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270th Session
Geneva, November 1997

Committee on Legal Issues and International Labour Standards




Review of the activities of the multidisciplinary teams
in relation to standards

1. This paper follows previous reports submitted to the Committee at the Governing Body's 261st (November 1994), 264th (November 1995) and 267th Sessions (November 1996),(1)  giving a brief description of the work of the ILO's multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) in relation to standards. The present document summarizes developments over the last 12 months, including information provided for this purpose by the various MDTs.(2)

2. In November 1996 the Committee expressed the hope that greater efforts would be made to meet the needs voiced in its discussion of the Office paper, and especially to fill vacant MDT posts. Steps are under way to meet these requests as a matter of priority.

3. At the time of writing, in September 1997, specialists on international labour standards continued as members of the teams in Bangkok, Dakar, Lima, Port-of-Spain, San Josť and Santiago de Chile (where the specialist is occupying a post also covering labour relations). No appointments had been made to corresponding vacancies in Abidjan, Addis Ababa, Beirut, Harare, Manila or New Delhi. No such post was provided for in the Budapest or Cairo MDTs. Associate experts on standards were present in the Abidjan, Addis Ababa and Harare teams (another having been in the New Delhi MDT until August).

4. The assignments reported to the Governing Body in November 1996 have continued, as have the many successful efforts by the MDTs and the International Labour Standards Department (NORMES) to furnish necessary standards expertise on an ad hoc basis. Internal one-day workshops on standards and technical cooperation were held in connection with visits by a NORMES official in Addis Ababa, Manila and New Delhi. Five standards specialists and three associate experts on standards were also present at headquarters for a period of two weeks in May-June 1997 for consultations with NORMES and other units concerned with technical cooperation, labour legislation and the organization of the International Labour Conference, and to meet their respective constituents at the June session of the Conference.

5. Based on information provided by the MDTs, the main areas of activities are indicated below. In response to the wishes expressed by the Committee in November 1996, the information is arranged by theme. This may give the impression that the multidisciplinary approach leads to standards specialists undertaking increased activities not only in areas such as labour law and industrial relations, but also in relation to the work of all other members of the teams.

Summary of information available from the multidisciplinary teams

1. The promotion of human rights

6. In Africa, advisory services and technical notes were provided for many constituents, and several seminars were held to promote the ratification of the fundamental Conventions through better understanding. This led to various ratifications and moves towards ratification, especially in southern and northwest Africa. In Eastern Africa meetings on fundamental Conventions were also held in cooperation with the Organization of African Unity and the East African Community, while the MDT in Abidjan organized several meetings with educational and research institutions.

7. In Asia, several governments have expressed an interest in ratifying fundamental Conventions. Activities were undertaken to foster this interest and clarify the contents and obligations attached to ratification. In some countries, the prevailing political situation led to the postponement of planned activities. In cooperation with NORMES, a promotional package on the fundamental human rights Conventions was developed and used in the South Asian countries.

8. In the Americas, activities have centred on papers for seminars and lectures and some technical assistance to explain the obligations: these have covered freedom of association, in particular in Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. In the Arab States, promotional activities aimed at the ratification of the fundamental human rights Conventions, mainly within the framework of missions by MDT members and in regional seminars organized in cooperation with the Arab Labour Organization and the regional labour administration programme.


2. Constitutional obligations

9. In Africa, continued assistance was provided with regard to the preparation of reports on ratified and unratified Conventions and Recommendations and the submission of new instruments to the competent national authorities. Some examples of the results obtained through this assistance include the submission, by the Government of Burkina Faso, of the instruments adopted at sessions of the International Labour Conference held between 1990 and 1995, and a similar move on standards from 11 sessions of the International Labour Conference by the Government of Lesotho following a clarification of the term "competent national authorities". Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Sao Tome and Principe and Senegal, among others, all received direct technical assistance in the preparation of reports on ratified and unratified Conventions. Interaction between the MDTs in Africa has intensified.

10. In Asia and the Pacific, a number of States received assistance in reporting on ratified and unratified Conventions and on the submission of new standards to the competent national authorities, either from the Bangkok MDT standards specialist or from NORMES officials. In Central and Eastern Europe, encouragement and assistance with regard to the fulfilment of the constitutional obligations continued, especially during the many missions undertaken by MDT members and a NORMES official.

11. In the Americas, technical advisory services were provided to the Governments of Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Dominica, Jamaica, Paraguay, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, to help them carry out their reporting and submission obligations. Special advisory services and training activities are being provided to government officials of Barbados, Jamaica and the Netherlands (Aruba and Netherlands Antilles) to address the comments in the 1997 report of the Committee of Experts.


