An Overview of the ILO Constitution on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work

The International Labour Organisation adopted the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work in 1998. Although this process started in 1995 at the Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development, it was finally adopted in 1998 and since then it has been gaining pace. The features of the Declaration serve as its identification of the core standards; they are applicable to all the Member States irrespective of the fact whether they have ratified the Conventions.

Notably, the Declaration conferred upon the international community equal importance for human rights, liberalization of international trade, improved labour standards at the national level, and a decentralized system of labour standards implementation making the standards more readily palatable to employers. However, due to the problematic nature of the international enforcement mechanisms, some scholars have criticized these labour standards as impractical. In this regard, the main criticism states that issues pertaining to trade and labour must be kept separate as bringing labour issues into the World Trade Organisation would mean imposing trade sanctions to issues such as child labour.

The preamble of the ILO provides for universal support and acknowledgement in promoting fundamental rights at work and also for their universal application. The principle of ‘freedom of association’ has been expressly stated in the Constitution, but the principle of ‘equal work for equal pay’ is only interpretative in nature. There isn’t any express mentioned about equal work for equal pay in the Constitution. In a nutshell, the Constitution speaks for social justice, issues relating to the regulation of the hours of work, regulation of labour supply, prevention of unemployment, protection of workers against sickness or injury, living wages, protection of children and women, provision for old age, protection of workers interests in countries other than their own and other measures. In contrast to this, the 1998 Declaration relatively promised less number of commitments. It did not provide for workplace safety, limits on work hours, freedom from workplace abuse, neither minimum, nor fair or living wage.

Although the labour organization’s monitoring and supervising standards have gained international acknowledgement, countries such as U.K. and U.S. have criticized the system for lacking proper follow-up mechanism. In this regard the Organization claimed that follow-up being not mandatory is more of a strictly promotional nature providing a global picture of the state of implementation of each category of fundamental principles and rights. Such a defence cannot be easily accepted. Hence creating a proper follow-up mechanism remains a target to be achieved in the near future as that would mean a positive contribution towards the expansion of future international labour rights regime.