressed in the Decent Work Country Programmes.

Within its mandate, and on the invitation of national governments, the Labour Administration and Inspection Programme conduct audits. The findings and results of these audits are made available to the tripartite constituents with a view to raising awareness of current challenges and recommending possible solutions. Action plans are then formulated in collaboration with the ministry of labour and the labour inspectorate of the country concerned.

In pursuing its work along these lines, the LAB/ADMIN Programme aims at:

1 building the capacity of labour administration to implement the ILO Decent Work Agenda through elaboration and implementation of labour policies;

2 strengthening labour inspectorates so that they are modern and effective, with adequate compliance mechanisms;

3 establishing and strengthening the legal and institutional framework of labour administration, including employment services and labour inspection systems;

4 ensuring an efficient coordination of the various administrations and agencies dealing with social matters and policies;

5 promoting relevant international labour standards;

6 ensuring the consultation and participation of workers and employers in labour administration and inspection systems.

The LAB/ADMIN Programme leads the ILO’s work on technical support and advisory services, mobilizing the relevant expertise across the ILO, and works though networks across technical sectors and regions to enhance the assistance offered to constituents.

Against this background, the purpose of this volume is to spell out the main principles of labour administration, and the challenges facing it in implementing the Decent Work Agenda. It describes ways in which these challenges can be met through policy, organization, coordination and management. It also identifies some best practices in selected countries with well-performing labour administration systems. It emphasizes the need for a professional approach to labour administration to ensure effective governance of the labour market. It addresses labour administrators, labour inspectors, conciliators, employment service officials, governments, workers, employers, researchers and professionals. I hope that this publication will bring the efficiency of labour administration to the forefront of the debate on good governance in the world of work.

Giuseppe Casale


Labour Administration and

Inspection Programme


International Labour Office