International Labour Organisation and International Labour Conference 2005: Department briefing

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Employment and Labour

17 May 2005
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

17 May 2005

Acting Chairperson: Mr M Mzondeki (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department PowerPoint presentation

The Department of Labour briefed the Committee on the upcoming International Labour Organisation (ILO) conference in Geneva, Switzerland in May and June. The Department provided historical background on the ILO; its mandate and responsibilities; and an overview of its structure highlighting the importance of its Governing Body and the titular members.

The Department also discussed the conference programme and agenda and highlighted that this year issues around the fishing industry and youth employment would be discussed. A global report on the elimination of the worst forms of labour exploitation would also be tabled. Non-permanent titular members of the ILO Governing Body would also be elected at the conference. South Africa had been nominated for election as a non-permanent titular member.

In the ensuing discussion, Members enquired about the impact of non-ratification of an ILO convention on a country’s labour force; who formed part of the ILO’s states of industrial importance; the criteria used to decide on conference speakers; whether the Umsobomvu Youth Fund would form part of South Africa’s conference delegation; and about the importance of being a titular member of the ILO’s Governing Board.

The Chairperson, Ms O Kasienyane (ANC) was unable to attend the meeting. In her absence, Mr M Mzondeki (ANC) was nominated Acting Chairperson.

The Acting Chairperson noted that, pending approval, selected Members of the Committee would be attending the upcoming International Labour Conference in Geneva. It was for this reason that the Department of Labour had been invited to brief the Committee on the Conference programme.

Department briefing
Mr L Kettledas (Deputy Director-General: Labour Policy) began by providing an overview of the ILO’s history. The ILO was founded in 1919 and became a United Nations specialised agency in 1946. It was mandated to promote social justice and internationally recognised labour rights. Apartheid South Africa had participated in the ILO until 1964, when Ray Alexander successfully campaigned for its expulsion. South Africa was re-admitted to the ILO in May 1994.

The ILO was tasked with formulating conventions and recommendations on minimum basic labour rights. These included: freedom of association; the right to organise, collective bargaining; the abolition of forced labour; and equality of treatment. The ILO was also tasked with providing assistance in the following fields: employment policy; labour administration; labour law; working conditions; and management development. It also promoted and aided independent employer and worker associations.

The ILO itself comprised of a tripartite structure, which included worker, employer and government representatives. These groups participated as equal members in the ILO governing organs. The most important ILO governing organ was the Governing Body. The Governing Body was responsible for taking decisions on ILO policy, and setting the agendas of the International Labour Conference. The Governing Body was comprised of 56 titular members: 28 government members, 14 employer members and 14 worker members. Ten of the titular members were permanent. They were Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Other states were elected as non-permanent titular members during the International Labour Conference.

Mr Kettledas then discussed the programme and agenda of the upcoming International Labour Conference. During the Conference, each ILO member state would be represented by a delegation consisting of two government delegates, a worker delegate and an employer delegate. Each of the delegates possessed the same rights and could vote as they wished. It was during the Conference that resolutions, which guided the ILO’s policy and activities, were voted on. At the Conference international labour standards were also drafted and adopted in the form of conventions and recommendations. ILO member states also had to submit reports at the Conference outlining their compliance with the ILO’s conventions and recommendations.

Mr Kettledas stated that the 2005 International Labour Conference would be taking place between 31 May and 16 June. The Governing Body elections would be held on 6 June. The Director-General was due to deliver a report at the Conference on 6 June, while the Minister of Labour was scheduled to speak on 10 June.

Various items on the Conference agenda were important to South Africa, which included:
- a discussion on the adoption of comprehensive standards for work in the Fishing sector;
- a general discussion on the promotion of youth employment;
- the finalisation of a framework for Occupational Safety and Health;
- the tabling of a global report on the elimination of the worst forms of labour; and
- the adoption of the budget and programme of the ILO for 2006/7.

Mr Kettledas also noted that an African member state forum would meet daily at the Conference to formulate a common African position on the matters being discussed and tabled. Similarly, member states of the Non-aligned Movement would be meeting at the Conference to forge common links. The African Regional Labour Administration Centre (ARLAC) would be holding a council meeting at the Conference. Finally, South Africa would be running for re-election as a titular member of the ILO Governing Body at the conference.

