ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations

268th Session
Geneva, March1997
Committee on Legal Issues and International Labour Standards LILS


General status report on ILO action concerning
discrimination in employment and occupation

1. Over the past year, emphasis has been placed on developing and expanding ILO activities in the field of discrimination. New ratifications have been registered in respect of the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111), the Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100) and the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169). A number of governments have also indicated their intention to take active steps towards ratifying these Conventions, as well as others dealing with equality of opportunity and treatment, such as the Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention, 1981 (No. 156). Information concerning the ratification and promotion of the fundamental ILO Conventions is contained in a paper submitted under a separate item on the Committee's agenda.(1)

I. Supervision of the application of standards
concerning discrimination

2. The Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations has continued to review the application of the above Conventions. At its session in November-December 1996, the Committee's examination of these Conventions gave rise to a significant number of comments, in the form of both direct requests and observations.(2) As in previous years, the Committee of Experts has, like the Conference Committee on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, encouraged a number of governments that appear to be experiencing difficulties with the application of particular Conventions to seek the technical advice and assistance of the Office. A significant proportion of the work carried out by the International Labour Standards Department is devoted to responding to requests for assistance of this kind in relation, in particular, to standards on fundamental human rights (see paragraph 4 below).

Constitutional procedures

3. At its 267th Session (November 1996), the Governing Body adopted the report of a tripartite Governing Body Committee set up to examine representations made by the Latin American Central of Workers (CLAT) and the Single Confederation of Workers of Peru (CUT), alleging non-observance by Peru of a number of Conventions, including Conventions Nos. 100 and 111.(3) The Governing Body approved the Committee's recommendations and declared the procedure closed.

II. Office activities to promote equality of
opportunity and treatment

4. In accordance with the Director-General's concern to strengthen the assistance provided to constituents with a view to overcoming the obstacles to the ratification and implementation of the fundamental ILO Conventions, since the last report tripartite activities have been conducted in China, Fiji, Mauritius and Vietnam. Reports on these events are available to members of the Committee. In the context of comments from the supervisory bodies concerning Brazil's application of Convention No. 111, particularly as regards race and gender inequalities, and as a means of following up on the technical assistance provided in the form of a national tripartite technical meeting in 1995, nationwide training exercises took place throughout 1996. A further seminar is to be held in the first half of 1997 to finalize national policy so as to improve implementation of national laws prohibiting discrimination. A tripartite French-speaking subregional seminar on the promotion of equality of opportunity and treatment in employment is shortly to be held in Africa, and a seminar for Arab States on equality of opportunity and treatment for women workers, in the light of the Beijing Conference, will be held in Cairo.

5. The Equality and Human Rights Coordination Branch continues its backstopping of the Norwegian-funded technical cooperation project on affirmative action in employment in Namibia, the next stage of which is to commence in early 1997. Intended to overcome the lingering effects of apartheid on employment, the training, sensitization and institution-building activities included in this project, together with the principal output of an affirmative action law, are also intended to facilitate Namibia's ratification of Convention No. 111.

6. Technical advice on equality issues has recently been provided on 10 pieces of new or revised legislation (employment and industrial relations legislation, labour codes, equality acts, etc.) submitted to the Office for comment in relation to ratified Conventions and potential new ratifications. In its collaboration with other international agencies to combat discrimination, the Office has continued to provide information on its activities to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights of the United Nations, and takes part in discussions relating to a variety of human rights subjects. It also maintains close relations with the "treaty bodies" established to monitor the application of United Nations instruments: periodic reports are requested from the ILO by a number of these bodies, including the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The ILO has also responded positively to invitations from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to participate in various activities, such as a workshop on legal and institutional guarantees for gender equality in Central and Eastern Europe (Warsaw, Poland, April, 1996). Contributions have also been made regularly to projects designed by the International Training Centre of the ILO, Turin, which have a bearing on equality issues. The materials developed on women workers' rights in collaboration with the Centre are used frequently in seminars, workshops and briefings.

7. Forthcoming publications include a policy manual entitled "Ethnic Minorities in Central and Eastern Europe: Guidelines and Recommendations for Promoting their Employment" -- developed jointly by the Budapest Multidisciplinary Advisory Team and the International Labour Standards Department -- and a book entitled "Affirmative Action in Employment: Ethnic Minorities and Persons with Disabilities" (both due for publication in spring 1997). A further text assessing current legislation and enterprise practice in relation to persons affected by HIV or suffering from AIDS is undergoing final editing.

