The International Labour Organization (ILO) was established in 1919, following
World War I, as a social engineering project to protect workers' rights and
ensure that freedom, equity, and dignity in working conditions are universally
observed. It is the UN's first and oldest specialised agency, having been
established as part of the League of Nations. The ILO currently has 187 of the
United Nations' 193 member states as members.
The emphasis on tripartism, which aims to ensure that any dialogue on
labor-related issues involves the three main stakeholders, namely employers,
workers, and states, is a fundamental aspect of the ILO's functioning.
International Labour Organization (ILO) achieves its goals through three main
bodies made up of the aforementioned stakeholders, which are as follows:
- The International Labour Conference
It is an annual gathering of governments, workers, and employers from ILO member
countries. The conference's goal is to discuss the organization's broad
policies, establish and adopt international labour standards, and elect the
- Governing Body
It is the ILO's executive body, responsible for policy decisions, setting the
agenda for the International Labour Conference, adopting a budget, and electing
the Director-General. It is made up of 56 titular members, of which 28 are held
by governments and 14 by employers and workers, respectively. Ten of the titular
government seats are non-elected, permanent seats held by states with the
greatest industrial importance; India is one of these nations.
- International Labour Office
It is the International Labour Organization's permanent secretariat, and it is
in charge of the organization's administration as well as the implementation of
technical cooperation activities, as well as programmes for awareness, advocacy,
and information sharing.
Before delving into the major conventions that comprise the framework of
International Labour Law, we must first examine the 1998 Declaration on
Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. The Declaration categorises
fundamental principles and rights into four categories: freedom of association
and effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the abolition
of forced or compulsory labour, the abolition of child labour, and the abolition
of employment and occupation discrimination. The ILO's core conventions can be
classified into these categories, which are considered universal rights that
apply to all individuals in all countries.
While international labour standards are revised on a regular basis, with new
Conventions, Protocols, or Recommendations being drafted, the ILO Governing Body
has identified eight conventions that it considers fundamental in terms of the
subjects they address, which are as follows:
- Freedom of Association and Protection of the right to Organise
The most fundamental labour rights, such as the right of workers to form and
join organisations of their choice without the approval of their employer, the
right of workers' and employers' organisations to draught their own
constitutions and rules, and the right of workers' and employers' organisations
to form and join federations, were crystallised. It imposes a duty on ILO
members to ensure that workers and employers can freely organise without undue
interference from administrative authorities.
- Right to organise and collective bargaining convention (1949):
This document seeks to protect workers and workers' organisations from
anti-union discrimination in the workplace. For example, requiring non-union
membership as a condition of employment. It seeks to promote voluntary
bargaining between employers or employers' organisations and workers'
organisations and calls for the development of machinery to facilitate such
- Forced Labour Convention (1930) and its Protocol (2014)
This document is one of the primary international instruments responsible for
the worldwide reduction in forced/compulsory labour. It criminalises the use of
forced labour and requires ratifying countries to ensure that it is strictly
enforced. Ratifying States must also ensure that forced labour legislation is
covered and enforced for all workers, regardless of the nature of their work or
the sector of the economy in which they work. This includes taking all necessary
steps to end all forms of forced labour, as well as identifying and
rehabilitating all victims of such labour.
- Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (1957)
This Convention expands on the general prohibition in the preceding document by
prohibiting the use of forced labour for political coercion, education,
punishment, mobilising labour for economic development, labour discipline, as
punishment for strike participation, and as a means of racial, social, national,
or religious discrimination.
- Minimum Age convention (1973):
This document requires ratifying countries to implement a national policy aimed
at effectively eliminating child labour. It also requires states to raise the
minimum age for employment/work to a level consistent with young people's
physical and mental development. To that end, ratifying states must submit a
declaration stating the minimum age for employment, which cannot be less than 15
years in any case. States whose economies are insufficiently developed to
specify a minimum age of 14 years are exempted.
- Worst forms of child labour convention (1999):
The term "child" refers to all persons under the age of 18 for the purposes of
this Convention. Each member who ratifies this convention is obligated to take
immediate steps to eliminate the most heinous forms of child labour. This term
refers to practises such as slavery, human trafficking, serfdom, and the use of
child soldiers, among others. Member States are required to implement similar
programmes in collaboration with employers' and workers' organisations.