3. Labour legislation

12. In Africa, many countries have undertaken, or are in the process of undertaking, revisions of labour legislation. The assistance provided in this respect was, for example, aimed at ensuring that workers' fundamental rights were protected, encouraging tripartite mechanisms in labour affairs and identifying obstacles to the ratification of ILO Conventions (Guinea and Guinea-Bissau). Missions by both MDT and NORMES staff to Eritrea, a relatively new member State, have mainly involved advice on new labour legislation as a first step towards early ratifications, especially regarding the fundamental Conventions. Officials from headquarters, the Dar es Salaam Office, and the Addis Ababa MDT took part in a meeting on labour law harmonization and tripartism in East African Community States, and several standards specialists participated in a joint ILO/World Bank seminar on labour law reform in French-speaking Africa.

13. In Central and Eastern Europe, advisory services were provided by the MDT to Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovenia in the field of labour law reform. As a contribution to the supervisory process, the MDT specialist in labour market policies analysed the application of Convention No. 122 in Croatia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine. In the Americas, assistance was provided in Argentina and Chile to harmonize labour legislation with ratified Conventions, and similarly in Uruguay in the field of collective bargaining. In the Caribbean, technical and drafting assistance was provided to a large number of States as well as in the elaboration of the CARICOM draft model law on occupational safety and health under the project on the harmonization of labour law. Model legislation was adopted by the meeting of ministers in May 1997, and work has commenced on draft model legislation on the protection of employees during industrial action. As regards the Arab countries, Kuwait, Lebanon and Yemen were all provided with technical assistance with a view to harmonizing legislation with provisions of ratified Conventions, and the Palestinian Authority was provided with technical assistance for the elaboration of a Labour Code.


4. Country objectives

14. NORMES has continued to cooperate with Area Offices and MDTs in the preparation of country objectives, with the intention of ensuring all due attention to basic rights Conventions, as well as to others identified (in particular through ratification) as a national priority and seeking means of remedying the problems noted by the supervisory bodies. In Asia, activities have been undertaken by the MDTs in order to implement country objectives, especially for the Philippines (providing information and technical assistance towards new ratifications). In the Americas, and more specifically in the Caribbean, activities with regard to the elaboration of country objectives have been undertaken for virtually all countries covered by the MDT.


5. Social dialogue and activities of the social partners

15. In Africa, many activities were undertaken to promote tripartism and social dialogue. In West Africa, one large subregional programme for Guinea, Mali and Senegal and another for Portuguese-speaking countries (PRODIAL) have been set up with the help of the Dakar MDT. With the assistance of the specialists in employers' and workers' activities, several seminars and other events aimed at increasing awareness were organized in southern Africa. In Ethiopia, a large meeting on this subject was expected to lead to the establishment of a labour advisory board in November 1997. In Asia, several workshops and seminars were held on tripartism and social dialogue: a High-level Symposium on Tripartism in the South Pacific was held in Fiji, aimed at strengthening understanding of tripartism, and in India activities were organized for academic and professional institutions and rural workers and a bipartite committee was set up to revise legislation.

16. In Central and Eastern Europe, several national and regional tripartite seminars on tripartism and related areas were organized by the MDT in Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova (planned for November 1997), Poland, Romania, the Russian Federation, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Ukraine. A special national tripartite seminar on wage policy in Ukraine was organized jointly with the International Monetary Fund, while in other countries advisory services were given on this issue. In cooperation with NORMES, a manual entitled Ethnic minorities in Central and Eastern Europe -- Guidelines and recommendations promoting their employment was translated into several local languages and another was produced together with the Vocational Rehabilitation Branch (REHAB) on training and employment policies for disabled people. In the Arab countries, a number of seminars were organized to promote social dialogue and related topics, and others for the social partners: regional seminars were organized in cooperation with the regional labour administration programme on the protection of women workers, the promotion of employment services and the development of social dialogue; activities have also aimed at improving knowledge of labour standards in universities, non-governmental organizations and various advisory bodies.


6. Gender issues

17. In Central and Eastern Europe, national seminars on women workers' rights were organized by the MDT, as well as a tripartite regional seminar on gender issues and equality as follow-up on the Fourth World Conference on Women. In Asia, activities included a tripartite High-level Seminar for Officials on Gender Issues in the World of Work, jointly organized with the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment, which discussed the relevance of fundamental ILO Conventions to women workers. A national workshop on Women's Employment issues in the formal sector was held in Indonesia which identified the effective implementation of Convention No. 100 as a priority area for action. Activities were also undertaken in Bangladesh, India, Fiji, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka. In the Americas, notably in the Caribbean, continued emphasis was placed on integrating gender perspectives into ILO programmes and activities: Conventions Nos. 100 and 111 were the subject of priority promotional activities, for example in Suriname and St. Vincent and the Grenadines; and national seminars have been held in all the Southern Cone countries.