III. Equality for women

The ILO and follow-up on the
Fourth World Conference on Women

8. The Committee will recall from the paper concerning ILO action to give effect to the Declaration and Platform for Action adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, China, 1995), submitted to the 265th Session of the Governing Body,(4) that the overall strategic objective is to ensure the integration of a gender perspective in all ILO programmes and projects and to promote equality of opportunity and treatment between men and women in the world of work. ILO action is to focus on three key areas: productive employment and poverty eradication; social protection and working conditions; and international labour standards and normative action concerning women workers.

9. The Governing Body has approved a proposal for an international programme on women as a priority for technical cooperation. The International Programme on More and Better Jobs for Women will be a major ILO contribution to the successful implementation of the Beijing Conference and the gender dimensions of the World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen, 1995). It represents a concerted effort to reinforce the ILO's own longstanding priorities to promote full, productive and remunerative employment with equality of opportunity and treatment, especially in the light of the endorsement given to these objectives by the two milestone international conferences. The immediate objectives of the programme are: to enhance national capacity and strengthen legal and institutional frameworks for providing more and better jobs for women in participating countries; and to sharpen global concern for women's employment issues and promote a comprehensive and integrated approach to improving the quantity and quality of employment for women, based on the systematic accumulation and dissemination of information and experience between countries and regions. It will not duplicate or detract from the range of activities, funded from various sources, being undertaken or planned both within the Office and with the ILO's social partners at the national, regional and international levels to promote equality of opportunity and treatment in the world of work, but will work in tandem with and enhance those activities.

10. The International Programme on More and Better Jobs for Women will also contribute to and benefit from the ILO's other international programmes. Special attention will be given to ensuring effective coordination and collaboration, especially in the efficient use of resources and joint activities. For example, there are plans for collaboration with the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) on the increasingly important issue of the trafficking in and prostitution of women and children. The International Small Enterprise Programme and the Global Programme on Occupational Safety and Health and Environment will both have important implications for enhancing the quantity and quality of employment for women.

11. The ILO Regional Offices are taking the lead, working with the MDTs and Area Offices, to publicize the programme widely at the national level and to initiate dialogue with the social partners. Work is about to begin on developing national action plans in a few selected countries, in collaboration with the MDTs and social partners.

12. In addition to this international programme, the Office has assisted member States and social partners in their national efforts to give effect to the Beijing Conference by providing advisory services in defining priorities and appropriate strategies regarding employment matters. In a number of countries (for example, China, Romania and Suriname), seminars and workshops have been organized on topics of particular interest to the countries concerned. The results and recommendations emerging from these activities have helped strengthen the integration of labour-related issues in national follow-up action plans, and contributed to exchanges of experience between constituents in different countries.

13. Within the UN system, the ILO was actively involved in the revision of the UN System-Wide Medium-Term Plan for the Advancement of Women (1996-2001) in the framework of the Platform of Action adopted by the Beijing Conference and, in this connection, submitted a substantial contribution to the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the secretariat of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The ILO also took an active part in the Subregional Conference of Senior Governmental Experts on the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action in Central and Eastern Europe and made contributions both in financial and technical terms to the Arab Regional Conference concerning follow-up on the Beijing Conference. The Office has also played an active role and worked closely with DAW, the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and other intergovernmental organizations in a number of seminars and workshops organized as follow-up on the Beijing Conference, such as the Senior Expert Meeting on Vocational Training and Lifelong Learning of Women (convened by DAW, in collaboration with the ILO, UNESCO and UNIDO, Turin, December, 1996) and the Workshop on Social Protection, Poverty, and Older Persons at Risk (convened by ECE in collaboration with the ILO, Geneva, December, 1996).

14. As will be recalled, the activities on women and gender issues planned for the 1996-97 biennium were listed in the appendix to the paper submitted to the Governing Body's 265th Session. The areas covered in these projects and activities include: promotion of the ratification and application of international labour Conventions of special relevance to women workers, especially Conventions Nos. 100, 111 and 156 and the Part-Time Work Convention, 1995 (No. 175); group mobilization for poverty alleviation and employment generation; promotion of gender equality in trade unions, including increased incorporation of women workers' concerns in collective bargaining; promotion of women in private-sector activities, including small and micro enterprises; women in management; increased equal opportunity for women in vocational training and technical education; promoting harmony between work and family responsibilities; and social protection, especially of vulnerable groups of women, such as homeworkers, migrant women, women in transition economies, disabled women, women belonging to ethnic minorities, female heads of households, etc.

