Opening remarks at ILO/MOHRSS Seminar on Labour Inspection Convention (C.81)

By Mr Tim De Meyer, Director, ILO Country Office for China and Mongolia

Statement | Kunming, China | 23 November 2017

Director General Wang Cheng, (Labour Inspection Bureau of MOHRSS)
Deputy Director-General Lv Yulin,
Deputy Director-General Cheng Yan, (Policy and Law Department of SAWS)
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning! I sincerely thank MOHRSS and the Yunnan Human Resources and Social Security Bureau for your kind efforts and time in co-organizing this seminar. We are honoured to have a very wide representation among the participants, including representatives from MOHRSS and its local inspection authorities in Yunnan and Jiangsu, SAWS, our traditional social partners ACFTU and CEC, NPC, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and the Ministry of Public Security. Warmly welcome to all of you and thank you for your contribution to this seminar. My special note of thanks to Alain Pelce and René Robert, the ILO specialists from our Regional Office in Bangkok.

This time the ILO and MOHRSS organize two seminars back to back to examine the prospects for ratification by China of two very important conventions: the Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No.81) and the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29). This is the first time we put the two Conventions together for discussion with the same participants. The reason for this arrangement is the two Conventions are closely related: it is labour inspectors who play the key role in promoting workplace compliance with labour law with a view to preventing forced labour.

Today and tomorrow morning, we’ll focus on Convention 81. This is one of the 12 priority Conventions of the ILO. Labour inspection was the 9th founding principle expressed in the ILO Constitution of 1919: “Each State should make provision for a system of inspection in which women would take part, in order to ensure the enforcement of the laws and regulations for the protection of the employed”. In China, we’ve discussed this convention before, and now it is a good time to re-focus on the prospect for ratification of this Convention.

After nearly four decades of major economic and social progress, China is entering a new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Improving protection and livelihood of the people features high in President Xi Jinping’s report delivered at the recent 19th CPC Congress last month. Labour and OSH inspection has a key role in achieving these goals through protecting the rights and interest of workers, providing safe and healthy working conditions for all employees, and promoting harmonious labour relations.

The labour inspection system of China, officially established in 1993, is relatively young if compared with some western countries, but it has seen steady development over nearly 25 years. Today China has established a comprehensive legal system for labour protection, social security and occupational safety and health. Both labour and OSH inspection have a well established structure and institutions down to county level and in some areas even community or village level. The number of inspectors is steadily increasing: 29,000 full-time labour inspectors and 31,000 full-time OSH inspectors in 2017.

Concrete achievements have been made in both labour and OSH inspection. Various innovative approaches of labour inspection have been adopted and yielded positive results: the twin network system greatly improved the efficiency of labour inspection; the targeted inspection campaigns has helped large number of rural migrant workers get their wages back; the promotion of random selection of inspectors and enterprises to be inspected (inspection without prior notice,随机抽查) has improved the effectiveness of inspection. On OSH inspection side, work safety features very high on the government’s agenda. The serious efforts of the government in reducing major workplace safety accidents have led to continuous and fast decline of fatality rates, especially in the coal mines. SAWS is paying more attention to increasing OSH inspectors’ capacity to provide advisory service, which is an important mandate of inspectors according to Convention 81, and the ILO SCORE project is supporting SAWS in this direction. The fast progress of China in labour and OSH inspection has drawn the attention and interests of many other developing countries, notably the ASEAN countries, to learn innovative practices of China.

Of course, fast industrialization, economic restructuring and urbanization will continue to present challenges to China’s labour inspection system. The question is – Could the ratification of C81 contribute to responding to these challenges? I believe so. Ratification of C. 81 represents a multilateral commitment to maintain a labour inspection system; to even-handedly enforce labour law as a matter of State duty; and to engage in a regular dialogue with other member States on the achievements and challenges along the way. In this way the ratification of Convention 81 could contribute to further strengthening of the labour and OSH inspection system in China. China has made concrete progress in social areas in recent years, including in employment protection and working conditions. The labour and OSH inspection system has played an essential role in this process. As we’ll see in the following discussion, China already has a solid foundation in terms of both law and practice to ratify this convention. Another reason for the ratification is 78% of ILO member states have ratified this 70-year old priority ILO Convention. Today China is the second largest economy and plays an essential role in global governance, so the ratification of more fundamental or priority conventions is consistent with China’s commitment to multilateralism.

In the following one and a half days, we’ll have a detailed discussion on Convention 81. I invite all of you to actively participate in the discussion, because this is an area of work that requires multi-party efforts.

Lastly I’d like to reaffirm that ILO is ready provide service to its Chinese constituents when there is the need. It can be technical service for the work related to the convention itself or for the strengthening of the labour and OSH inspection system in general in China.

Thank you.