Fundamental Labour Standards and Canada

The International Labour Organization (ILO), the agency of the United Nations that deals with labour issues, is seeking ratification of its eight conventions covering fundamental labour standards by 2015. The ILO Core Conventions are as follows:

  1. Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)
  2. Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention, 1948 (No. 87)
  3. Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98)
  4. Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100)
  5. Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105)
  6. Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111)
  7. Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138)
  8. Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182)

These fundamental labour standards conventions provide the framework within which wages and working conditions are determined in member countries that have ratified the conventions. Unless a convention is passed and ratified by its members, the ILO has no mandate to monitor its application and enforcement.

Ratification of a convention is voluntary; however, the ratification makes the convention a legal obligation. Ratifying countries commit themselves to applying the convention in national law and practice and reporting on its application at regular intervals. In addition, representation and complaint procedures can be initiated against countries for violations of a convention they have ratified.

Since 1959, Canada has ratified the ILO fundamental labour standards conventions except for No. 98 – Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining and No. 138 – Minimum Age.

Why is it important for Canada to ratify all of the ILO fundamental labour standards?

Let’s take as an example the ratification of the Maritime Labour Convention. This convention provides broad rights and protections on a wide range of labour topics that affect the world’s more than 1.2 million seafaring workers. The new standard consolidates and updates more than 65 international labour standards related to seafarers adopted over the last 80 years.

According to the National Union of Public and General Employees, ratification of the convention allowed Canada to inspect foreign ships arriving in Canadian ports to determine their conformity with modern labour standards that are already being applied on Canadian vessels. Canada’s ratification is especially significant as it is a major port state with key international ports on both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.

Each of the fundamental labour conventions offers its own benefits, but together they offer one of the best: bragging rights, also known as sending a strong message to citizens and other nations that you respect workers’ rights. Ratifying the conventions—and enforcing them—also “enables the persons concerned to claim freely and on the basis of equality of opportunity, their fair share of the wealth which they have helped to generate, and to achieve fully their human potential,” according to the ILO. That’s something to feel pretty good about.

Indeed, it is difficult to believe that a liberal democracy like Canada, whose citizens’ already benefit from minimum age protection and the rights to organize and bargain collectively, has not ratified all of the conventions. However, the Convention on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining currently stands as the least-ratified of the fundamental labour conventions, so Canada is hardly alone. Perhaps, with the encouragement of the ILO, we will change that by 2015.

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