15. With regard to women workers' rights, a pilot project (INT/94/M09/NET), funded by the Government of the Netherlands, is being implemented in nine countries in the five regions. The project is intended to disseminate information on women workers' rights and contribute to the improvement of equal opportunity and treatment for women workers by developing and implementing awareness-raising activities and training on women workers' rights. The project emphasizes the active participation of national constituents. Tripartite national steering committees have been set up in eight countries, and a number of workshops to train trainers have been conducted. National plans of action on the dissemination of information and training packages on women workers' rights are being developed and adapted to the national context.

16. Also within the framework of this Netherlands-funded project, training courses on gender issues in the world of work have been organized for ILO staff and constituents to enhance their capacity for gender analysis and gender planning and thereby better integrate gender concerns into all ILO programmes and projects. A number of such courses have been organized both at headquarters and in the regions, with encouraging results: such activities have increased constituents' awareness of and commitment to gender issues, enhanced their capacity to integrate gender concerns in their action plans, and strengthened tripartite consensus on gender issues in the world of work. Training activities will continue to be organized in the future both at the technical and decision-making levels to further mainstream gender concerns in all ILO programmes and activities.

17. The ILO's programmes and joint efforts with constituents in the above areas demonstrate that the elimination of discrimination and the promotion of gender equality in the world of work remains not only a challenging task, but one on which it is necessary to develop long-term comprehensive strategies and adopt coherent and integrated policies and approaches, especially at the national and local levels. All the actors of civil society have a role to play to improve women's situation so that they can fully participate in, and contribute to, social and economic development on an equal footing and in partnership with men.

IV. Migrant workers

18. The ILO's activities relating to international migration for employment aim at providing support to migrant-sending and migrant-receiving countries in order to help them deal with current policy concerns, cooperate in the recruitment and return of migrant workers, and improve the protection of migrant workers and members of their families. The promotion of the ILO standards concerning migrant workers is a prominent feature of all activities undertaken. The key concern of these standards is non-discrimination and equality of opportunity and treatment.

19. The Office's activities have contributed significantly to the acceptance of the principle of equality of treatment for migrant workers and the elimination of discrimination against them. However, the situation of migrant workers remains a matter of concern, particularly in countries that have not yet ratified any of the relevant Conventions and where national legislation and practice is often far from being consistent with the principles of the ILO.

20. The development of migration for employment is becoming the focus of increased attention by ILO constituents, resulting in an increasing number of requests for technical assistance. Protection, integration and non-discrimination figured prominently in the Programme of Action adopted by the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, September 1994),(5) and the Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen, March 1995).(6) The Office has been entrusted with leading the work of the Working Group on International Migration established by the ACC Task Force on the theme of "Basic Social Services for All".

21. Apart from its ongoing activities related to international migration for employment,(7)

the Office has engaged in several activities aimed explicitly at promoting the protection of migrant workers and reducing discrimination against such workers.

22. An interregional project to combat discrimination against migrant workers and ethnic minorities in the world of work was launched in 1993. This project, which focuses on industrialized migrant-receiving countries, addresses informal or de facto discrimination. Preliminary research findings made it clear that this kind of discrimination was widespread and persistent. Moreover, discrimination in the labour market seriously hampers the migrants' integration in society at large. The objective of the project, which is chiefly funded by extra-budgetary resources, is to reduce discrimination by informing policy makers, employers, workers and trainers engaged in anti-discrimination training on how legislative measures and training activities can be rendered more effective, based on an international comparison of the efficacy of such measures and activities. Project activities cover the following industrialized migrant-receiving countries: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. The participation of other countries is still being sought.

23. The project's findings show discrimination in access to employment to be a phenomenon of considerable and significant importance.(8) Net discrimination rates of up to 35 per cent are not uncommon, meaning that in at least one out of three application procedures unlawful discrimination against migrant applicants occurs. It follows that discrimination constitutes a serious impediment to migrants' chances of finding employment. As regards legislative measures, the findings point to the limited utility of penal code provisions in providing redress to victims of unlawful discrimination.(9) Comprehensive civil legislation appears to offer more possibilities for victims of discrimination to claim their legal right to equality of treatment. To facilitate application, such legislation should not only clearly outlaw both direct and indirect discrimination -- it should also contain definitions of both types of discriminatory acts. To be of relevance for the types of discrimination commonly encountered by migrant workers, nationality, colour, religion, race and ethnic origin should be among the grounds of discrimination covered in such a comprehensive statute. In order to obtain information with respect to the efficacy of anti-discrimination statutes, experience in several countries has shown that mandatory monitoring and reporting by employers on the composition of their workforce according to nationality, ethnic group, and any other ground of discrimination and/or minority group status as specified in the law, are extremely useful tools. Requirements to adopt positive action programmes so as to actively promote migrants' equal participation, as well as legislative provisions that exclude companies that were convicted of discriminatory acts from the award of government contracts for the provision of goods and services ("contract compliance"), appear to be equally indispensable. The first results of the research into the effects of anti-discrimination training measures point to the importance of concrete training measures aimed at behavioural change.(10) A number of national seminars are planned to take place in the autumn of 1997 to present the project's findings to ILO constituents and to discuss improvements in policies and practices aimed at combatting discrimination. An international seminar is scheduled to be organized in 1998.

