A country ratifying an ILO Convention pledges to “take such action as may be necessary to make effective” its provisions (ILO Constitution, article 19(5)). There are several ways that other countries and workers’ and employers’ organizations (but not individuals) can take action to encourage a government to respect the obligations it has undertaken. An organization need only send a letter containing sufficient information to the Director-General, International Labour Office, 4 route des Morillons, 1211 Geneva 22, Switzerland (fax number 41-22-798-8685). The procedures described here are complemented by the ILO’s work to promote international labor standards, such as seminars and workshops carried out by regional advisers.
Article 22 procedures. A government must submit reports on the application of Conventions it has ratified to the International Labour Office (Article 22). The government is also bound to provide copies of those reports to the most representative organizations of employers and workers in the country (Article 23). These organizations can make comments on the reports and provide additional information on the application of an instrument. An independent Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEARC) examines the reports and any comments made, and it may then address comments to governments to recommend changes in law or practice or to note cases of progress. The CEARC in turn submits its report each year to the tripartite International Labour Conference. The Conference sets up an Applications Committee, which addresses selected cases before reporting to the plenary. The Conference report appeals to governments to respect the obligations they have undertaken by ratifying ILO Conventions and sometimes urges them to accept “direct contacts” missions, during which solutions can be sought in consultation with the government and workers’ and employers’ organizations in the country.
Article 24 procedures. Under this article of the ILO Constitution, any “industrial association of employers or of workers” may make a representation alleging that an ILO Member State has failed to observe any ILO Convention to which it is a party. To be receivable, a representation must come from such an organization, be in writing, refer to Article 24 of the ILO Constitution and indicate in which respect the Member State concerned has failed to secure the effective observance within its jurisdiction of a Convention (identified by name and/or number) it has ratified. The ILO Governing Body may then set up a committee to examine the representation, communicate it to the government for comment and prepare a report, which the Governing Body can order to be published. It may also lead to a direct contacts mission. Where a government has not acted on the report of an Article 24 representation, the Governing Body may initiate the complaint procedure provided by Article 26 of the ILO Constitution.
Article 26 procedures. This article of the ILO Constitution permits complaints to be filed with the International Labour Office against a Member State which has allegedly failed to secure the observance of a Convention it has ratified. A complaint may be lodged by another Member State having also ratified the same Convention, by a delegate (government, employer or worker) to the International Labour Conference or by the Governing Body of the ILO. The Governing Body may appoint a Commission of Inquiry to consider the complaint and report back to it. The Commission of Inquiry’s findings of fact and recommendations are then published. The recommendations may include a direct contacts mission. In case of disagreement as regards the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry, a complaint may be referred to the International Court of Justice, whose decision is final.
Freedom of association procedures. With freedom of association and the right to engage in collective bargaining at the heart of membership of the ILO, it has established special procedures to deal with complaints alleging infringements of these rights. A Governing Body Committee on Freedom of Association examines complaints made by national or international organizations of employers or workers against any ILO Member State, even when it has not ratified the two main ILO Conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining. This Committee can also recommend that a government accept a direct contacts mission to assist it in ensuring respect for these basic principles.
Effect. While the ILO has no police force or labor inspectorate empowered to order a workplace to be made safer, governments are sensitive to pleas that they fulfill the obligations they have undertaken in ratifying ILO Conventions. The public pressure brought to bear by use of the ILO procedures has in a number of cases led to changes in law and practice, and thus through them to an improvement of working conditions.