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The ILO Regular Supervisory System: A Model in Crisis?

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The right to strike has always been of fundamental importance to both workers and employers at the national level. However, the globalization of production has instilled it with renewed significance for their organizations at the international level. Beyond this fundamental substantive issue, there is also an equally fundamental institutional issue at stake for the International Labour Organization (ILO). This is the so-called “regular supervisory system”, which combines two complementary types of review and assessment of the action Members have taken to meet their obligations under ratified Conventions: an objective and impartial review conducted by the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations; and a more political and moral review exercised through the Conference Committee on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations. In June 2012, the effectiveness of this system was called into question when employers criticized the historical interpretations of ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association as building up a detailed and expansive right to strike, and retaliated by blocking the adoption of the proposed list of cases to be examined by the Conference Committee. For the first time in its existence, the Applications Committee and the Conference found themselves unable to fulfil what is considered to be the ILO’s core function. This crisis is unlikely to be just a passing episode. This paper considers how this crisis might be avoided or resolved. By unearthing the deep and bifurcated roots of this twin crisis of political support and of systemic sustainability, it suggests that any durable solution to the crisis needs to take into account a dual objective: first, rebuilding a tripartite compact around the supervisory system; and second, restoring institutional balance foreseen in the ILO Constitution.

Affiliations: 1: Former Legal Adviser, International Institute for Labour Studies, Route des Morillons 4 CH, 1202, Geneva


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