Keeping international labour standards relevant and up to date

Many countries in the Caribbean are bound by Conventions that have been classified as “out-of-date”. These member States are strongly encouraged to consider ratification of the related up-to-date Conventions to avoid a gap in legal protection following the abrogation of a ratified instrument.

News | 30 April 2022
by Erica Martin, ILO Specialist, Labour Law and International Labour Standards

Standards Review Mechanism

Tripartite constituents have been setting international labour standards since the ILO’s founding in 1919. In the last 100 years, 190 ILO Conventions have been adopted (by the International Labour Conference) covering a wide range of topics. Given the enormous changes in the world of work in the last century, action was needed to ensure that this body of standards (190 Conventions, 206 Recommendations and 5 Protocols) remained up-to-date and relevant.

For this reason, the Standards Review Mechanism Tripartite Working Group was launched in 20151 with the mandate to review the ILO’s international labour standards. This review of ILO Conventions, Recommendations and Protocols by tripartite constituents aims to ensure that the body of standards is clear, robust and responsive to the constantly changing patterns of the world of work, for the purpose of the protection of workers and taking into account the needs of sustainable enterprises.

How the Standards Review Mechanism works

The Standards Review Mechanism Tripartite Working Group has the role of making recommendations to the ILO Governing Body on: the status of standards; identifying gaps in coverage, including those requiring new standards; and practical and time-bound follow-up action

Like the name implies, the Tripartite Working Group has representatives from Governments (16 members), employers (8) and workers (8). It meets annually to review groups of labour standards. In its six meetings, the Group has reviewed instruments on occupational safety and health, labour inspection, labour statistics, employment policy, social security (unemployment benefits, comprehensive sectoral standards and medical care and sickness benefits), as well as a number of instruments previously identified as outdated. The Tripartite Working Group will meet for the 7th time in September 2022, examining employment injury instruments.

Results of the SRM

The Standards Review Mechanism Tripartite Working Group reaches consensual decisions, and submits its recommendations to the ILO’s Governing Body for discussion and adoption.

In the last five years, the Tripartite Working Group has classified 40 instruments and adopted 19 packages of time-bound follow-up action.

Instruments determined to be outdated may be proposed for abrogation or withdrawal. Abrogation of Conventions means that these standards are no longer part of the ILO’s body of standards (and cease to bind any country that has ratified them).2    Nine outdated instruments have already been abrogated or withdrawn by the International Labour Conference on the recommendation of the Tripartite Working Group, with ten more to be discussed (and a decision taken on abrogation/withdrawal) at future Conferences.

An important component of the Tripartite Working Group’s work is the promotion of up-to-date instruments. Twenty-eight instruments are being promoted in a global campaign based on the Tripartite Working Group recommendations, resulting in 45 new ratifications so far. The Caribbean has seen a number of recent ratifications tied to this campaign, including the ratification of the Private Employment Agencies Convention, 1997 (No. 181), the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187), and the Protocol of 2002 to the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 by Antigua and Barbuda, and the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155) and its Protocol by Saint Lucia.

The Group has also examined where gaps may exist in the overall body of international labour standards. These are subjects where regulatory gaps in coverage have been identified, which may require new standards. The Group has identified five such gaps, leading to two standard-setting items on the Conference agenda so far (on apprenticeships and biological hazards (2024-2025)).

Standards Review Mechanism and the Caribbean

Many countries in the Caribbean are bound by Conventions that have been classified as “out-of-date”. These member States are strongly encouraged to consider ratification of the related up-to-date Conventions to avoid a gap in legal protection following the abrogation of a ratified instrument.

For example, one standard up for abrogation is the Labour Inspectorates (Non-Metropolitan Territories) Convention, 1947 (No. 85). The Tripartite Working Group determined that Convention No. 85 was out-of-date, and constituents will consider its abrogation at the ILC in June 2024. It currently applies to 3 non-metropolitan territories in the Caribbean (Anguilla, British Virgin Islands and Montserrat). To avoid a gap in protection following Convention No. 85 (probable) abrogation, these territories are urged to consider requesting the extension of the most up-to-date standard on labour inspection (the Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81) to the territory.

The ILO is offering technical assistance to member States to follow-up, including support for remedial ratification to avoid a gap in protection. Further, it is carrying out a targeted and general ratification campaign of up-to-date instruments on OSH, labour inspection, labour statistics, and private employment agencies, with a specific emphasis on countries currently bound by outdated Conventions on these topics. For non-metropolitan territories currently covered by out-of-date Conventions, the campaign includes invitations to extend the application of these up-to-date Conventions to the territories concerned.

These priorities are reflected in the “International Labour Standards promotion pyramids” transmitted to each country and territory.

Want to know more?

For a copy of the ILS promotional pyramid for your country or territory, outlining priorities for ratification, please write to srmtwg@ilo.org

Additional tools and information:

1 The Standards Review Mechanism was launched in 2011, and the Tripartite Working Group was established in 2015.
2 For example, the ILC decided to abrogate the Contracts of Employment (Indigenous Workers) Convention, 1939 (No. 64) in 2018, meaning the 31 member States (including five in the Caribbean) that had ratified it ceased to have any obligations when it was abrogated.