International Labour Organization

About the ILO

  • The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a United Nations specialized agency
  •  Founded in October 1919 under the League of Nations,
  •  it is the first and oldest specialized agency of the UN.
  •  The ILO has 187 member states
  • 186 out of 193 UN member states plus the Cook Islands.
  •  It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland,
  • The ILO’s international labour standards are broadly aimed at ensuring accessible, productive, and sustainable work worldwide in conditions of freedom, equity, security and dignity.
  • This framework is maintained in the ILO’s three main bodies:
    • The International Labour Conference, which meets annually to formulate international labour standards;
    •  the Governing Body, which serves as the executive council and decides the agency’s policy and budget; and
    • the International Labour Office, the permanent secretariat that administers the organization and implements activities.
  •  The secretariat is led by the Director-General
  • In 1969, the ILO received the Nobel Peace Prize for improving fraternity and peace among nations, pursuing decent work and justice for workers, and providing technical assistance to other developing nations

International Labour Organization (ILO) – Structure

The basis of the ILO is the tripartite principle.

The ILO comprises the International Labour Conference, the Governing Body, and the International Labour Office.

  • International Labour Conference: 
    • The progressive policies of the ILO are set by the International Labour Conference. 
    • The Conference is an annual event, which happens in Geneva, Switzerland. The conference brings together all the representatives of the ILO.
    • Function: It is a panel for the review of the important issues regarding labour.
  • Governing Body: 
    • The Governing Body is the executive body of the International Labour Organization.
    • The governing body meets in Geneva. It meets three times annually.
    • The Office is the secretariat of the Organization.
    • It is composed of 56 titular members, and 66 deputy members.
    • Functions: 
      • Makes decisions regarding the agenda and the policies of the International Labour Conference.
      • It adopts the draft Programme and Budget of the Organization for submission to the Conference.
      • Election of the Director-General.
  • International Labour Office: 
    • It is the permanent secretariat of the International Labour Organization. 
    • Functions: It decides the activities for ILO and is supervised by the Governing Body and the Director-General.
    • The ILO member States hold periodically regional meetings to discuss the relevant issues of the concerned regions.
    • Each of the ILO’s 183 Member States has the right to send four delegates to the Conference: two from government and one each representing workers and employers, each of whom may speak and vote independently.T

International Labour Organization (ILO) Functions

The ILO plays an important role in the formulation of policies which are focussed on solving labour issues. The ILO also has other functions, such as:

  • It adopts international labour standards. They are adopted in the form of conventions. It also controls the implementation of its conventions.
  • It aids the member states in resolving their social and labour problems.
  • It advocates and works for the protection of Human rights.
  • It is responsible for the research and publication of information regarding social and labour issues.
  • The Trade Unions play a pivotal role in developing policies at the ILO, thus the Bureau for Workers’ Activities at the secretariat is dedicated to strengthening independent and democratic trade unions so they can better defend workers’ rights and interests.
  • The ILO also assumes a supervisory role: it monitors the implementation of ILO conventions ratified by member states.
    • The implementation is done through the Committee of Experts, the International Labour Conference’s Tripartite Committee and the member-states. 
    • Member states are obligated to send reports on the development of the implementation of the conventions they have approved. 
  • Registration of complaints: The ILO registers complaints against entities that are violating international rules. 
    • The ILO, however, does not impose any sanctions on the governments.
    • Complaints can also be filed against member states for not complying with ILO conventions that have been ratified.
  • International Labour Standards: The ILO is also responsible for setting International Labour Standards. The international labour conventions which are set by the ILO are ratified by the member states. These are mostly non-binding in nature.
    • But once a member state accepts conventions, it becomes legally binding. The conventions are often used to bring national laws in alignment with international standards.

Objectives of the ILO

  • To promote and realize standards and fundamental principles and rights at work.
  • To create greater opportunities for women and men to secure decent employment.
  • To enhance the coverage and effectiveness of social protection for all.
  • To strengthen tripartism and social dialogue.

Decent Work Agenda

  • As part of its mission, the ILO aims to achieve decent work for all by promoting social dialogue, social protection and employment creation, as well as respect for international labour standards.
  • The ILO provides technical support to more than 100 countries to help achieve these aims, with the support of development partners.

ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work

  • It was adopted in 1998, the Declaration commits member states to respect and promote eight fundamental principles and rights in four categories, whether or not they have ratified the relevant conventions. They are:

    • Freedom of Association and The Right to collective bargaining (Conventions 87 and 98)
    • Elimination of forced or compulsory labour (Conventions No. 29 and No. 105)
    • Abolition of child labour (Conventions No. 138 and No. 182)
    • Elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation (Conventions No. 100 and No. 111)

Core Conventions of the ILO

  • The eight fundamental conventions form an integral part of the United Nations Human Rights Framework, and their ratification is an important sign of member States’ commitment to human rights.
  • Overall, 135 member States have ratified all eight fundamental conventions. Unfortunately, 48 member states (out of 183 member States), including member states with the highest populations, have yet to complete ratification of all eight conventions.
  • The eight-core conventions of the ILO are:

    • Forced Labour Convention (No. 29)
    • Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No.105)
    • Equal Remuneration Convention (No.100)
    • Discrimination (Employment Occupation) Convention (No.111)
    • Minimum Age Convention (No.138)
    • Worst forms of Child Labour Convention (No.182)
    • Freedom of Association and Protection of Right to Organised Convention (No.87)
    • Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention (No.98)
  • The eight conventions, taken together, are more relevant today in the face of global economic and other challenges impinging on the welfare and livelihood of workers in all regions.

    • Indeed, they are part and parcel of the overarching architecture for the universality of human rights, offering protection to all, and responding closely to the quest for social justice in a globalized setting.
    • They are catalytic to the UN system, the international community and local communities as a whole.

India and ILO

  • India is a founding member of the ILO and it has been a permanent member of the ILO Governing Body since 1922.
  • In India, the first ILO Office was started in 1928. The decades of productive partnership between the ILO and its constituents has mutual trust and respect as underlying principles and is grounded in building sustained institutional capacities and strengthening capacities of partners.
  • India has ratified six out of the eight-core/fundamental ILO conventions. These conventions are:

    • Forced Labour Convention (No. 29)
    • Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No.105)
    • Equal Remuneration Convention (No.100)
    • Discrimination (Employment Occupation) Convention (No.111)
    • Minimum Age Convention (No.138)
    • Worst forms of Child Labour Convention (No.182)
  • India has not ratified the two core/fundamental conventions, namely Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87) and Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98).

    • The main reason for non-ratification of ILO conventions No.87 & 98 is due to certain restrictions imposed on the government servants.
    • The ratification of these conventions would involve granting of certain rights that are prohibited under the statutory rules, for the government employees, namely, the right to strike, to openly criticize government policies, to freely accept a financial contribution, to freely join foreign organizations etc.

Trade Unions at the ILO

  • Trade unions play a crucial role in developing policy at the ILO, Worker group representation is drawn from national trade union confederations.
  • The Bureau for Workers’ Activities at the secretariat is dedicated to strengthening independent and democratic trade unions so they can better defend workers’ rights and interests.

The ILO’s supervisory role

  • The ILO monitors the implementation of ILO conventions ratified by member states. This is done through:

    • The Committee of Experts on the Application of conventions and Recommendations.
    • The International Labour Conference’s Tripartite Committee on the Application of conventions and Recommendations.
    • Member states are also required to send reports on the progress of the implementation of the conventions they have ratified.


  • The ILO registers complaints against entities that are violating international rules; however, it does not impose sanctions on governments.
  • Complaints can be filed against member states for not complying with ILO conventions they have ratified.
  • Complaints can be from another member state which has signed the same convention, a delegate to the International Labour Conference or the ILO’s Governing Body.

ILO’s Global Commission on the Future of Work

  • The formation of an ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work marks the second stage in the ILO Future of Work Initiative.
    • It was co-chaired by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven.
  • The commission outlines a vision for a human-centred agenda that is based on investing in people’s capabilities, institutions of work and decent and sustainable work.
  • Its has undertaken an in-depth examination of the future of work that can provide the analytical basis for the delivery of social justice in the 21st century.
  • It outlines the challenges caused by new technology, climate change and demography and calls for a collective global response to the disruptions they are causing in the world of work.
    • Artificial intelligence, automation and robotics will lead to job losses, as skills become obsolete.
  • The key recommendations are:
    • A universal labour guarantee that protects the fundamental rights of workers’, an adequate living wage, limits on hours of work and safe and healthy workplaces.
    • Guaranteed social protection from birth to old age that supports people’s needs over the life cycle.
    • A universal entitlement to lifelong learning that enables people to skill, reskill and upskill.
    • Managing technological change to boost decent work, including an international governance system for digital labour platforms.
    • Greater investments in the care, green and rural economies.
    • A transformative and measurable agenda for gender equality.
    • Reshaping business incentives to encourage long-term investments.

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