International labour standards are legal instruments drawn up by the ILO's constituents (governments, employers and workers) and setting out basic principles and rights at work. They are either Conventions (or Protocols), which are legally binding international treaties that may be ratified by member states, or Recommendations, which serve as non-binding guidelines. In many cases, a Convention lays down the basic principles to be implemented by ratifying countries, while a related Recommendation supplements the Convention by providing more detailed guidelines on how it could be applied. Recommendations can also be autonomous, i.e., not linked to a Convention.
Conventions and Recommendations are drawn up by representatives of governments, employers and workers and are adopted at the annual International Labour Conference. Once a standard is adopted, member states are required under article 19(6) of the ILO Constitution, to submit it to their competent authority (normally Parliament) within a period of twelve months for consideration. In the case of Conventions, this means consideration for ratification. If it is ratified, a Convention generally comes into force for that country one year after the date of ratification. Ratifying countries undertake to apply the Convention in national law and practice and to report on its application at regular intervals. Technical assistance is provided by the ILO, if necessary. In addition, representation and complaint procedures can be initiated against countries for violations of a Convention that they have ratified (see applying and promoting ILS).
The ILO Governing Body had initially identified eight “fundamental” Conventions, covering subjects that were considered to be fundamental principles and rights at work: freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining; the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour; the effective abolition of child labour; and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. These principles were also covered by the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998). Following the adoption of the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930, a ninth ILO instrument was then considered as "fundamental". At the 110th Session of the International Labour Conference in June 2022, the ILC adopted a Resolution on the inclusion of a safe and healthy working environment in the ILO’s framework of fundamental principles and rights at work. As a result, the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, 1998, has been amended to this effect and the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155) and the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187) are now considered as fundamental Conventions within the meaning of the 1998 Declaration, as amended in 2022.
The eleven fundamental instruments are:
- Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87)
- Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98)
- Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) (and its 2014 Protocol)
- Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105)
- Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138)
- Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182)
- Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100)
- Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111)
- Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155)
- Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187)
Governance (priority) Conventions
The ILO Governing Body has also designated another four Conventions as governance (or priority) instruments, thereby encouraging member States to ratify them because of their importance for the functioning of the international labour standards system. The ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization, in its Follow-up, emphasizes the significance of these Conventions from the viewpoint of governance.
The four governance Conventions are: