The impact of the regular supervisory system

Since 1964, the Committee of Experts has kept track of the number of cases of progress in which it noted changes in law and practice which improved the application of a ratified convention. To date, over 2,300 cases of progress have been noted.

In recent years, in response to comments it has made, the Committee noted such changes as the following:

  • Ecuador adopted a new Political Constitution providing that "the State shall promote the incorporation of women into the paid labour force under conditions of equal rights and opportunities, guaranteeing women equal remuneration for work of equal value". The Constitution further provides for the promotion of women's employment and reproductive rights in order to improve working conditions for women and ensure their access to social security systems. Particular reference is made to expectant and nursing mothers, working women, women active in the informal and handicrafts sectors, women heads of households, and widows.
  • The United Republic of Tanzania repealed its Human Resources Deployment Act, 1983, under which compulsory labour could be imposed by administrative authority on the basis of a general obligation to work and for purposes of economic development and which was in contravention of forced labour standards.
  • El Salvador adopted a new Penal Code repealing provisions under which sentences involving compulsory labour could be imposed for activities related to the expression of political opinions or opposition to the established political order.
  • Israel amended its Youth Labour Act to authorize the employment of a child between 14 and 15 years of age only as an exceptional measure and solely for light work that is not likely to be harmful to the child's health or development and only during official school holidays, bringing its legislation into conformity with standards on child labour.
  • The Netherlands repealed a Decree under which workers were legally required to obtain the approval of the District Employment Office for the termination of their employment, which contravened standards on forced labour. (Note 1)
  • Egypt's new Labour Code, promulgated by Law No. 12 of 2003, provides for an obligatory compensatory rest period for work performed on a weekly rest day, regardless of any monetary remuneration.

The impact of the regular supervisory system is not just limited to cases of progress. The Committee of Experts each year examines whether member states have fulfilled their obligation to submit adopted instruments to their legislative bodies for consideration. Even if a country decides not to ratify a convention, it may choose to bring its legislation into conformity with it. Member states regularly review the Committee's comments on the application of a convention in other countries and may nonetheless amend their own legislation and practice so as to avoid similar problems in the application of a standard, or in order to emulate good practices. Where a convention has been ratified, the Committee often makes unpublished direct requests to governments, pointing to apparent problems in the application of a standard and giving the countries concerned time to respond and tackle these issues before any comments are published. The Committee's interventions facilitate social dialogue, requiring governments to review the application of a standard and to share this information with the social partners, who may also provide information. The ensuing social dialogue can lead to further problem-solving and prevention.

The reports of both the Committee of Experts and the Conference Committee are available on the Internet to millions of users. Governments and the social partners thus have an even greater incentive to solve problems in the application of standards in order to avoid critical comments by these bodies. Upon request by member states, the International Labour Office provides substantial technical assistance in drafting and revising national legislation to ensure that it is in conformity with international labour standards. In these ways, the supervisory bodies also play an important role in preventing problems in the application of standards from arising in the first place.

Note 1 - E. Gravel, C. Charbonneau-Jobin : The Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations: its dynamic and impact (Geneva, ILO, 2003).