The International Labour Office

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 5th and 16th June 2017, the Director of the Department led a tripartite delegation at the 106th Session of the Conference in Geneva. The Hon Dr. Aaron Farrugia, Parliamentary Secretary for European Funds and Social Dialogue also attended and addressed this Conference. The Maltese delegation included a number of high- ranking officials from Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations. Mr. Josef Bugeja, (GWU) and Mr. Joseph Farrugia (MEA), respectively the Maltese Workers’ and Employers’ delegates also addressed the Conference. A Highlight of the event was when H. E. Ms. Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, President of the Republic, addressed the World of Work Summit as one of three High Level Speakers dealing with gender equality in the World of Work. 

This year, the Maltese Delegation played a particularly crucial role. The DIER was actively representing the whole of the European Union, on behalf of the Maltese Presidency of the European Union. This entailed chairing European Union coordination meetings on every committee on the Agenda of the Conference, reading statements on behalf of the European Union and European Commission and participating in drafting committees with representatives of other regions, workers and employers on the conclusions and recommendations of two of these committees. Consequently, Malta was able to influence the outcome of this conference of global impact and that had a participation of more than 5000 delegates.  

Items placed on the Agenda of this year’s Conference included the finalisation of the revision to Recommendation 71 which deals with Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience,, a discussion on labour migration and a recurrent discussion on the fundamental principles and rights at work which called on the Director General to further promote ILO core labour conventions and the Committee on the Application of Standards which adopted conclusions on 24 individual cases related to issues arising from the application of labour standards, At the end of the Conference, the revision to Recommendation 71 was adopted.


 Contact Name
Department for Industrial and Employment Relations 
121, Melita​​ Street,
Valletta - Malta 
VLT 1121
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1575 for Employees
1576 for Employers