7. Child labour

18. In Africa, ratification of Convention No. 138 was the subject of promotional activities by MDTs in Botswana, Ethiopia, Guinea, Malawi, Morocco and Senegal. Regional seminars were organized in cooperation with IPEC, UNICEF and the OAU. Consultations took place with the responsible MDT in preparation for the Oslo Conference on Child Labour in both Africa and Asia. In Asia, strengthening the legislative framework for combating child labour is a priority area for MDT action in Indonesia and the Philippines. IPEC, with the MDT, organized a tripartite consultation on Convention No. 138 in Manila (Philippines). A national seminar was similarly planned for October 1997 in China.


8. Social dimensions of international trade and export processing zones

19. In Africa, in 1996 the Harare MDT prepared a study entitled "Labour standards in export processing zones: A Southern African perspective" for the Employment and Labour Sector of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). A follow-up report has since been submitted and the Office continues to monitor developments in the region. In the Americas, notably the Caribbean, work on the social dimensions of international trade continued in connection with the work of the Governing Body's Working Party on the Social Dimensions of the Liberalization of International Trade and the Report of the Director-General to the 85th Session of the International Labour Conference.


9. International Labour Conference, ILS Update, programme and standard-setting policy

20. The consultation held at headquarters in May with MDT standards specialists and associate experts was the occasion to brief them on a "best practice" approach, known as ILS Update. This involves informing the constituents of standards-related procedures and obligations in one-day national meetings, normally held between June and September. This also allows them to contact those constituents so as to enable them to take part in the Conference in full awareness of the standards issues and obtain agreement to fresh ILS Update appointments in time to comply with 1997 reporting obligations. In Africa, a large number of countries were offered and accepted Updates, and the same approach is being adapted by certain MDTs in other regions. Updates, when held, have tended to result in improvements in compliance with reporting and submission obligations in particular.

21. The annual Japan-funded Asian-Pacific Regional Symposium on Standards-Related Topics was held in May this year in New Delhi; the Regional Director, the New Delhi and Bangkok MDTs, NORMES and relevant headquarters technical units participated. It helped equip delegates for participation in the International Labour Conference by explaining and facilitating tripartite consideration of the standard-setting items, the issue of supervision and the proposed amendment of the Constitution, as well as the discussion of the Report of the Director-General. In Central America, several national meetings were organized in preparation for the International Labour Conference.

22. The MDTs were called on to take part in the process of consulting the ILO's constituents on the portfolio of proposals for new standards, following the discussions at the Governing Body's 268th Session (March 1997). They are also asked to assist in follow-up on the decisions taken by the Working Party on Policy regarding the Revision of Standards.(3)


Final remarks

23. The focus by MDTs on promotion of the ratification and implementation of the seven basic rights Conventions seems to be confirmed. While progress in ratification continues, the task of following ratification with improved implementation in all countries will continue to be highlighted.

24. As in some teams there are no standards specialists; MDT Directors continue to show flexibility in obtaining the necessary input from standards specialists in other MDTs and from NORMES. Recourse may continue to be had to headquarters in particular for assistance in respect of specialized aspects of labour standards. The role played by associate experts in maintaining contacts with NORMES and providing routine assistance and documentation, for example, in some teams has been very helpful in these conditions, as has the readiness of other members of the teams -- especially the specialists in employers' and workers' relations and industrial relations -- to encourage familiarity with the standards aspects of their work.

25. MDT Directors have consistently given close attention to the need for cooperation with NORMES, at a time when the needs and demands of constituents in regard to international labour standards have not ceased to grow. NORMES, in turn, relies very much on MDTs to help obtain compliance with the standards-related obligations and to promote the practical application of standards. The country objectives formulation and implementation process can be an extremely valuable part of the ILO's work to promote international labour standards.


Geneva, 8 October 1997.

1.  GB.261/LILS/5/3, GB.264/LILS/6 and GB.267/LILS/6.

2.  A document submitted to the Committee on Technical Cooperation (GB.270/TC/1) deals more generally with the work of the MDTs. A further document submitted to the Committee deals with the campaign for the promotion of fundamental ILO Conventions (GB.270/LILS/5).

3.  GB.270/LILS/WP/PRS/1/1.

Updated by VC. Approved by NdW. Last update: 4 February 2000.