Mr L Maduna (ANC) observed that the ratification of ILO conventions was voluntary. If certain member states did not ratify the conventions, how would this impact on their labour force and labour standards?

Mr S Ndebele (Executive Manager: International Relations) responded that if a member country had not ratified certain ILO conventions, it would impact on the labour standards of that country. However, being an ILO member meant that one had to comply with the established international standards. This meant that, as an ILO member, even though ratification was voluntary, one was required to report to the ILO on the reasons why there had been a failure to ratify a certain convention. Mr V Mkosana (Director-General) added that when a country failed to ratify a convention, and breached international labour standards, the ILO would attempt to pressurise the country into meeting the necessary levels of compliance. However, some of the Western democratic countries also failed to ratify certain conventions. Indeed, the United States was one of the leading offenders, in terms of failing to ratify ILO labour standard conventions.

Mr Ndebele added that ratification had its own complications and problems. If a country ratified a convention, they were obliged to provide progress reports on its implementation to the ILO. In certain cases, national labour laws would have to be amended. This could be time consuming. Some countries possibly did not ratify certain conventions because they were seeking to attract investors who were more interested in avoiding labour regulations. This would adversely impact on the labour force of that country.

Mr Ndebele noted that South Africa had ratified various ILO conventions. In the process, an unexpected problem had arisen: a weakness had been experienced in the capacity to deliver reports on the implementation of the conventions’ obligations. The government had, therefore, decided that before any new conventions were ratified, the Department needed to thoroughly understand the implications of the conventions’ implementation.

The Acting Chairperson questioned whether concrete action would be taken against countries that ratified conventions, but continued to violate labour rights.

The Acting Chairperson noted that the Department’s ILO presentation had mentioned ‘states of industrial importance’. Which states were these?

Mr Kettledas responded that the ‘states of industrial importance’ were the ten permanent titular members of the Governing Body. These were Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Mr Kettledas added that the possibility of reforming the ILO Governing Body had been raised. It was mooted that certain developing nations needed to be included as permanent titular members. Indeed, presently, no African country was a permanent member of the Governing Body.

The Acting Chairperson asked how the committees, which met at the International Labour Conference, were constituted. For example, who decided on the members that sat on the committees?

The Acting Chairperson observed that the Minister of Labour would be speaking at the Conference. He enquired about the criteria used for deciding upon Conference speakers. Was the Minister speaking because of the respect that South Africa enjoyed internationally?

Mr R Henderson (DA) felt that even though South Africa’s labour laws were too stringent, South Africa were respected by many countries for its commitment to worker’s rights. It was possibly for this reason that the Minister had been invited to speak at the Conference.

Mr Kettledas replied that all the delegates to the Conference had a right to speak. This included ministers, presidents, prime ministers, worker delegates, employer delegates and non-governmental organisations. If a delegate wished to be a speaker, they would need to inform the ILO. The ILO would then allocate a slot to the delegate in the Conference programme.

Mr O Mogale (ANC) enquired whether the Umsobomvu Youth Fund would form part of South Africa’s delegation to the Conference.

Mr Ndebele responded that members of the Umsobomvu Youth Fund would not form part of South Africa’s delegation. The Department had, however, met, and consulted, with the Umsobomvu Youth Fund regarding its input into the Conference topic that covered the promotion of youth employment. The South African Conference delegation would, therefore, be informed by the Umsobomvu Youth Fund’s input.

Mr Maduna asked how the trade union, and employer, components of South Africa’s delegation to the Conference had been decided upon.

Mr Ndebele responded that worker delegates were nominated by agreement between the most representative national organisations. Thus, the three labour federations, COSATU, NACTU, and FEDUSA, would have representatives in the labour delegation.

The Acting Chairperson enquired about the importance, for South Africa, of being a titular member. Mr Kettledas responded that it was important for South Africa to be nominated as a titular member of the Governing Body. This was due to the fact that titular members had the right to vote. Even deputy members of the Governing Body did not have a vote: they could only function as observers. Mr Mkosana added that South Africa had been voted onto the Governing Body as a titular member in 2002. The fact that South Africa was being re-nominated was an honour. It reflected the fact that South Africa had made a positive impact as a titular member.

The Acting Chairperson noted that, after the completion of the conference, the Department would be invited to provide a briefing to the Committee on the outcomes.

The meeting was adjourned.




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