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International Labour Organization


Origins and History 

The ILO is the international organization responsible for drawing up and overseeing international labour standards. It is the only 'tripartite' United Nations agency that brings together representatives of governments, employers and workers to jointly shape policies and programmes promoting Decent Work for all. This unique arrangement gives the ILO an edge in incorporating 'real world' knowledge about employment and work.

The ILO was created in 1919, as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, to reflect the belief that universal and lasting peace can be accomplished only if it is based on social justice. Many in the labour movement see a link between the formation of the ILO as being the reaction of capitalist Governments to the October Revolution in Russia which established the USSR

The Constitution was drafted between January and April, 1919, by the Labour Commission set up by the Peace Conference, which first met in Paris and then in Versailles. The Commission, chaired by Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labour (AFL) in the United States, was composed of representatives from nine countries: Belgium, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy, Japan, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States. It resulted in a tripartite organization, the only one of its kind bringing together representatives of governments, employers and workers in its executive bodies.

The Constitution contained ideas tested within the International Association for Labour Legislation, founded in Basel in 1901. Advocacy for an international organization dealing with labour issues began in the nineteenth century, led by two industrialists, Robert Owen (1771-1853) of Wales and Daniel Legrand (1783-1859) of France. 

More information on the origins and history of the ILO can be found here

The driving forces for ILO's creation arose from security, humanitarian, political and economic considerations. Summarizing them, the ILO Constitution's Preamble says the High Contracting Parties were 'moved by sentiments of justice and humanity as well as by the desire to secure the permanent peace of the world...'

There was keen appreciation of the importance of social justice in securing peace, against a background of exploitation of workers in the industrializing nations of that time. There was also increasing understanding of the world's economic interdependence and the need for cooperation to obtain similarity of working conditions in countries competing for markets. Reflecting these ideas, the Preamble states:
  • Whereas universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice;
  • And whereas conditions of labour exist involving such injustice hardship and privation to large numbers of people as to produce unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world are imperilled; and an improvement of those conditions is urgently required;
  • Whereas also the failure of any nation to adopt humane conditions of labour is an obstacle in the way of other nations which desire to improve the conditions in their own countries.
The areas of improvement listed in the Preamble remain relevant today, for example:
  • Regulation of the hours of work including the establishment of a maximum working day and week;
  • Regulation of labour supply, prevention of unemployment and provision of an adequate living wage;
  • Protection of the worker against sickness, disease and injury arising out of his employment;
  • Protection of children, young persons and women;
  • Provision for old age and injury, protection of the interests of workers when employed in countries other than their own;
  • Recognition of the principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value;
  • Recognition of the principle of freedom of association;
  • Organization of vocational and technical education, and other measures.

ILO in the Caribbean

The ILO Office for the Caribbean was established in 1969 and is based in Trinidad and Tobago. It serves 13 member States and 9 non-metropolitan territories of the English- and Dutch-speaking Caribbean as follows:

Member States: Antigua and Barbuda; Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia,  Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago

Non-metropolitan territories: Anguilla, Aruba, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Montserrat,  Sint Maarten, Turks and Caicos Islands.

The ILO Office is located at:

6 Stanmore Avenue
PO Box 1201
Port of Spain
Trinidad and Tobago.
Telephone +868 625-0524 or 623-7704
Fax +868 627-8978
Email: ilocarib@ilocarib.org.tt

Fundamental ILO Conventions

The ILO's Governing Body has identified eight conventions as "fundamental", covering subjects that are considered as fundamental principles and rights at work: freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining; the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour; the effective abolition of child labour; and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. These principles are also covered in the ILO's Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998). In 1995, the ILO launched a campaign to achieve universal ratification of these eight conventions which are:

Trinidad and Tobago has ratified all eight Conventions

Declaration of Philadelphia

The General Conference of the International Labour Organization, meeting in its Twenty-sixth Session in Philadelphia, in 1944, adopted the Declaration concerning the aims and purposes of the International Labour Organisation which should inspire the policy of its Members.

Conventions and Recommendations

NORMLEX is a new information system which brings together information on International Labour Standards (such as ratification information, reporting requirements, comments of the ILO's supervisory bodies, etc.) as well as national labour and social security laws.

Of particular use are the databased on ILO Conventions and Recommendations.

Details of ratifications of fundamental Conventions by country can be found here and the country profile on Trinidad and Tobago is also available. This also gives a useful summary of labour legislation. 

Labour Standards

International labour standards have grown into a comprehensive system of instruments on work and social policy, backed by a supervisory system designed to address all sorts of problems in their application at the national level. Details on Supervisory bodies and procedures can be found here

ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work

The text of the Declaration and its follow-up which was adopted by the International Labour Conference at its Eighty-sixth Session, Geneva, 18 June 1998 (Annex revised 15 June 2010) can be found here

News from the ILO