What are the core conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO)?

ILO core convetions . What is the role of the organization and how is it reflected in labor policies in different countries?
December 21, 2023

The ILO is often mentioned when analyzing and reporting on labor policies in different countries. What is the role of the organization and how is it reflected in labor policies in different countries? What are the core conventions of the ILO?

United nation, ILO

1. What is the International Labor Organization (ILO)?

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is an international labour agency of the United Nations, founded in 1919. It currently has 187 member countries and aims to set labour standards and to develop and promote programmes and policies for “decent work” for all people.

As for the meaning of the word “decent work” in this context, the ILO defines it as follows

Productive work for women and men in conditions of freedom, equity, security, and human dignity

ILO, Decent work

Labor that pays a fair wage, ensures job security and safe working conditions, provides fair opportunities, provides a social safety net for workers and their families, and allows workers to freely express their opinions.

2. ILO Core Conventions ?

ILO Conventions are ratified by individual countries and are legally binding once ratified. To date, the ILO has adopted a total of 190 Conventions and 206 Recommendations, of which the “ILO Fundamental Conventions” are as follows

  1. Forced Labor Convention (No. 29)
  2. Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention (No. 87)
  3. Right to Organize and Application of Principles Concerning Collective Bargaining Convention (No. 98)
  4. Equal Remuneration of Men and Women for Work of Equal Value (No. 100)
  5. Convention concerning the Abolition of Forced or Compulsory Labour for the Expression of Political Opinion and for Participation in Strikes (No. 105)
  6. Discrimination in Employment and Occupation Convention (No. 111)
  7. Minimum Age Convention (No. 138)
  8. Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention (No. 182)

Among the above core conventions, South Korea has only ratified Conventions 100, 111, 138, and 182 since its accession in 1991, but the Moon Jae-in administration has been pushing for the revision of labor laws that do not meet the standards of the conventions as a national issue, and in February 2021, the National Assembly approved the ratification of ILO Core Conventions 29, 87, and 98, and ratified them in April 2021 (the ratified conventions will enter into force one year later in April 2022).

Of the eight ILO Core Conventions, No. 105, which prohibits the imposition of forced or compulsory labor for expressing political opinions or participating in strikes, was not ratified due to conflicts with domestic conditions such as the South Korean criminal law system and the National Security Act.

3. Effects and implications of ILO membership

Article 6, paragraph 1 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea is defined as follows.

Thus, ratification of an ILO convention makes it legally binding domestically in the country that ratified it. They are also binding internationally.

Treaties concluded and promulgated by the Constitution and generally recognized international laws shall have the same effect as domestic laws.

Article 6(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea

For example, after ratification, the ILO can make recommendations, follow up and file complaints if it believes a country is violating the convention.

This is similar to the powers of other UN agencies.

According to the Moon Jae-in government’s pledge to “realize a labor-respecting society,” it has been working to ratify the ILO Core Conventions by amending labor laws, holding discussions with labor and management organizations, continuing the National Assembly ratification process, and establishing a legal system that conflicts with the Core Conventions.

Of the countries currently affiliated to the ILO,

147 countries have ratified all eight core Conventions, 14 countries have ratified seven (including Korea, Australia, Brazil, etc.), 11 countries have ratified six (India, Japan, Singapore, etc.), five countries have ratified five, four countries have ratified three (China, etc.), three countries have ratified one, two countries have ratified two (the United States!), and one country has ratified four.

There are a surprising number of non-European industrialized countries that have not ratified all eight (US, Australia, India, Japan, Singapore, China, etc.), and it’s a bit surprising that the US has only ratified one, 105.

4. Do we need to ratify all the core conventions?

Most countries in Europe have ratified all the core agreements, and indeed there have been cases where the EU has been accused of violating FTA agreements based on the text of the agreement when the Korea-EU FTA was signed.
(Similar cases occurred during the Canada-EU FTA and the Mexico-EU FTA, in addition to the Korea-EU FTA).

According to Chapter 13, “Trade and Sustainable Development,” Article 13.4, “Multilateral Labor Standards and Agreements,” of the Korea-EU FTA text,

“The Parties undertake to respect, promote and implement in their laws and practices the principles relating to fundamental rights, namely (core conventions…), in accordance with the obligations arising from their membership of the International Labor Organization and the International Labor Organization Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work adopted by the 86th Session of the International Labor Organization in 1998 and its successors.”

In practice, when signing a contract with a company in the EU, this clause is sometimes included.

Of course, although the panel of experts concluded that “there has been no violation of the relevant agreements because they are only commitments, not obligations,” it is a point of contention (or bargaining chip) in international relations, depending on interests and universal human values (known as the reason that lowering the price of goods by restricting basic labor rights, forced labor, child exploitation, environmental damage, etc., undermines the fair trade order),

Especially as Korea, a country that lives on trade, has joined the ranks of internationally advanced countries in terms of economic size and national power, it is important to abide by the Convention as a member of all the permanent international organizations of the United Nations,

As a sovereign and independent country, it can also be seen as an effort to raise the international status of Korea.

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