The International Labour Office


Origin of the International Labour Organisation (ILO)

The idea of regulating labour at an international level gradually gained favour throughout the 19th century. The ILO was created in 1919, as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, to reflect the belief that universal and lasting peace can be accomplished only if it is based on social justice. Articles 387 to 427 of the Treaty deal  with the organisation of the ILO which comprises a tripartite conference – the International Labour Conference; a tripartite executive body – the Governing Body and a permanent secretariat – The International Labour Office.

The First Session of the ILC, which brought together delegations from 40 countries, was held in Washington, between October and November of 1919. During this first Conference, six conventions and six recommendations on fundamental issues such as hours of work, maternity protection, night work by women and young people and minimum age for work in industry were adopted.

The ILO was located in Geneva in the summer of 1920. Its first Director was Albert Thomas, a Frenchman. Under his strong impetus, 16 Conventions and 18 Recommendations were adopted in less than two years.

The International Labour Organisation today

At present, there are 185 countries who are ILO members. The ILO is the only United Nations Agency which has a tripartite format that is governments, employers and workers representatives. This tripartite structure makes the ILO a unique forum in which the governments and the social partners of its Member States can freely and openly debate and elaborate labour standards and policies. The very structure of the ILO, where workers and employers together have an equal voice with governments, shows social dialogue in action, it ensures that the views of the social partners are closely reflected in ILO labour standards, policies and programmes.

The ILO accomplishes its work through three main bodies:

i) the Governing Body: this is the executive council of the ILO and meets three times a year in Geneva. 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 governments 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. The Employer and Worker members are elected in their individual capacity. The Governing Body takes decisions on ILO policy, decides the agenda of the International Labour Conference and elects the Director- General of the ILO

ii) the International Labour Conference: this Conference meets once a year in

May/June in Geneva, Switzerland. During the Conference, international labour standards , such as Conventions and Recommendations are discussed and adopted and this Conference serves also as forum for discussion on key social and labour questions. It also adopts the ILO’s budget and elects the Governing Body.  Each Member State is represented by a delegation consisting of two government delegates, an employer delegate, a worker delegate and their respective advisors. Every delegate has the same rights and all can express themselves freely and vote as they wish. Worker and employer delegates may sometimes vote against their government’s representatives or against each other. This diversity of viewpoints however does not prevent decisions being adopted by very large majorities or in some cases even unanimously. During each Conference a number of Heads of State and prime ministers are invited to address participants.

iii) the International Labour Office: this is the permanent secretariat of the ILO.

It is the focal point for the ILO’s overall activities, which it prepares under the scrutiny of the Governing Body and under the leadership of the Director-General. The Office employs about 2,700 officials from over 150 nations at its headquarters in Geneva and in around 20 field offices around the world.

 International Labour Standards

Since its inception in 1919, the International Labour Organisation has maintained and developed a system of international labour standards aimed at promoting opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and dignity. These standards are legal instruments drawn up by the ILO’s constituents, that is governments, employers and workers and are adopted at the ILO’s annual International Labour Conference. These standards take the form of either a convention, which is a legally binding international treaty that may be ratified by member states, or a recommendation which serve as a non –binding guideline. 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. A Recommendation can also be autonomous, that is not linked to a convention.

To date the ILO have adopted 189 Conventions and 202 Recommendations. The Governing Body has identified eight conventions as “Fundamental”, covering subjects that are considered as fundamental principles and rights at work. These Conventions are:

• Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)

• Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87)

• Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1948 (No.98)

• Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100)

• Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No. 105)

• Discrimination (Employment and Occupation)  Convention, 1958 (No. 111)

• Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138)

• Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182)

 Malta and the International Labour Organisation (ILO)

Malta has been a member of the ILO since 4th January 1965. To date Malta has ratified 61 Conventions out of which 54 are in force. These include the eight fundamental conventions. Malta is an active member of the ILO. Through its official delegation made up of Government, employers’ and workers’ representatives, it participates in the annual International Labour Conference and other regional meetings organised by the ILO from time to time.  In fact, between the 30th May 2012 and the 15thth June 2012, the Director of the Department led a tripartite delegation at the 101st Session of the I.L.O. Conference in Geneva. The Hon Dr. Chris Said, Minister for Justice, Dialogue and the Family  also attended and addressed this Conference. The Maltese delegation included a number of high- ranking officials from Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations. Mr. Tony Zarb, (GWU) and Mr. Joseph Farrugia (MEA), respectively the Maltese Workers’ and Employers’ delegates also addressed the Conference.

Items placed on the Agenda of this year’s Conference included the elaboration of an autonomous Recommendation on the Social Protection Floor, a general discussion on the youth employment crisis and a recurrent discussion on the strategic objective of fundamental principles and rights at work, under the follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization of 2008, and the follow-up (revised, June 2010) to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and rights at Work, of 1998. At the end of the Conference, the Recommendation on the Social Protection Floor was adopted.

Malta also organised, together with the ILO,  two high level Conferences. In September 2000, a tripartite  Conference for ILO Constituents in the EU Accession Countries was held. This Conference dealt with social dialogue, employment policy and principles of equal treatment. In March 2003 another high-level tripartite conference was held on social dialogue and labour law reform.

During last year’s International Labour Conference, Malta was elected to the Governing Body as a Deputy Member.