Committee on Freedom of Association

The Committee on Freedom of Association

Freedom of association and collective bargaining are among the founding principles of the ILO. Soon after the adoption of Conventions Nos. 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining, the ILO came to the conclusion that the principle of freedom of association needed a further supervisory procedure to ensure compliance with it in countries that had not ratified the relevant conventions. As a result, in 1951 the ILO set up the Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) for the purpose of examining complaints about violations of freedom of association, whether or not the country concerned had ratified the relevant conventions. Complaints may be brought against a member state by employers' and workers' organizations. The CFA is a Governing Body committee, and is composed of an independent chairperson and three representatives each of governments, employers, and workers. If it decides to receive the case, it establishes the facts in dialogue with the government concerned. If it finds that there has been a violation of freedom of association standards or principles, it issues a report through the Governing Body and makes recommendations on how the situation could be remedied. Governments are subsequently requested to report on the implementation of its recommendations. In cases where the country has ratified the relevant instruments, legislative aspects of the case may be referred to the Committee of Experts. The CFA may also choose to propose a "direct contacts" mission to the government concerned to address the problem directly with government officials and the social partners through a process of dialogue. In more than 60 years of work, the CFA has examined over 3,000 cases. More than 60 countries on five continents have acted on its recommendations and have informed it of positive developments on freedom of association during the past 35 years.

The Committee on Freedom of Association in action

In 1994, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) filed a complaint against the Government of Indonesia for violations of trade union rights, including the denial of the workers’ right to establish organizations of their own choosing, the persistent interference by government authorities, the military and employers in trade union activities, ongoing restrictions in collective bargaining and strike action, as well as very serious allegations concerning the arrest and harassment of trade union leaders, together with the disappearance and assassination of workers and unionists. Among the numerous trade union leaders detained during this period were Dita Indah Sari, labour activist of the Democratic Peoples Party and chairwoman of the Centre for Indonesian Workers Struggle, and Muchtar Pakpahan, chairman of the Indonesian Prosperity Trade Union (SBSI). Through the CFA, the international community kept up the pressure on Indonesia for the release of trade union leaders detained because of their trade union activity. Muchtar Pakpahan was released in1998, followed by Dita Sari one year later, whereupon she was unanimously elected Chairperson of the National Front for Indonesian Workers struggle, the FNPBI. Indonesia’s engagement with the ILO marked a turning point for labour rights in the country. In the years since then Indonesia has taken significant steps to improve protection of trade union rights, and has ratified all eight fundamental Conventions. The case of Dita Sari is not unique. In the last few decades, several hundred trade unionists worldwide were released from prison after the CFA examined their cases and formulated recommendations to the governments concerned.