Tripartite Consultation 'a Long-Term Economic Necessity'

The ILO in tandem with Thailand’s Ministry of Labour is holiding seminar to examine the ILO Tripartite Consultation Convention (C 144), 1976, an important instrument in consolidating a mechanism for social dialogue in ILO member States.

Press release | BANGKOK | 14 November 2003

Bangkok (ILO News) – The International Labour Organization (ILO) in tandem with Thailand’s Ministry of Labour today held a one-day seminar at the United Nations Conference Centre (UNCC) to examine the ILO Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards) Convention (C 144), 1976, a strategically important instrument in consolidating a mechanism for social dialogue in ILO member States.

Thailand already has an established practice of tripartite consultations on various labour issues through 16 tripartite committees, including a Labour Relations Committee, a Wage Committee, a Social Security Committee, a State Enterprise Labour Relations Committee, and a Workplace Safety Standards Committee, among others. Indeed, the country’s first labour law, the Labour Act (B.E. 2499), 1956, emerged from a tripartite consensus.

Representatives of government, employers’ and workers’ organizations agreed that the meeting was timely as Thailand’s involvement in the global free trade system is rapidly intensifying.

"The meeting represents a practical starting point in which to review and improve the country’s tripartite consultations, which are central to Thailand’s labour administration," said Deputy Permanent Secretary of Labour Akrapol Vanuputi.

Employers’ and workers’ representatives also recognized the potential value of tripartite negotiations, but also expressed some reservations.

Dr Premsak Piayura, Member of Parliament and Chair of the House Standing Committee on Labour, emphasized the need to mainstream tripartite consultations and manage diverse opinions in the Thai context. Sopon Vichitrakorn, Employers’ Confederation of Thai Trade and Industry (ECONTHAI), said that the use of English via correspondence has proved to be an obstacle to full participation by employers and workers in the process of developing international labour standards (ILS).

Panus Tialuan, National Congress of Thai Labour, pointed out that there were serious challenges in the selection process of workers’ representatives in tripartite bodies.

While the performance of tripartite bodies in Thailand has been mixed, the existence of such bodies shows that the concept of tripartite social dialogue is well engrained. A major obstacle to developing an effective mechanism for social dialogue is weak representation of both workers and employers. Union density in Thailand is estimated at two to five per cent of the total workforce compared with nine per cent in Malaysia, 11 per cent in the Philippines, 12 per cent in Korea and 20 per cent in Japan.

Chang-Hee Lee, Industrial Relations specialist from ILO’s Subregional Office for East Asia, pointed out that Korea had used the tripartite model effectively to diffuse tension and muster support for labour market reforms following the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. This development also represented a kind of ‘vaccine’ for the country on encountering future economic and financial crises.

Shauna Olney, Senior Social dialogue Specialist, ILO InFocus Programme on Social Dialogue, Labour Law and Labour Administration (IFP/DIALOGUE), said that social dialogue provides both a means and an end, pointing out that it ultimately promotes democracy, equity and efficiency. Ratification of Convention No 144 can provide an important avenue for social dialogue.

"Participation in social dialogue guarantees participation in a democratic process, which is essential for good governance, giving it inherent value. People need to be involved, and listened to, otherwise they are unlikely to accept decisions, particularly ones they haven’t specifically chosen. Social dialogue can also lead to better outcomes since it provides more practical information, and a range of approaches and solutions by those directly concerned," Olney said. "This sense of ownership is also likely to result in ensuring effective implementation."

Olney said that participation of representative workers’ and employers’ organizations in social dialogue should be on an "equal footing", according to Convention No. 144, and representation should be gender responsive. It is also useful if the mechanism is inclusive, including input from consumer groups, organizations assisting workers in the informal economy and rural associations where determined by the tripartite partners. Consultations should take place at least once a year, although countries are free to decide on the frequency.

While Thailand has undergone rapid industrialization, it still has further to go in terms of the industrial cycle. Tim De Meyer, International Labour Standards Specialist from ILO’s Subregional Office for East Asia, pointed out that social dialogue was essential in economic terms when taking a longer-term view. As more sophisticated products are manufactured, requiring more integrated production methods, future success will clearly depend upon fostering workers’ long-term commitment and therefore maintaining good labour relations.

The seminar was aimed at building the capacity of social partners on tripartite consultations related to international labour standards (ILS), providing a forum for discussion on the outcome of a legal review of Thai legislation with regard to conformity with C 144, and seek ways to move forward with a view to considering ratification of Convention No. 144.

Since joining the ILO in 1919, Thailand has ratified 13 Conventions. In recent years, Thailand has renewed its interest in international labour standards and ratified two core Conventions – C 100 on Equal Remuneration in 1999 and C 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour in 2001 – in addition to Conventions on forced labour.

Online resources

View Convention 144 online at: /ilolex/english/convdisp1.htm