International Labour Standards on Labour inspection

Proper application of labour legislation depends on an effective labour inspectorate. Labour inspectors examine how national labour standards are applied in the workplace and advise employers and workers on how to improve the application of national law in such matters as working time, wages, occupational safety and health, and child labour. In addition, labour inspectors bring to the notice of national authorities loopholes and defects in national law. They play an important role in ensuring that labour law is applied equally to all employers and workers. Because the international community recognizes the importance of labour inspection, the ILO has made the promotion of the ratification of two labour inspection conventions (Nos. 81 and 129) a priority. To date, more than 130 countries (over 70% of ILO member states) have ratified the Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81), and more than 40 have ratified Convention No. 129.

Nevertheless, challenges remain in countries where labour inspection systems are underfunded and understaffed, and consequently unable to do their job. Some estimates indicate that in some developing countries less than 1% of the national budget is allocated to labour administration, of which labour inspection systems receive only a small fraction. Other studies show that the costs resulting from occupational accidents and illnesses, absenteeism, abuse of workers and labour conflict can be much higher. Labour inspection can help prevent these problems and thereby enhance productivity and economic development. (Note 1)

Selected relevant ILO instruments

  • Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81) - [ratifications]
    This priority convention requires ratifying states to maintain a system of labour inspection for workplaces in industry and commerce; states can make exceptions with regard to mining and transport. It sets out a series of principles respecting the determination of the fields of legislation covered by labour inspection, the functions and organizations of the system of inspection, recruitment criteria, the status and terms and conditions of service of labour inspectors, and their powers and obligations.
  • Protocol of 1995 to the Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81) - [ratifications]
    Each state that ratifies this protocol shall extend the application of the provisions of the Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81) to workplaces considered as non-commercial, which means neither industrial nor commercial in the sense of the convention. It also allows ratifying states to make special arrangements for the inspection of enumerated public services.
  • Labour Inspection (Agriculture) Convention, 1969 (No. 129) - [ratifications]
    This priority convention, similar in content to Convention No. 81, requires ratifying states to establish and maintain a system of labour inspection in agriculture. Labour inspection coverage may also be extended to tenants who do not engage outside help, sharecroppers and similar categories of agricultural workers; persons participating in a collective economic enterprise, such as members of a cooperative; or members of the family of the operator of the agricultural undertaking, as defined by national laws or regulations.
  • Further relevant instruments

Further information

  • General Survey on Labour Inspection (2006) - [pdf]
  • ILO Labour Administration and Inspection Programme (LAB/ADMIN)

Note 1 - W. v. Richthofen: Labour Inspection: A guide to the profession (Geneva, ILO, 2002), pp. 121-133 and 146.