11:27 AM Jun 21, 1996


Geneva 20 Jun (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- The International Labour Conference which concluded its 83rd session Thursday has called upon member-States to renew the struggle for full employment and intensify the fight against child labour.

The issue of employment came up at the Tripartite Committee on Employment Policy which endorsed the concept of full employment.

"The objective of full, productive, and freely chosen employment through higher, sustained economic growth, should remain a major goal of economic, social and employment policies as governments, employers and workers organizations adapt to a rapidly changing global market," the Committee said in report adopted on the issue.

The committee noted rising unemployment and deepening concerns around the world about solutions to poverty and social exclusion, and agreed that "full employment remains an achievable goal despite anxieties over the possible job-destroying effects of rapid technological change and intensified international competition."

The committee underlined the importance of creating "an economic environment which provides clear incentives to enterprises for investment and job creation."

Among other things, such an environment would need "economic and financial stability and absence of excessive price inflation and abrupt exchange rate movements," the Committee said.

Full employment, the Committee report said, is a "level of employment where all those available, able and actively seeking work can obtain it."

However, it agreed, any definition of full employment needs to take account of structural changes in employment patterns including "higher job turnover and a growing trend towards shorter and more flexible working hours."

To meet these challenges, the ILO has called for measures to enhance "employability security" by providing "expanded opportunities for training and retraining, continuous skill upgrading and matching of skills with emerging labour markets."

The concept of full employment, the Committee said, was valid for all countries, though it may have to be interpreted differently for developing countries.

For the developing world and the transition economies, promoting job creation in competitive new private sector and viable public sector activities is a "vital element of employment policies," the Committee said in its report.

It also called for a "comprehensive legal framework for operation of small and medium enterprises and reform of labour law in line with ILO standards."

A full employment policy, the Committee said, involves "implementation of macroeconomic policies aimed at securing an adequate framework for faster growth, fiscal equity, job-creating investment and a more stable balance between supply and demand." This would demand, wherever possible, "a reduction in real interest rates, fiscal deficits, public debts and governments' debt servicing burdens."

The Committee report called on the ILO to work with its constituents and the Bretton Woods Institutions to examine:

* impact of trade and financial liberalization on the level and quality of employment,

* appropriate forms of government support for infrastructural development and training,

* forms of support for small and medium-sized enterprises,

* design of labour market institutions and regulations which can best satisfy the imperatives of higher employment growth and competitiveness.

The child labour issue figured at an informal meeting of Ministers as well as in the resolutions committee.

The child labour question, and framing a possible ILO instrument is set to start with a first discussion at the 1998 Conference. While an ILO press release before the meeting, and another at the end of the Conference, said that the ILO discussions would lead to a new Convention, the Employers group complained about this and said there should be no such a priori assumptions.

The employers complaint came in the Resolutions Committee, where child labour issue was the subject of resolutions, and finally resulted in the adoption of a resolution later endorsed by the Conference.

In the resolution, the ILC welcomed increased involvement of the ILO in the fight against child labour, including launching of the International Programme on Eliminating of Child Labour (IPEC), increased technical cooperation and efforts to increase ratification and implementation of the relevant Conventions.

That even the industrialized countries have problems on issues of child labour and ILO Convention was brought home by the Swedish government delegate who told the Committee that Convention No 138 (which sets the minimum age for employment) was too rigid and difficult to fully implement even in developed countries. Sweden had been criticised by the ILO Committee of Experts for not implementing changes in its laws. But the kind of national regulations envisaged in that Convention was difficult to implement, and Sweden was now facing the unpleasant choice of either continuing to violate the Convention or denouncing it. The OECD's recent report on trade and labour standards did not recognize this convention as a core labour standard and had warned "against its devastating effects if ratified by developing countries".

The resolution adopted on child labour called upon governments and, where appropriate, employers and workers organizations to develop formal policies and set priorities to immediately put to an end to the most intolerable aspects of child labour, namely, bondage and child slavery, dangerous and hazardous work, the commercial sexual exploitation of children and the exploitation of very young children.

It encouraged development of national legislation to prohibit exploitation of children at work and called upon governments to establish education policies, including day-care centres, schools and training centres, in order to promote access to basic education for both boys and girls alike on an equal basis, a move which is "crucial to the success of any effort to progressively eliminate child labour."

It also called for measures to "raise public awareness of the human and economic costs as well as the long-term non-viability of using child labour."