Labour Inspection

Radical cuts to labour inspectorates a ‘serious mistake’

ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, warned of the negative consequences of radical reforms to labour inspectorates, in a speech to the conference of the Regional Alliance of Labour Inspections of the Commonwealth of the Independent States and Mongolia.

Statement | Sochi, Russian Federation | 23 April 2019
Deputy Ministers,
Mr. Ivankov, Head of Rostrud,
Mr Ho Siong Hin, IALI Secretary General
Heads and representatives of labour inspectorates,

Thank you for inviting me to be part of this important discussion that brings together Deputy Ministers and experts from labour inspectorates from across the sub-region.

I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate you Mr Ivankov on your recent nomination as Head of Rostrud and to wish you all success in your new responsibilities.

A few years ago, I noted the “increasingly assertive and important role in the ILO” played not only by BRICS but by emerging countries at large. It is quite a natural evolution and a welcome rebalancing among the regions of the world and within international organisations.

RALI is one of the many initiatives that shows the active role of your respective countries. It is not only revealing of the vitality of regional cooperation, but also of your awareness that current challenges for the future of work require constant dialogue, synergies and mutual cooperation, including with the ILO. Your Alliance is in my view an excellent platform for discussions and knowledge sharing on issues of key importance, among countries that, after all, have a great deal in common, beyond a shared history.

It also shows your commitment to the unchanging principles enshrined in the Preamble of the ILO Constitution according to which, and I quote: “the failure of any nation to adopt humane conditions of labour is an obstacle in the way of other nations which desire to improve the conditions in their own countries”.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Those principles remain totally valid today. In fact, they are gaining relevance in light of the new challenges of a rapidly changing world of work. Globalisation, demographic and environmental change, and technological revolution open opportunities, including job opportunities. These changes can enhance our ability to reach, train and inform more people than ever before.

At the same time, they also raise new issues, risks, and challenges in terms of human rights and ethics, posing questions not just for researchers or philosophers but for all of us to consider as in our roles as governments, experts, social partners, medical doctors, lawyers – the list is endless. If we are serious about shaping the future of work, we need to work together to assess the implications these transformations have for workers and their working environment as well as for the daily work and mandate of labour inspectorates.

In recent times we’ve seen how globalisation and deregulation have pushed a number of countries to “throw out the baby with the bathwater”. In some cases, including in this region, radical reforms have led to the partial abolishment of labour legislation and a dismantling or a chronic underfunding of labour inspection institutions.

We all understand the need for efficiency and the use of new technologies in our work. But at times these policies can be false economies – at worst they can be acts of negligence and serious mistakes. Because some changes, far from bringing improvements, can actually make matters worse by weakening the protections needed particularly by the most vulnerable at work and by dulling the effectiveness, efficiency and transparency of labour administrations and inspectorates. Compliance has not radically improved and in fact informality in many cases has increased.

In fact, all too frequently, we have witnessed a deterioration of compliance and of workers’ rights, including the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining; reductions in the number of labour inspectors and inspectorates and, in certain cases, inspections that are simply limited to scheduled visits with prior notification only.

What does this mean for us today?

In my view, there are at least three lessons to be drawn.
  • First, that national standards and labour law remain key to regulate the world of work and to guarantee a level social playing field for all; this is also true for international labour standards.
  • Second, that institutions - namely labour administration and inspection, in addition to the judiciary system- are not an outdated notion. They remain indispensable to ensure compliance, provided that they are properly equipped to meet new challenges.
  • Third, that social dialogue institutions, and therefore strong tripartite Constituents, remain equally as important as ever.
In the same way, the ILO remains indispensable as a standard-setting institution, but it also needs to adapt to this new world of work. As the ILO Global Commission report on the Future of Work spells out, this means investing both in people’s capacities and in institutions to regulate labour markets appropriately.

Indeed, when it comes to designing and implementing policies in this area, we need to work on improving the balance between regulation and compliance on the one hand, and productivity and competitiveness on the other, while ensuring full respect for relevant international labour standards. This can only be achieved through effective social dialogue between governments, social partners and other relevant stakeholders. Fully integrated labour inspection systems will be critical in the achievement of this balance.

For all of these reasons, the ILO will continue to offer support and technical assistance to countries in their efforts to improve the legal framework that governs labour inspection systems and to ensure better compliance with labour legislation and international labour standards. Over the last few years, for example, the ILO has provided technical advice and assistance to countries in Europe and Central Asia, especially in the mining sector after several tragic accidents that took place in Turkey, Ukraine and Georgia.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before concluding, I would like to insist once again on the importance of ratifying the relevant ILO Conventions, particularly Convention 81 on labour inspection and Convention 129 on labour inspection in agriculture, the latter of which very few CIS countries have ratified. This holds all the more significance since several countries represented in this room are among the main producers and exporters in this sector. I think in particular of our host country, a re-emerging agricultural powerhouse over the last five years – and let’s not forget that we are in the Kraï of Krasnodar, at a stone’s throw away from the fertile Southern Russian steppe!

It is one of the fundamental responsibilities shared by the ILO and its member States to ensure that working people everywhere enjoy the protection of appropriate laws and regulations. But that only has meaning if we have also the means to ensure their effective implementation. That is why I regard your Regional Alliance as a key partner of the ILO and the decisions you will take here in Sochi as of such importance.

I wish you all success.

Thank you.