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ILO calls for strengthening labour inspection worldwide

The International Labour Office (ILO) today proposed a new series of measures designed to "reinvigorate", modernize and strengthen labour inspectorates worldwide, in a move to boost the implementation of labour laws on the working conditions that protect the rights of millions of workers worldwide.

Press release | 16 November 2006

GENEVA (ILO News) - The International Labour Office (ILO) today proposed a new series of measures ( Note 1) designed to "reinvigorate", modernize and strengthen labour inspectorates worldwide, in a move to boost the implementation of labour laws on the working conditions that protect the rights of millions of workers worldwide.

The ILO stresses that good governance of workplaces is central to the promotion of sustainable economic development.

The new initiatives on labour inspection were welcomed by both worker and employer representatives at the ILO's 297th Governing Body meeting here as a means of improving competitiveness, economic growth and job creation. The new measures will contribute to preventing some of the 2.2 million annual fatal occupational accidents and the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS each year. Effective systems for labour inspection are also vital in the struggle to eliminate child labour, forced labour and discrimination in the workplace.

In the face of mounting challenges to the worldwide force of national labour inspectors, which at an estimated 120,000 is stretched thin across global workplaces, the ILO's Governing Body Committee on Employment and Social Policy proposed the new measures aimed at improving both quantity and quality of labour inspections. The moves will contribute to achieving the ILO's "Decent Work Agenda".

Measures suggested in the package to "reinvigorate" inspection services included tripartite labour inspection audits to help governments identify and remedy weaknesses in labour inspection, the development of ethical and professional codes of conduct, labour inspection fact sheets, global inspection principles, and hands-on tools for risk assessment, occupational safety and health management systems and targeted training for inspectors.

An Integrated Labour Inspection Training System (ILITS) was also endorsed to help strengthen labour inspection by coordinating administrative, procedural and technical elements from the global policy level down to the operational level in the enterprise where the quantity and quality of inspections can be significantly improved.

In many countries the numbers of workers in relation to labour inspectors exceed the benchmarks used by the ILO, says the report. The ILO is concerned if the relation exceeds one inspector per 10,000 workers in industrial market economies; one inspector per 20,000 workers in transition economies; and one inspector per 40,000 workers in less developed countries.

The ILO report says many countries are missing these benchmarks, and that there are enormous differences between countries at all levels of development. The ratios between active population and inspectors range from one inspector per 5,500 active workers in Malaysia, 8,300 workers in Latvia, to one to 45,000 in Burkina Faso, to one to 370,000 in Cambodia and one to 3,200,000 in Bangladesh.

According to the report, resources for labour inspection have been squeezed in many countries as a part of budget austerity measures. This, despite the fact that the Governing Body Committee on Employment and Social Policy found that an efficient and adequately resourced labour inspection system makes a significant contribution to economic development, social cohesion and good governance.

Labour inspection reforms underway

Several countries have, nevertheless recently moved to reinvigorate labour inspection, the report says. Brazil recruited 150 new inspectors to tackle forced labour in 2004, Turkey has trained 108 inspectors to fight child labour, and Greece has conducted training for 81 newly recruited inspectors. Spain has increased the number of inspectors from 1,500 to almost 2,000 over the last three years, while Latvia intends to recruit 39 new inspectors after January 2007.

Following the killing of two labour inspectors in France in 2005, the government just launched the new "Plan Larcher", to tackle the organisational crisis in labour inspection. This includes structural and organizational reforms, improving the quality of inspections and the recruitment of 700 new inspectors by 2010.

With 135 ratifications, ILO Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No.81) ( Note 2) on labour inspection in industry and commerce is one of the ten most ratified ILO conventions to date and serves as a good international guide to secure the enforcement of the legal provisions relating to conditions of work and the protection of workers. The measures decided by the ILO Governing Body build on a survey of the application of the ILO's labour inspection standards at the June 2006 International Labour Conference.

Labour inspection is part of countries' overall labour administration system, the quality of which according to the report is vital to the effectiveness of a labour inspectorate. The ILO Labour Administration Convention, 1978 (No.150), and its accompanying Recommendation (No.158) set out the overall duties of a labour administration as including labour inspection.

For a feature on labour inspection, click here.

Note 1

Note 2 - For more information, see Labour Inspection, Report III (Part 1B), International Labour Conference, 95th Session, Geneva, 2006, ISBN 92-2-116606-6.