5:11 AM Jun 7, 1994


Geneva 7 Jun (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- The social standards in general, and international labour standards in particular, and the future orientations of the organization are expected to figure prominently at the 81st session of the International Labour Conference which opened here Tuesday.

The Conference elected a worker's delegate, Charles Gray, Director of the International Labour Affairs Department of the AFL-CIO as President. Within the US, the AFL-CIO has been leading the demand for a trade-social standards link and for use of the US trade laws for this end.

The social standards issue came up to the fore in the very last stages of the conclusion of the Uruguay Round trade negotiations, in the context of the 'globalization' of the world economy and the perception of organized labour in the industrial world that all these forces are leading to job losses and reduction of employment opportunities, and the push from the United States and other industrial countries in the GATT/WTO to establish a link between trade and labour standards.

The Director-General of the ILO, Michel Hansenne in his Report to the Conference, 'Defending Values, Promoting Change - Social Justice in a Global Economy: An ILO Agenda', has addressed the issues of international labour standards and the actions that could be taken by the ILO, but without advocating either restrictions to trade or a compulsory equalization of social costs.

The issue has also come up in resolutions tabled for the Conference. There will be a ballot at the Conference Tuesday to decide on the order of priority for discussion of the resolutions.

The Asean countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) tabled a resolution asking the ILO "to resist attempts to link the social clause to international trade', and asking the ILO Director-General to carry out a fundamental review of "out-dated standards" as a follow up to his report, taking into account the different norms and needs of both developed and developing countries.

The ILO Director-General is also called upon to take into account in such a review the concerns of developing countries and oppose any linkage of ILO standards the social clause with international trade and market access.

A group of industrial countries (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the US) as also Chile have tabled a resolution asking the ILO Director-General to develop further the ideas in his report, and asks the ILO Governing Body to examine the ideas and proposals with a view to revitalizing the ILO.

A number of workers' delegates, from both industrial and developing countries (Denmark, France, UK, Norway, New Zealand, Sweden, Germany, Czech Republic, US, Japan, Italy, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Finland, Netherlands, Austria and Mali, Ghana, Pakistan, Barbados, the Philippines, Uganda, Zimbabwe), have tabled a resolution for declaring some of the ILO Conventions as constituting a "World Charter of Workers' Rights" which should be fully observed in all countries.

The conventions mentioned are: The 1948 Convention on Freedom of Association and Protection of Right to Organize (No 87), the 1949 Convention on Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining (No 98), the 1957 Convention on Abolition of Forced Labour (No 105), the 1951 Equal Remuneration Convention (No 100), the 1958 Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No 111), the 1973 Minimum Age Convention (No 138).

The resolution asks governments to mark the ILO's 75th anniversary by taking action to ratify and strengthen the application of the Conventions in the World Charter of Workers' Rights.

The Governing Body is asked to take into account the views in the Conference debate on the ILO DG's report and instruct him to ensure, when presenting proposals, that among others they

* reflect the ILO's core mandate and advance its basic objectives of social justice and world peace,

* equip the ILO to address effectively the challenge of globalization, particularly in respect of relationship between international trade and workers' rights and to the activities of transnational enterprises,

* contain concrete initiatives to strengthen the ILO role in the formulation and implementation of structural adjustment programmes including through establishment of effective and cooperative arrangements with the International Monetary Fund and the World to strengthen the social dimensions of adjustment.

The same group of workers delegates have tabled a separate resolution on child labour inviting governments, as well as employers and workers representatives, to renew their commitment to elimination of child labour, give priority to bringing to an end all forms of child bondage and slavery and child labour in onerous and hazardous conditions.