From the TUC

Employers block ILO action against abuses of workers’ rights

06 Jun 2012, By

A small group of employer representatives at this month’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) conference have thrown a massive hissy fit and prevented the UN body from publicly highlighting – and condemning – gross abuses of workers’ rights in countries like Colombia, Fiji, Guatemala and Swaziland.

These employers’ representatives, led by the British lawyer Chris Syder who is the CBI representative on the ILO Governing Body, have done workers in those countries enormous harm, making them more vulnerable to harassment, arbitrary arrest and violent assault. And they have done it because they wanted to pick and choose which fundamental human rights could be examined.

The ITUC has condemned the employers’ actions, and drawn attention to the fact that this is not the approach which major multinational companies are taking in discussion with global unions, but then the employers’ representatives at the ILO are less and less likely to have experience of running companies or employing anyone, still less of negotiating agreements. The conflictual approach of hired lawyers like Chris Syder is hardly in the tradition of collective bargaining between employers and unions that the ILO embodies.

Every year, employers and unions draw up – by agreement – a list of violations of fundamental rights for the International Labour Conference to discuss in a ‘Committee on the Application of Standards’ (CAS), selected from hundreds of cases dealt with by the eminent independent judges and lawyers on the ILO Committee of Experts. These experts comsider all the cases submitted from around the world, assess the evidence and identify breaches of specific ILO conventions (especially the core conventions which guarantee freedom of association and collective bargaining, and prohibit forced and child labour and discrimination in the workplace).

The CAS, which is made up of employers, unions and governments, then reviews the most important cases (not always the worst violations, but a mixture which reflects a representative range of issues) and shines the international spotlight on the governments responsible, ideally so that remedial action can be taken.

Employer representatives have refused to agree any list that includes cases which involve the right of workers to withdraw their labour – a key element of freedom of association and free collective bargaining – as part of an ideological challenge to the right to strike. In doing so they have also stopped consideration of cases where employers’ freedom of association has been restricted, for example in Malawi and Uzbekistan. Their actions have been condemned by global union federations such as the BWI, EI and IMF.

2 Responses to Employers block ILO action against abuses of workers’ rights

  1. Workers’ rights are being abused all around the world | Left Foot Forward
    Jun 6th 2012, 1:50 pm

    […] employers refused to let the ILO conference speak out against repression and harassment of trade unionists, the ITUC […]

  2. John Hendy QC
    Jun 11th 2012, 7:22 pm

    Last week at the ILO the employers (under the leadership of an English solicitor, Chris Syder) put forward the absurd claim that the ILO does not recgnise the right to strike and therefore the ILO must not discuss such a thing.

    This is despite the recognition since the 1950s of the right to strike as an inherent part of ILO Convention 87 by the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association and by the ILO COmmittee on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations. Every year the International Labour Conference of the ILO has endorsed the reports of those bodies which assess the compliance of the countries of the world with ILO Conventions including the right to strike. For the last 20 years or so the ILO has published and re-published two key books: the ‘Digest of Decisions and Principles of the Freedom of Association Committee of the Governing Body of the ILO’ and ‘Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining: General Survey by the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations.’ The right to strike has been the subject of a lengthy chapter in each of them without complaint or correction.

    The Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights have both recognised the right to strike as a fundamental human right. The right to strike is part of the EU ‘Charter of Fundamental Social Rights’ and of the Council of Europe’s ‘European Social Charter’. Many countries have such a right embedded in their constitutions. The right to strike is found in the UN’s International covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and in many other international human rights treaties.

    The ILO Conference was thrown into disarray by the disruptive behaviour of Mr Syder and his supporters. It is to be hoped that the ILO will loudly denounce such tactics and reaffirm in the strongest language the fundamental human right of workers to withdraw their labour and the right of unions to call on them to do so. The permissible limitations on the right have already been fully developed in the jurisprudence of the ILO.