Friday, January 2, 2015

Monopolists seek to deregulate global labor organizing standards

"A New Offensive Against the Whole System of Standards: The Right to Strike Is Being Attacked!"
2015-01-02 by Jacques Diriclet for the ILC International Newsletter #206:
The standards system framework of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) founded on the elaboration of international labour conventions submitted to the ratification of states and on the monitoring of their implementation is again under attack. It started during the 101th session of the International Labour Conference in 2012 when the employers' group decided to challenge the fact that the right to strike flows from convention N°87 on the freedom of association.
As will be shown, the attack was carried on through 2013 and 2014.

Freedom of association cannot be separated from the right to strike.
In 1948, the ILO adopted a convention on the right to associate, convention N° 87. It was complemented in 1949 by convention N° 98 on the right to organise and on collective bargaining. Since then, ILO bodies have repeatedly affirmed that the right to strike flows from those, especially article 2 of convention 87, which stipulates that “workers' organizations . . . have the right . . . to draw up their programme of action” and of the recognition of the right to organise “for furthering and defending the interests of workers ...” (article 10).
The Committee on Freedom of Association, which was instituted in 1951 and examines the complaints filed on non compliance with conventions 87 and 98 decided in its very first year of functioning, that “right to strike is a fundamental right of workers and of their organizations”. The commission of experts repeatedly affirmed that the right to strike is a fundamental right of workers and of their organisations.
In 1957, the International Labour Conference adopted a resolution to member states “called for the adoption of “laws ensuring the effective and unrestricted exercise of trade union rights, including the right to strike, by the workers”.

A determined attack against the ILO's whole standards and control system -
Every year, during the session of the International Labour Conference, the Committee on the Application of Standards examines, among others, a list of twenty-five especially serious cases of violation of standards.
In 2012, for the first time since 1927, the employers' group refused to participate in the examination of the cases of violation of convention N° 87. As a pre-condition, they demanded the inclusion of a statement in the conclusions of the Committee registering their disagreement: They considered that “The right to strike has no legal founding in the conventions on freedom to organise”.
In 2013, confronted with the blackmail of the employers who threatened to cripple the committee's work, the ILO Workers' Group accepted the statement that they demanded so that the twenty-five cases could be duly examined.
In 2014, the Workers' Group refused such language, which resulted in the fact that only six cases out of twenty-five were examined.
Because of that, such points as the protection of migrant workers against methods bordering on slavery, discrimination against trade unionists, child labour or employment policies in the framework of European austerity programmes were left aside.

The ILO is at risk!
Today, this offensive, which affects the very foundation of the ILO, takes a new dimension. But it was heralded a long time ago. In 1998, a Declaration of Fundamental Rights was adopted under the sponsorship of U.S. President Bill Clinton. It calls to “respect, promote and implement in good faith the principles related to fundamental rights” (See footnote 1). This declaration, presented as a “promotion”, or improvement, is not equivalent to the ratification of conventions. Convention 87, like all the conventions, specifies that, “This Convention shall be binding only upon those Members of the International Labour Organisation whose ratifications have been registered with the Director-General.”. The States that ratify a convention are under obligation to transcribe it into national laws. For instance, the United States is still not “bound” by conventions 87 and 98, since it has not yet ratified them.
In 2012, increased pressure was applied: the Employers' Group declared that “supervising international labour standards should be in the service of the tripartite mandate-givers and reflect their needs, including those of workers and employers”. In the name of “needs”, bosses want to impose an interpretation valid for some and different for others.
Today as the right to strike is being challenged, they are bent on moving on to a new phase. The whole structure of the standards system is under threat: the existence and relevance of the international standards of labour which were established a little less than a century ago in the framework of the ILO and the monitoring system are directly threatened.
Last June, from the ILO's rostrum, French labour minister Fran├žois Rebsamen, called for “a modification of the ILO” and for the introduction of “social partnership in the framework of social dialogue. He explained that, “The problem of interpreting standards should in this way be clarified, and a tripartite consensus solution should be found. France reaffirms that it favours a mechanism of interpretation within the Organization, with flexible and economical methods”.
“Flexibility” means all-out deregulation. It is in the name of flexibility that, a few weeks ago, the president of Medef, the French employers’ association, advocated the denunciation by France of convention 158, which compels an employer to justify the lay-off of an employee.
Defending labour organisations, their freedom, which cannot be separated from the right to strike and their independence, is one and the same as defending the ILO in its capacity of acting as an institution that establishes standards in conformity with it original mission in 1919, reaffirmed by the 1944 Philadelphia Declaration. And this gives leverage to defend workers' rights against rampant exploitation by employers and the governments in their service.
These issues are more relevant than ever!

(1) Eight conventions have been mentioned as references: the ones on issues of freedom of association (conventions 87 and 98), banning forced labour (conventions 29 and 105), equal rights (conventions 111 and 151) and child labour (conventions 138 and 182).


"The Very Existence of Standards Is at Risk"
(Excerpts from the remarks by Marc Leemans, vice-president of the Workers Group of the Committee on the Application of Standards before the 103th session of the International Conference of Labour, June 2014)
The Workers’ group decided not to adopt conclusions on the application of standards. Why?
Today, the Employers are challenging the experts’ interpretation of Convention No. 87 with regard to the right to strike. It is a longstanding disagreement, and it is a particularly sensitive subject for the Workers. But the Employers have clearly sent the message that, for them, consensual conclusions are a thing of the past. And not only with regard to the right to strike: we have also heard challenges to the experts’ interpretation of the concept of “public servants” in: the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98); questioning of the legal scope of the Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102); and the Employment Policy Convention, 1964 (No. 122); and many other questions. If we continue on this path, it will no longer be enough to challenge a certain interpretation of the standards; there will be fundamental challenges to the very existence and relevance of these standards. And in the case that we have before us and in the procedures of the existing framework, there is nothing that will enable us to overcome such a stumbling block.
The attitude of the Employers is an all-out attack against the standards’ supervisory mechanism. They want to put the experts in a subordinate role to the Committee on the Application of Standards. Now, . . .  these two bodies each have their own legitimacy, they are interdependent and not hierarchically subordinate one to the other.
Why do we, the Workers, support the experts on the question of the right to strike?
I do not want to turn my statement into a lecture on law, but please allow me to emphasize that the Workers support the traditional interpretation of the Committee of Experts, not simply because it suits us, but because it is the only plausible construction of freedom of association in the ILO Charter and consequently in Convention No. 87. To put it another way, in international labour law, the ILO has enshrined the right of workers to organize, to form unions to negotiate their working conditions. The right to organize implies the workers’ right to collectively refuse to work under conditions which they believe not to be in line with their interests or the negotiated conditions.”

Pointers: What are ILO conventions 87 and 98?
Excerpts of convention (N°87) on freedom of association and protection of the right to organise 1948
Article 2: Workers and employers, without distinction whatsoever, shall have the right to establish and, subject only to the rules of the organisation concerned, to join organisations of their own choosing without previous authorisation.
Article 3 (1):Workers' and employers' organisations shall have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules, to elect their representatives in full freedom, to organise their administration and activities and to formulate their programmes.
Article 3 (2). The public authorities shall refrain from any interference which would restrict this right or impede the lawful exercise thereof.

Excerpts from the right to organise and collective bargaining convention (N° 98)
Article 1: Workers shall enjoy adequate protection against acts of anti-union discrimination in respect of their employment.
Article 2 (1): Workers' and employers' organisations shall enjoy adequate protection against any acts of interference by each other or each other's agents or members in their establishment, functioning or administration.

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