24. At a broader level, the Governing Body decided at its 267th Session (November 1996) that a Tripartite Meeting of Experts on Future ILO Activities in the Field of Migration be held in Geneva from 21 to 25 April 1997. It approved the following agenda for the meeting:(11)

  1. Guidelines on the protection of workers engaged under temporary migration schemes.
  2. Guidelines on the protection of workers from one country recruited by private agents for employment in another country.
  3. Pattern or practice studies of the exploitation of migrant workers not falling under Convention-based procedures.

25. Under each item the analysis of the subject-matter concludes with suggestions for action elaborated by the Office. The suggestions relating to both temporary migration schemes and private recruitment agents take the form of draft guidelines that are formulated for the attention of governments and of employers' and workers' organizations in countries concerned with these matters, as well as for the use of ILO experts called upon to advise government authorities and non-governmental organizations. The suggestions relating to persistent patterns or practices of exploitation are of an internal procedural nature on which the Office seeks the views of a cross-section of the world's experts on migrant workers.

26. The purpose of the Meeting of Experts is to examine the proposed suggestions critically and to arrive at agreed formulations. The results of this meeting will be reported to the Governing Body in November 1997.

V. Disabled workers

27. Several Office activities are currently under way related to the promotion of employment equity and non-discrimination in the training and employment of workers with disabilities. These include three international research projects examining employment policies concerning disabled persons in the industrialized countries, job retention/return to work strategies for workers with disabilities, and the status and working conditions of disabled workers in sheltered employment. The common objective of these studies is to identify best practices and areas where new policies and/or standards may be proposed, and to achieve employment equity and non-discrimination.

28. Other information and promotional activities include the maintenance of an electronic database, available on the Internet, of texts of national disability-related policy and legislation, the organization of an International Conference on policies and the management of national rehabilitation funds, and collaboration with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Disability concerning the promotion and monitoring of the implementation of Rule 7 (Employment) of the UN Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.

29. The Office is also providing technical guidance to governments requesting it on the formulation of national disability policy, including practical measures to promote equality of opportunity and treatment for disabled workers in training and employment. In 1997, the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations will carry out a General Survey of the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) Convention (No. 159) and Recommendation (No. 168), 1983.

VI. Discrimination and indigenous and tribal peoples

30. The Office pursues its activities to promote the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169), and to improve the implementation of this instrument and the earlier Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention, 1957 (No. 107) which is still in force in a number of countries. This activity takes place within the framework of the ILO's work to combat discrimination, and is an important part of this task for such peoples, who are often outside the formal economies of their countries.

31. A number of ILO technical cooperation programmes touch on the question of removing the obstacles to full participation by indigenous and tribal peoples in the economies of their countries. The Office continues to participate in inter-agency meetings to coordinate technical work among all the concerned UN-system organizations on indigenous and tribal peoples. In Guatemala, which ratified Convention No. 169 in June 1996, ILO assistance continues within the context of the agreements on the "Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples", and on social and economic development.(12) A two-year inter-regional technical cooperation project (1996-97) is under way, financed by DANIDA, aimed at promoting the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples within the framework of relevant ILO standards. The Inter-regional Programme to Support Self-Reliance of Indigenous and Tribal Communities through Cooperatives and other Self-Help Organizations (INDISCO) started operations in 1993, and currently has 17 pilot projects in the Philippines, India and Central America, aimed at encouraging the creation of indigenous cooperatives and other forms of self-help association that are adapted to meet local conditions and are culturally appropriate. The project on "Diagnosis of Condition of Indigenous Communities in the Peruvian Amazon" is an action-oriented research programme on the socio-economic profile and legal protection of the 63 indigenous groups inhabiting the Peruvian Amazon. The research seeks to identify and devise, in consultation with the peoples concerned, the sources of social tension and conflict in the region and ways to overcome them.

