GENEVA (ILO Online) - The hiring by the Ontario Provincial government in Canada of 200 new labour inspectors over the last two years has had stunning results: not only 9,000 fewer injuries per year but also savings of an estimated 45 million Canadian dollars in workers' compensation costs.
"The example shows that strengthening labour inspectorates not only prevents accidents and saves human lives but also pays for all actors involved", said ILO labour inspection expert Gerd Albracht. "Following an innovative cooperation agreement with the government, the provincial compensation fund paid the 28 million Canadian dollars in salaries for the new inspectors who only targeted the firms with the poorest occupational safety and health record".
Germany provides another example. There, the prevention inspectors of the mutual accident insurance HVBG identified slipping and falling as a main source of accidents and launched a nationwide awareness raising campaign. Between 2002 and 2004, work related accidents were reduced by 26 per cent and compensation costs dropped by 80 million euros.
This kind of effective labour inspection could help to prevent many other occupational accidents and diseases and contribute to the fight against HIV/AIDS, child labour and forced labour, says a new ILO report to the Governing Body ( Note 1).
According to the report, several countries have recently begun to reinvigorate labour inspection ( Note 2). "That's the good news. The bad news is that labour administrations in most English-speaking African countries receive, for example, no more than 1 per cent of the national budget. In some cases the figure is only 0.1 per cent", comments Albracht.
According to the report, the quality of the overall labour administration system 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. The ILO Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No.81) and its 1995 Protocol set out the specific measures for the organization of labour inspection.
Labour inspectorates understaffed
For the first time, the ILO has set "reasonable benchmarks" for the number of labour inspectors in relation to workers in its report. But many countries do not reach these benchmarks. While the ILO benchmarks range between one inspector to 10,000 workers in industrial market economies and one to 40,000 in less developed countries, the actual ratios range between one to 5,500 in Malaysia and one to 3,200,000 in Bangladesh.
Many successful inspectors in developing and emerging countries have joined the private sector attracted by higher remuneration and better career prospects. Often, these officers receive only limited initial training and have little opportunity to receive any in-service training. This leads to a decline in the quality of inspections undertaken, says the report.
"Other factors that challenge the authority and credibility of labour inspection services include violence against inspectors and corruption, weak networking structures and no possibilities to establish the electronic databases that can generate annual reports and help in identifying inspection priorities, particularly high-risk workplaces", says Albracht.
According to the report, labour inspectors also play an important role in protecting workers in relation to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and limiting the spread and effects of the epidemic. As such a role is relatively novel for labour inspectorates in many of the hardest hit countries, the ILO offers support for training on HIV/AIDS prevention and impact mitigation for labour inspectors based on a specially developed handbook for labour inspectors ( Note 3).
The report calls for an Integrated Labour Inspection System (ILIS) to integrate administrative, procedural and technical elements into a holistic, coherent and flexible approach to labour inspection: 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 essence, an ILIS is used to raise worldwide awareness of the social dimension of the workplace, in addition to the economic, financial and environmental aspects. The implementation of core labour standards at the national level can be significantly enhanced if the capacities and quality of national labour inspectorates are strengthened by ambitious reforms as we have already seen in some countries", explains Albracht.
The bedrock for such reforms is ILO Convention No.81 ( Note 4) on labour inspection in industry and commerce. With 135 ratifications, it 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.
Note 4 - For more information, see Labour Inspection, Report III (Part 1B), International Labour Conference, 95th Session, Geneva, 2006, ISBN 92-2-116606-6. 25 Swiss francs. To order a copy, please visit: www.ilo.org/publns.