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ILO Governing Body Concludes Session; Issues Urgent Appeal to Nigeria on Behalf of Detained Trade Unionists


Press release | 21 November 1996


GENEVA (ILO News) - The International Labour Office's Governing Body, meeting in Geneva from 7 to 21 November examined a wide range of labour issues and programmes of the Organization and reached a number of decisions pertaining to workers' rights and democracy, the promotion of international labour standards and priorities for future action.

Acting at the request of the Workers' Group supported by several Governments, the Governing Body as a whole decided to make a pressing appeal to the Government of Nigeria inviting it to respond as soon as possible to the repeated requests, made since November 1995, urgently to authorize an ILO mission to examine questions related to past complaints and to visit without impediment trade unionists held in detention, so as to enable it to present a report as soon as possible to the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association.

The Government of Nigeria had been cited by the International Labour Conference in June 1996 for "very serious violations of human rights against trade unionists, as well as the fundamental principles contained" in Convention No. 87 (1948) on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize.

Legal Issues and International Labour Standards

The Governing Body's Committee on Legal Issues and International Labour Standards held a discussion on the question of strengthening the ILO's supervisory system with respect to fundamental labour standards, particularly forced labour and discrimination, and continued its work on the revision of standards.

On the first question, there was wide support for the idea that the ILO had a mandate to promote such fundamental rights for all Members side by side with its obligation to implement corresponding conventions with respect to those countries that have ratified them. No consensus could however be reached on the legal basis and specific procedure to give effect to this idea. Further discussions in the Governing Body's Working Party on the Social Dimension of International Trade achieved agreement on the Governing Body considering various possible solutions at its next session in March, on the basis of proposals made respectively by Employers, Workers and Governments.

The Working Party on Policy regarding the Revision of Standards examined the possible revision of 28 Conventions pertaining to employment policy, conditions of work, social security, employment of women and young persons, migrant workers and workers in non-metropolitan territories. It also discussed the possible abrogation of outdated standards.

The Governing Body placed the question of an amendment to the ILO Constitution on the agenda of the 1997 International Labour Conference. If adopted, the amendment would enable the Conference to abrogate, by a majority of two-thirds of the votes of the delegates, any Convention that "has lost its purpose" or "no longer makes a useful contribution to attaining the objectives of the Organization"

Freedom of Association

Meeting on the occasion of the Governing Body session, the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association examined a total of 22 cases, coming to definite conclusions in 17 of them and interim conclusions in five.

The Committee dealt, among others, with a complaint against the Government of Indonesia presented by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the World Confederation of Labour (WCL) and the Indonesian Serikat Buruh Sejahtersa (SBSI) Trade Union alleging denial of union recognition, government interference in union activities, as well as harassment and detention of trade unionists.

Recalling its previous examination of the case, the Committee stressed "the extreme seriousness of the allegations referring to murder, disappearance, arrest and detention of a number of trade union leaders and workers" and deplored "that virtually no remedial action was taken by Indonesian authorities" while, on the contrary, "the seriousness of the renewed allegation leads it to believe that the general situation of workers in Indonesia has not evolved but is still characterized by serious and worsening infringements of basic human and trade union rights and violation of freedom of association principles in law and in practice."

The Committee insisted "that a genuinely free and independent trade union movement can only develop where fundamental human rights are fully respected and guaranteed and that a system of democracy is fundamental for free exercise of trade union rights".

The Committee examined a recent complaint concerning the arrest, on 30 July 1996, of Mr. Muchtar Pakpahan, General Chairman of the SBSI and other union leaders. In all, 30 SBSI unionists were allegedly detained in various parts of Indonesia.

"Believing that there exists a strong presumption, which the Government has not reversed, to the effect that under the cover of allegations of subversive activities, the charges brought against and the measures taken against Mr. Pakpahan are linked to his trade union activities, the Committee urge(d) the Government to take without delay the necessary measures for Mr. Pakpahan's release" and requested the Government to provide it with information on "all anti-union measures against SBSI members and officers following the July 1996 events, including the arrest, interrogation and charges brought against them."

The Committee also examined a complaint, presented by the ICFTU, against the Government of Cuba alleging injuries, detentions, acts of intimidation, harassment and the refusal to grant legal personality to the Confederation of Democratic Workers of Cuba (CTDC).

Noting "that those responsible for acts of anti-union discrimination should be sanctioned", the Committee stated "that measures depriving trade unionists of their freedom on grounds related to their trade union activity, even where they are merely summoned or questioned for a short period, constitute an obstacle to the exercise of trade union rights". It requested the Government of Cuba "to guarantee in law and practice the right of all workers and employers, without distinction whatsoever, to establish independent trade union organizations of their own choosing, outside any existing trade union structure if they so desire (...) and the right to elect their representatives in full freedom".

On a complaint against the Government of Morocco, the Committee noted "with profound concern that the allegations in these cases pertain to numerous infringements of freedom of association, including acts of anti-union intimidation, violence by the police, arrests of strikers and physical assault". These refer in particular to the arrest and ill-treatment of Mr. Moukhbir Mohammed, General Secretary of the Moroccan Labour Union (UMT) on the occasion of a 48-hour strike on 26th July 1994 in Sidi Slimane and the arrest of 11 other workers.

Noting that the Government had not provided its observations in several cases examined over the last years, the Committee requested the Director-General "to take appropriate measures in order to re-establish a climate of cooperation with the Government, including through a direct contacts mission if necessary".

In several cases effect was given to earlier recommendations of the Committee. The Committee noted with interest that a settlement was reached between the Government of Denmark and the country's professional associations concerning legislation on a wage ceiling for the unemployed in the public service. In Malaysia and Romania the dismissal of trade unionists was revoked; in India procedures against trade unionists were suspended and, in Pakistan, the Labour Appellate Tribunal formally allowed the registration of a union.

Programme and Budget

International programmes aimed at promoting workers' rights and democracy, job creation and combating poverty, more and better jobs for women, the elimination of child labour, the promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises and improvements in occupational safety and health stand out among the priority objectives of the Organization in 1998-99.

As part of its follow-up to the 4th World Conference on Women (Beijing, September 1996), the ILO has launched an international programme aimed at more and better jobs for women. This programme focuses particularly on the problem of the feminization of poverty and exclusion. All ILO action programmes will henceforth include elements addressed specifically at women and increased resources will be made available for efforts to promote equality.

The elimination of child labour will continue to be a top priority objective for the future. Efforts will include the development of new international legal instruments focusing on the most intolerable forms of child labour, "especially those that present serious risks and dangers."

The ILO's International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), now operating in some 25 countries, will continue to work to strengthening national capacity to deal with the problem and to promote the development of a worldwide movement against child labour.

Finally, greater resources will be allocated in the regular budget for research into the economic implications of policies to eliminate child labour.

The budget envisaged for 1998-99 totals US$ 557 million, representing a 3.75 percent decrease compared to the budget for 1996-97. It will be submitted for discussion to the Governing Body in March 1997.

The ILO's Governing Body is composed of 28 government representatives and 14 worker and employer members. It convenes three times annually. The Chairman of the Governing Body is Mr. Arrate McNiven (Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of Chile), Mr. William Brett (United Kingdom) is the worker Vice-Chairman and Mr. Jean-Jacques Oechslin (France) is employer Vice-Chairman.