EU renewed social agenda – ratification and implementation of ILO Conventions

Issue date
02 Jul 2008

EU renewed social agenda - ratification and implementation of ILO Conventions

Released today by the European Commission, as part of the European Union's renewed social agenda is a Recommendation calling on all EU member States to ratify and implement all up to date Conventions of the International Labour Organisation. The Recommendation reflects the enthusiastic endorsement by Commissioner ?pidla during the ILO Conference of the newly adopted ILO Declaration 'Social Justice for a Fair Globalisation' and his view that it provides a reinforced foundation for EU-ILO cooperation.

For some twenty years there has been a lack of clarity about the legal competence of the European Union to restrict the constitutional relationship of to the |LO of member States of both organisations - EU and ILO - which had, for example, appeared to create barriers to ratification of Conventions in areas in which the EU claimed competence.

The new EU Recommendation appears to remove all such restrictions and, recognising explicitly the extent to which the EU's acquis communautaire, its law - and indeed the principles of the European Social Dimension - are grounded in the international labour code of ILO Conventions and Recommendations (and exceed them), gives a green light to ratification of those Conventions. Ratification of an ILO Convention brings with it legal obligations under international law (in part embodied in the Vienna Treaty on International Conventions): obligations to implement in good faith the Convention in law and practice and to report on that implementation to the ILO's independent Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations.

The EU Commission's Recommendation goes beyond the existing encouragement to EU member States to ratify and implement the core or fundamental Conventions: those proclaiming inalienable human rights of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining; and freedom from discrimination at work, from forced labour and from child labour. In fact, all EU member States have ratified all eight of those Conventions (87 and 98; 100 and111; 29 and105, 138 and 182) Indeed it goes beyond a call to ratify, additionally, the four priority Conventions on employment policy (122); labour inspection (81 and 129) and tripartite consultation (144).

In a call which reflects an understanding that Decent Work requires not only fundamental rights at work, tripartism and social dialogue and good governance of labour markets by states, but also social security, occupational safety and health and security in employment, the Recommendation also calls - as a priority - for ratification and implementation by all EU member States of key relevant Conventions in those areas. Notably those include the recent Maternity Protection Convention 2000 (No 183); and the Private Employment Agencies Convention 1997 (No 81). The latter is viewed by many (including by the global employment agency Manpower) as a key tool against human trafficking and forced labour and also demands equal treatment of agency workers with those of the user enterprise. Such support for Convention 181 stands in contrast to recent European Court of Justice judgements such as those in the Rueffert case.

And the wider call on EU Member States, where they have not yet done so, to ratify and apply ALL the Conventions classified by the ILO as up to date with the objective of contributing to global efforts to ratify and apply those Conventions is even more remarkable. First it recognises that the ILO Governing Body - through the work of its Cartier Working party 1995-2002 - has achieved its objective of examining all Conventions to establish which are up to date and thus the ratification of which should be promoted; which require revision and which are obsolete and can be shelved. Second it removes all barriers from the EU Commission to ratification of Conventions by member States. And third, among those Conventions are, as far as the Workers' group is concerned, Convention 158 on termination of employment, which the ILO Employers' group has persisted in refusing to recognise as needing promotion for ratification; and Convention 94 on labour clauses in public contracts, which has been directly contradicted by the recent ECJ judgements - and which, though it was the first country to ratify it, the UK became the only country ever to denounce it.

The raison d'etre of ratifying and applying all up to date 'with the objective of contributing to global efforts to ratify and apply those Conventions' has a double effect. Were it to take effect, it would unify the international as well as regional obligations on labour standards for all EU member States, thus reinforcing the level playing field (though, as the Recommendation points out, in many areas EU law exceeds the requirements of the ILO standards and those greater benefits and protections are not called into question). It would also enable the EU and its member States to campaign more actively for ratification and implementation of any up to date Convention without being accused of double standards and would weaken accusations of protectionist motives. It could also begin to widen the discussion about the labour standards conditionalities attached to EU GSP and GSP+.

Other considerations

The Recommendation also calls for a strengthening of the ILO's supervisory mechanisms with a view to ensuring the effective application of ILO Conventions. That is fully in line with the demands of the ILO Workers' group and will require a strengthening of the Standards Department. That has political and budget implications and may be seen to undermine those EU governments which are seen as hostile to standards in general, to new standards in particular, which claim they are never in breach of a ratified Convention and which demand that the ILO budget be frozen or reduced.

For the TUC General Council, the Recommendation provides a tool to support a campaign strategy to press for the ratification by the UK of as yet unratified (or denounced Conventions. Among those (in an inexhaustive list) are:

C94 Labour clauses in public contracts (denounced 1982)

C95 Protection of wages (denounced 1983)

C118 Equal treatment (social security)

C129 Labour Inspection (agriculture) Priority Convention

C131 Minimum wage fixing machinery

C143 Migrant workers (supplementary provisions)

C155 Occupational safety and health

C156 Workers with family responsibilities

C158 Termination of employment

C159 Vocational rehabilitation and employment (disabled persons)

C161 Occupational health services

C162 Asbestos

C169 Indigenous and tribal peoples

C170 Chemicals

C172 Working conditions hotels and restaurants

C173 Protection of workers' claims (employer's insolvency)

C174 Prevention of major industrial accidents

C175 Part-time work

C176 Safety and health in mines

C177 Home Work

C181 Private employment agencies

C183 Maternity protection

C184 Safety and health in agriculture

C185 Seafarers' identity documents

Maritime Labour Convention 2006

C188 Work in fishing

Wednesday 2 July 2008