- Equal remuneration convention (1951):
The ratifying states are required by this convention to promote the application
of the equal remuneration principle for work of equal value. This means that pay
rates for comparable work are established without regard to gender.
- Discrimination (employment and occupation) convention (1958):
This convention addresses discrimination based on race, colour, gender, sexual
orientation, religion, political opinion, national origin, or social origin.
Other distinctions that have the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of
opportunity are included. Ratifying states must prevent such discrimination
through legislation, educational programmes, and collaboration between employer
and worker organisations.
In addition, the governing body has designated four other conventions as
priority instruments based on their importance in international governance. This
is due to their importance in the operation of the international labour
The following are the governance/priority conventions
- Labour Inspection Convention, 1947:
This document requires ILO members to maintain, to the greatest extent possible,
a system of labour inspection in industrial workplaces under the supervision and
control of a central authority. It includes provisions defining the functions,
qualifications, and strength of labour inspectors that must be maintained, as
well as a chapter on labour inspection in commerce.
- Employment Policy Convention, 1964:
This document seeks to ensure that member countries actively pursue the policy
goal of full and equal employment for all of their citizens. It outlines the
major components of such a policy and states that it must be in accordance with
the individual circumstances (stage and level of economic development) of each
- Labour Inspection (Agriculture) Convention, 1969:
This document is similar to the first one on the list, but it differs in subject
matter. It seeks to impose an obligation on ratifying countries to refrain from
excluding agricultural enterprises from the national labour inspection system.
It defines agricultural enterprises and outlines the system functions that
specifically cater to such establishments.
- Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards) Convention,
This document defines representative organisations in the context of labour and
requires ratifying countries to implement procedures that allow for effective
consultations on issues handled by the ILO. These include government responses
to questionnaires, proposals to the competent authority in connection with
Conventions/Recommendations, re-examination of unratified Conventions, questions
arising from reports to the International Labour Office, and proposals to
denounce ratified Conventions.
Where India Stands?India has ratified only four of the eight core conventions, which are as
- Forced Labour Convention, 1930, No 29
- Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951, No 100
- Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958, No 111
- Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957, No 105
As a result, from an international perspective, India is effectively
implementing only two of the four rights enshrined in the DFPR, namely Freedom
from Discrimination and Protection from Forced Labor. There are numerous
judgments that demonstrate compliance with international standards and recognise
these fundamental human rights, as well as statutory enactments that do the
The question now is, why has India not ratified the remaining core
The answer can be found by examining the implications of ratification and
contrasting them with the country's current socioeconomic conditions. This is
due to the fact that ratification creates legal obligations and necessitates
implementation. This means that after ratifying a treaty, a state incurs an
immediate legal obligation at the international level.
The distinction between
being a mere signatory to a treaty/convention and subsequent ratification
exemplifies this. Being a signatory to a treaty usually means that a state
intends to become a party to the treaty at some point in the future. There is no
legal obligation on the state to do anything that would obstruct the objects and
purposes of the treaty/convention until ratification at that future date. In
contrast, once a state has ratified a treaty, it must conform to all the
obligations set down in a treaty and it cannot generally avoid them unless there
are exceptions provided therein. A state, on the other hand, cannot use the
failure of international and domestic law to justify the foregoing.
Relevance of ILO
After reading the preceding section on ratification and the voluntary nature of
international obligations, one might wonder why International Labour Law is
relevant and what impact it has on domestic labour law and policy. The two
questions are intertwined, and the answer can be seen from two different
According to one point of view, ILO policies and standards are
preferences that nations can adopt through regulatory decisions, giving them a
competitive advantage in global trade. This is due to the fact that
international conventions provide a universal basis for policy, preventing
nations from implementing measures such as deregulation in order to gain trade
Such measures would be met with international condemnation, sanctions, and trade
isolation, and thus positive morality works to make these instruments relevant.
The other approach sees ILO conventions as norm-setting documents that allow
states to compare their policies to those of their peers. This means that states
can compare their policies to both internationally accepted standards and
policies adopted by states in similar socioeconomic situations. As a result,
they can assess the need for reform and amendment by identifying policy
preferences that fall somewhere in the middle of the two previously mentioned
points of reference.