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ILO Governing Body concludes 301st session - Considers labour situation in Myanmar, Colombia and other countries, welcomes growing links with World Bank

The Governing Body of the International Labour Office concluded its 301st session following wide-ranging discussions on basic labour rights in Myanmar, Colombia, Belarus and other countries, as well as strengthening cooperation with the World Bank to forge an inclusive and sustainable globalization.

Press release | 20 March 2008

GENEVA (ILO news) ─ The Governing Body of the International Labour Office (ILO) concluded its 301st session following wide-ranging discussions on basic labour rights in Myanmar, Colombia, Belarus and other countries, as well as strengthening cooperation with the World Bank to forge an inclusive and sustainable globalization.

The Governing Body met between 6-20 March under the chairmanship of H.E. Mr. Dayan Jayatilleka, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN in Geneva.

Meeting amidst growing global economic turbulence, the Governing Body held a lively interactive discussion with Robert B. Zoellick, President of the World Bank on 17 March. Mr. Zoellick cited increasing ties with the ILO in pursuit of “an inclusive and sustainable globalization” and raised a broad range of other issues of joint concern to both organizations, including job creation, labour rights and other elements of the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda.

The discussion at the Governing Body’s Working Party on the Social Dimension of Globalization also reviewed the impact of the global financial situation on economic growth and job creation, and considered policies to promote multilateral cooperation and decent work in this context. The Working Party also discussed the report of the ILO Forum on Decent Work for a Fair Globalization held in Lisbon from 31 October to 2 November 2007 (GB.301/16).

The Governing Body also moved to tackle the issue of decent work for domestic workers by placing the issue on the agenda of the ILO’s International Labour Conference in 2010. The Conference is to discuss a new labour standard aimed at addressing the working conditions of the estimated 100 million or more domestic workers worldwide.

The Governing Body examined the situation of forced labour in Myanmar on the basis of reports by the ILO Liaison Officer in Yangon and a statement made by the Permanent Representative of the Union of Myanmar.

While the Governing Body welcomed the extension of the one-year trial period of an Understanding reached between the ILO and the Government of Myanmar for 12 more months, it also expressed its strong expectation that the Understanding would be applied in full and according to the original intent. The Governing Body said this includes the freedom of complainants to access the complaints mechanism without fear or harassment reprisal; the need to urgently reproduce the Understanding in the appropriate local languages and ensure wide dissemination with other awareness raising materials; the freedom of movement of the Liaison Officer to carry out his responsibilities; and the requirement that penalties imposed on the perpetrators of all forms of forced labour are meaningful and enforced.

The Governing Body again called on the authorities of Myanmar at the highest level to make an unambiguous public statement reconfirming the prohibition of any form of forced labour and their ongoing commitment to the enforcement of that policy.

The Governing Body also reaffirmed its call for the immediate release of labour activists and once again drew the attention of the Government to its past conclusions and decisions as well as those of the International Labour Conference (ILC). The Application of Standards Committee of the ILC will hold a special sitting on the application of ILO Convention No. 29 in Myanmar.

The Governing Body called on the Government to strengthen its cooperation with the ILO, and in particular with its Liaison Officer, to ensure the effective operation of the Understanding and the implementation of the obligations under Convention No.29 to prohibit the use of forced labour as well as the recruitment of minors into the military.

Following a high-level mission to Colombia in November 2007, the Governing Body reviewed the Tripartite Agreement on Freedom of Association and Democracy that was signed by the representatives of the Government, employers and trade unions of Colombia in Geneva on 1 June 2006. In order to facilitate the implementation of this Agreement, the ILO has established a permanent representation in Colombia, and a technical cooperation programme is being carried out. The Governing Body acknowledged that there had been progress in social dialogue and freedom of association in the country due to the Tripartite Agreement, but added that the situation needed improvement.

The Governing Body also reviewed action taken by the Government of Belarus to implement the recommendations of the ILO Commission of Inquiry which examined in 2004 the observance of freedom of association and the right to organise. It urged that national tripartite action towards solving the problems identified by the Commission take place and can be recorded at the International Labour Conference in June 2008.

The Governing Body also:

- Examined the promotion of women’s entrepreneurship, the latest trends in export-processing zones, and the implementation of the ILO’s Global Employment Agenda in Vietnam and other countries (GB 301/13).

- Reviewed ILO policy on public-private partnership and ILO technical cooperation activities with respect to child labour, and occupational safety and health. It adopted a report requesting the Office, after consultation with tripartite constituents, to establish and apply operational guidelines and develop and disseminate promotional materials for public–private partnerships and asked the Office to regularly report on public–private partnerships in future sessions of the Committee (GB 301/15).

- Discussed a strategy for promoting the international labour standards mechanisms and reviewed ILO action concerning discrimination in employment and occupation (GB 301/11).

The Governing Body discussed preparations for the 90th anniversary of the ILO in 2009, which will set the stage for a review of the ILO’s role in promoting social progress and decent work since its founding in 1919. The group endorsed plans for a series of national activities to mark the occasion. The ILO will mark its centenary in 2019.

Freedom of association

The Governing Body approved the 349th Report of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, drawing special attention to the cases of Colombia and Myanmar.

The case of Colombia concerns allegations, among others, that a union of university workers was put under pressure and threatened by the University’s vice-chancellor and paramilitary commanders of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) to persuade them to renegotiate the collective agreement.

The Committee further noted a report of the Public Ombudsman’s Office that the University has been affected by the political and military operations of this counterinsurgent group. According to the report, those who have reported this influence have been regarded by the AUC as allies of the insurgence and as an obstacle to the AUC’s aim to consolidate supreme control.

The Committee urged the Government to ensure the safety of the threatened trade union leaders and to have a truly independent investigation carried out without delay into all the allegations in this case and, if found true, to ensure that those responsible are punished.

In the case of Myanmar, the Committee examined the arrest of six labour activists sentenced to from 20 to 28 years of imprisonment after they had tried to organize celebrations and a seminar on labour issues for International Labour Day on 1 May 2007.

The Committee concluded that that the six persons referred to in the complaint were punished for exercising their fundamental right to freedom of association and freedom of expression. While noting that appeals were pending before the Supreme Court, the Committee urged the Government to take the necessary measures for the release of Thurein Aung, Wai Lin, Nyi Nyi Zaw, Kyaw Kyaw, Kyaw Win and Myo Min.

In examining this case, the Committee was obliged to recall earlier cases before it and the overall conclusion of a total absence of a legislative framework and climate sufficient to enable trade unions to exist in Myanmar. It once again requested the Government to refrain from any acts preventing the free operation of any form of organization of collective representation of workers, including organizations which operate in exile since they cannot be recognized in the prevailing legislative context of Myanmar.


The Governing Body is the executive body of the International Labour Office (the Office is the secretariat of the Organization). It meets three times a year, in March, June and November and takes decisions on ILO policy, the agenda of the International Labour Conference and the draft Programme and Budget of the Organization for submission to the Conference.

It is composed of 56 titular members (28 Governments, 14 Employers and 14 Workers) and 66 deputy members (28 Governments, 19 Employers and 19 Workers). Ten of the titular government seats are permanently held by States of chief industrial importance (Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States). The other Government members are elected by the Conference every three years.