The principle of freedom of association is at the core of the ILO's values: it is enshrined in the ILO Constitution (1919), the ILO Declaration of Philadelphia (1944), and the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998). It is also a right proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The right to organize and form employers' and workers' organizations is the prerequisite for sound collective bargaining and social dialogue. Nevertheless, there continue to be challenges in applying these principles: in some countries certain categories of workers (for example public servants, seafarers, workers in export processing zones) are denied the right of association, workers' and employers' organizations are illegally suspended or interfered with, and in some extreme cases trade unionists are arrested or killed. ILO standards, in conjunction with the work of the Committee on Freedom of Association and other supervisory mechanisms, pave the way for resolving these difficulties and ensuring that this fundamental human right is respected the world over.
Selected relevant ILO instruments
- Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87) - [ratifications]
This fundamental convention sets forth the right for workers and employers to establish and join organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization. Workers' and employers' organizations shall organize freely and not be liable to be dissolved or suspended by administrative authority, and they shall have the right to establish and join federations and confederations, which may in turn affiliate with international organizations of workers and employers.
- Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98) - [ratifications]
This fundamental convention provides that workers shall enjoy adequate protection against acts of anti-union discrimination, including requirements that a worker not join a union or relinquish trade union membership for employment, or dismissal of a worker because of union membership or participation in union activities. Workers' and employers' organizations shall enjoy adequate protection against any acts of interference by each other, in particular the establishment of workers' organizations under the domination of employers or employers' organizations, or the support of workers' organizations by financial or other means, with the object of placing such organizations under the control of employers or employers' organizations. The convention also enshrines the right to collective bargaining.
- Workers' Representatives Convention, 1971 (No. 135) - [ratifications]
Workers' representatives in an undertaking shall enjoy effective protection against any act prejudicial to them, including dismissal, based on their status or activities as a workers' representative or on union membership or participation in union activities, in so far as they act in conformity with existing laws or collective agreements or other jointly agreed arrangements. Facilities in the undertaking shall be afforded to workers' representatives as may be appropriate in order to enable them to carry out their functions promptly and efficiently.
- Rural Workers' Organisations Convention, 1975 (No. 141) - [ratifications]
All categories of rural workers, whether they are wage earners or self-employed, shall have the right to establish and, subject only to the rules of the organization concerned, to join organizations, of their own choosing without previous authorization. The principles of freedom of association shall be fully respected; rural workers' organizations shall be independent and voluntary in character and shall remain free from all interference, coercion or repression. National policy shall facilitate the establishment and growth, on a voluntary basis, of strong and independent organizations of rural workers as an effective means of ensuring the participation of these workers in economic and social development.
- Labour Relations (Public Service) Convention, 1978 (No. 151) - [ratifications]
Public employees as defined by the convention shall enjoy adequate protection against acts of anti-union discrimination in respect of their employment, and their organizations shall enjoy complete independence from public authorities as well as adequate protection against any acts of interference by a public authority in their establishment, functioning or administration.
- Further relevant instruments
Freedom of association in practice: Lessons learned (Global Report under the Follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (2008))
Organizing for Social Justice (Global Report under the Follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (2004))