12:08 PM Mar 21, 1997


Geneva 21 Mar (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- The ILO Committee on Legal Issues and International Labour Standards (LILS) has ended a discussion on the strengthening of the ILO's Supervisory system without any definitive conclusions, but a general understanding to explore further the various options. According to the chairman's conclusions read out at the end of the discussions, the International Labour Office is to present to the November session of the Governing Body a document identifying the various options and with concrete proposals and a calendar for action.

The document is to take fully into account the discussions at the LILS and those that would take place at the June International Labour Conference (on the Director-General's report). The legal, financial and organizational implications of the various options are also to be set out in the document.

The discussion -- and the views of governments, the workers and employers -- did not really break any new ground but seemed less confrontational than in the past (when the issue had been brought in the context of linkages with trade and possible sanctions at the WTO).

Several of the speakers at the LILS - government, employers and workers - made references to the Ministerial declaration adopted at the World Trade Organization's Singapore meeting, with some describing it as the ILO having been given a mandate.

This sounded rather strange, given that the WTO has less of the world's nations as members than the ILO which at its annual conferences attracts Ministers as well as representatives of workers and employers.

There was opposition from several governments and employers to the idea of expanding the scope of the present ILO mechanism that looks into complaints about Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining (and looks into complaints against countries whether or not they have accepted the particular Conventions).

It was also evident from the discussion, though perhaps for different reasons, that there was much hesitation with the employers' idea that while it would not be possible to provide a supervisory mechanism related to the socalled "core" labour standard conventions, there could be a new Declaration, like the Philadelphia declaration, in which could be incorporated the "principles" underlying the core conventions, and bringing observance of the principles under a new supervisory mechanism of the ILO.

The workers are clearly concerned that in formulating the "principles", the force of the conventions could be weakened.

Some government delegates also suggested that this course could dilute the drive to get governments ratify the Conventions.

The LILS Committee chairman summarised the debate and said there had been a "profound and important" discussion on the basis of the ILO office document and its excellent quality.

LILS Committee welcomed the recognition given to the strengthened role of the ILO on the fundamental human rights within its mandate - recognized by the Copenhagen Social Summit and the WTO Ministerial meeting in Singapore. In this context the Committee stressed the great importance for the credibility of the ILO of the promotion of the basic principles and rights and strengthening of the ILO supervisory machinery.

Among the proposals, the Chairman's summing up said, was one to make the mandate of the ILO more explicit by mans of a document which might take the form of a Declaration which could be adopted by the Conference. Such a document would not modify the ILO constitution, but would clarify its meaning in relation to the fundamental principles.

The Committee also heard a number of options on the ways in which the supervisory machinery could be strengthened on subjects covered by the fundamental rights standards.

No one had however suggested a revision in the system of the Committee on Freedom of Association, he added.

In the discussion, the Asian governments remained sceptical over the various moves suggested by the Labour Office. Some of the Latin Americans seemed to be more forthcoming on the approach.

The Asians insisted that the current supervisory machinery should first be looked at before new options could be agreed. Several of the speakers from Asia nuanced their approaches, with some speaking more about "revising" the existing supervisory approaches rather than about "strengthening" them.

ILO sources said the process ahead was complicated, and given the ILO processes had some time-pressures.

The ILO seems to be aiming for the adoption of a Declaration by 1998 (June conference) which implies an intense period of consultations and negotiations from now, through the June conference and the November Governing Body meeting.