ILO conference report: workplace inspection is vital to protecting workers’ rights
The ILO is holding its 100th conference in Geneva this week, and as well as a ground-breaking convention on the rights of domestic workers, we’re about to agree a major review of labour administration and inspection – the key, along with stronger unions, to implementing all the other conventions the ILO has produced in the 91 years since its foundation.The report, for which I was the workers’ group spokesperson, emphasises the need for a publicly-run, properly-resourced system of workplace inspection (health and safety is the only really effective example in the UK – compared to much of the rest of the world we are far too weak on checking on issues like equal pay and working time ).
But it also stresses the need to go beyond ‘traditional’ workers in ‘traditional’ workplaces. Inspections need to cover those whose employment status is disguised, through outsourcing, sub-contracting, bogus self employment and other dodges; workers in both the formal and informal economy; rural agricultural workers; those in global supply chains such as Economic Processing Zones; and groups such as home workers and domestic workers whose workplaces can leave them especially vulnerable.
When the ILO was founded in 1919, its tripartite character made it unique at global level. Now, as part of the UN family which it pre-dates, and with 183 member states, it is still the only global body made up of union, employer and government representatives. Some, like the International Development Minister Andrew Mitchell – who recently cut the DFID grant to the ILO – don’t appreciate that tripartite system of governance. But it was designed to offer a new and more inclusive approach after the slaughter of the First World War and the instability that followed. As the events of the Arab Spring, with workers taking the lead in the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and still struggling for justice in Bahrain and across the region show, the mission remains vital today.
Our own organisation for stronger unions remains the best way to to ensure justice and decent work. But effective labour administration and inspection systems can supplement union work and can be a vital safety mechanism in workplaces where the employers writ would otherwise run untrammelled.