VII. Discrimination and workers of the
occupied Arab territories

32. As in previous years, the Office has continued to examine the situation faced by workers of the occupied Arab territories. Following the signature by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization of the 1993 Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-government Arrangements, and other agreements in 1994 and 1995 on the transfer of powers and responsibilities respecting these territories, the stage was set for positive developments to emerge. A watershed was the election of the Palestinian Council in January 1996 and its inauguration in March of that year, with Mr. Yasser Arafat designated Chairman of the Authority. While the peace process continues, the spirit of dialogue is intermittently marked by tensions and setbacks due to external events, which have a direct impact on the lives of the workers of the territories and their families. The result is usually the total closure of the occupied territories and the cancellation of permits issued to all Palestinians residing in the territories who wish to enter East Jerusalem or Israel.

33. It was in just such a context that the Director-General presented his 19th report on the situation of workers of the occupied territories to the International Labour Conference in 1996. The systematic closures of the territories and the constant increase in the number of foreign migrant workers replacing Palestinians (particularly in the construction industry) are reflected in the continuing deterioration in living conditions in the territories. Despite the extremely difficult circumstances described in the report, the Director-General was able to note that cooperation with the ILO indicated the continuing confidence of all parties in the capacity of the Organization and its sincere efforts to contribute to enhancing the social and economic development of the territories, thus improving the situation of the workers and their families there. The report highlighted the principal ILO programme and projects, initiated and executed in full partnership with Palestinian authorities and the social partners. These covered the strengthening of the necessary organs of society (the Ministry of Labour and its various departments; the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics; and workers' and employers' organizations), small and medium-sized enterprise development, and the formulation of a Palestinian employment policy. Noting the success of the formal approach of the 1996 pledging conference, the report nevertheless called for a parallel effort to find ways of extending practical support to the Palestinian Authority and to workers' and employers' organizations rapidly. To support this call, the report noted from the efforts already undertaken by the ILO that the implementation of concrete projects and the provision of specific assistance, even on a small scale and at modest cost, can produce immediate, visible results.

34. The Director-General has approached the Israeli authorities with a view to arranging a further mission, which is expected to take place before the 268th Session of the Governing Body.

Geneva, 20 February 1997.

1 GB.268/LILS/7.

2 Report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, Report III (Part 4A), International Labour Conference, 85th Session (1997).

3 GB. 267/15/2.

4 GB.265/4.

5 GB.261/ESP/3/3.

6 GB.262/4.

7 A full overview of all activities of the Office in the field of international migration was presented in International migration and migrant workers (GB.265/ESP/2).

8 F. Bovenkerk, M. Gras and D. Ramsoedh: Discrimination against migrant workers and ethnic minorities in access to employment in the Netherlands (Geneva, ILO, 1995); A. Goldberg, D. Mourinho: 'Empirical proof of discrimination against foreign workers in labour market access', in: A. Goldberg, D. Mourinho and U. Kulke: Labour market discrimination against foreign workers in Germany (Geneva, ILO, 1996); Colectivo IOE: 'Discrimination against Moroccan workers in access to employment', in: Colectivo IOE and R. Pérez Molina: Labour market discrimination against migrant workers in Spain (Geneva, ILO, 1996); M. Bendick Jr.: Discrimination against racial/ethnic minorities in access to employment in the United States: Empirical findings from situation testing (Geneva, ILO, 1996).

9 R. Zegers de Beijl: Although equal before the law... The scope of anti-discrimination legislation and its effects on labour market discrimination against migrant workers in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Sweden (Geneva, ILO, 1991; also in French and German); G. Rutherglen: Protecting aliens, immigrants and ethnic minorities from discrimination in employment: the experience in the United States (Geneva, ILO, 1993); C. Ventura: From outlawing discrimination to promoting equality: Canada's experience with anti-discrimination legislation (Geneva, ILO, 1995); W.R. Böhning and R. Zegers de Beijl: The integration of migrant workers in the labour market: Policies and their impact (Geneva, ILO, 1995); U. Kulke: 'Employment protection of migrant workers: Legal facilities and their improvement', in: A. Goldberg, D. Mourinho and U. Kulke: Labour market discrimination against foreign workers in Germany (Geneva, ILO, 1996); R. Perez Molina: 'Discrimination against immigrant workers in access to employment in Spain: From worthless paper to effective legislation', in: Colectivo IOE and R. Pérez Molina: Labour market discrimination against migrant workers in Spain (Geneva, ILO, 1996); K. Vuori: Protecting (im)migrants and ethnic minorities from discrimination in employment: Finnish and Swedish experiences (Geneva, ILO, 1996).

10 Colectivo IOE: Anti-discrimination training activities in Spain (Geneva, ILO, 1997).

11 GB.267/17, paras. 4-5.

12 GB.267/TC/1, para. 76.

Updated by VC. Approved by NdW. Last update: 26 January 2000.