The International Labour Organisation (ILO) was founded in 1919. Since 1946, the ILO has functioned as a specialised agency of the United Nations, responsible for developing and overseeing international labour standards. It has a unique tripartite structure that enables the representatives of workers’ and employers’ organisations to take part in all discussions and decision-making on an equal footing with governments.

The ILO regularly examines the application of labour standards in Member States and points out areas where they could be better applied. In this regard, the ILO has developed two kinds of supervisory mechanism aiming at overseeing the application of these standards, in law and practice, following their adoption by the International Labour Conference and their ratification by states.

The regular system of supervision involves the examination, by two ILO bodies (the Committee of experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations and the Tripartite Committee on the Application of Standards of the International Labour Conference), of the periodic reports submitted by Member States. 1 These reports detail the measures that these states have taken to implement the provisions of the ILO Conventions they have ratified. Employer and worker organisations can comment on the reports before they are given to the Committee of experts, which publishes its observations in an annual report released at the end of February/early March every year. Civil society organisations can send any reports or observations they may have related to one of the ILO conventions to a union in their country of origin or to the International Trade Union Confederation. The deadline for the submission of such reports is normally 31 August. It is, however, advisable to submit reports earlier in order to allow for unions to review the documentation prior to subsequent transfer to the ILO. Observations can subsequently be used as an advocacy tool to pressure governments. A select number of cases (approximately 25) negotiated between employers and workers are examined by the Conference Committee on the Application of Standards during the International Labour Conference every June in Geneva. The representatives of the governments concerned are then requested to provide information on the measures they intend to adopt to comply with their international obligations. The Committee subsequently adopts conclusions, which include recommendations to the government. The ILO can also send a technical and/or tripartite mission ahead of the next International Labour Conference to verify the status of implementation of the recommendations by the government. The Committee can decide to include a special paragraph in its final report in cases considered to be serious. Such “special paragraphs” can be referred to by countries to justify, for instance, the withdrawal of trade preferences (as the US and the eU have done in some cases).

Under article 19, paragraph 5(e), of the ILO’s Constitution, a Member State undertakes, in respect of any Convention that it has not ratified, to report to the Director-General of the International Labour Office, at appropriate intervals as requested by the Governing Body, on the position of its law and practice in regard to the matters dealt with in that Convention. Such communication should show the extent to which effect has been given, or is proposed to be given, to any of the provisions of the Convention by legislation, administrative action, collective agreement or otherwise, and should also state the difficulties that prevent or delay the ratification of that Convention.

In addition, the special procedure of supervision involves a representations’ procedure and a complaints’ procedure, together with a special procedure for freedom of association. The guide discusses separately each of the three main supervisory mechanisms available through the ILO:

  • Complaints regarding freedom of association
  • Complaints regarding a states’ failure to respect an ILO convention it has ratified (complaints under Article 26 of the ILO Constitution)
  • Representations regarding a states’ failure to secure the effective observance of an ILO convention it has ratified (representations under Articles 24 and 25 of the ILO Constitution).

The section concludes with a comparative table that highlights key facts regarding each of the supervisory mechanisms.