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ILO concludes 87 th Conference Adopts new instruments against child labour

GENEVA (ILO News) - The International Labour Conference today wrapped up its 87 th session which heard addresses by three heads of state and a Nobel laureate, and reached a unanimous decision to adopt a Convention and Recommendation banning the worst forms of child labour.

Press release | 17 June 1999

GENEVA (ILO News) - The International Labour Conference today wrapped up its 87 th session which heard addresses by three heads of state and a Nobel laureate, and reached a unanimous decision to adopt a Convention and Recommendation banning the worst forms of child labour.

The Conference also adopted an unprecedented Resolution against Myanmar for consistent violations of the Forced Labour Convention and failure to respond to repeated rulings by supervisory bodies to put an end to forced labour, a practice which an ILO Commission of Inquiry found to be widespread in the country. The Resolution says that Myanmar's State Peace and Development Council continues "to inflict the practice of forced labour, nothing but a contemporary form of slavery, on the people of Myanmar."

The ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said that in addition to adopting the historic Convention and Recommendation on child labour, the Conference "has renewed the ILO's commitment to technical cooperation and it has prepared a Convention on maternity protection". The Convention on maternity protection will be discussed at next year's Conference. He pledged rapid action on implementing the new Convention on child labour: "I shall take up the question of ratification in all my meetings with government leaders in the months to come."

The Resolution on Myanmar, which says that the "attitude and behaviour of the Government of Myanmar are grossly incompatible with the conditions and principles governing membership of the Organization," was passed by a large majority of 333 delegates for, with 27 voting against and 47 abstaining.

It resolves that "the Government of Myanmar should cease to benefit from any technical cooperation or assistance from the ILO, except for the purpose of direct assistance to implement immediately the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry."

The Resolution significantly restricts ILO's dealings with Myanmar, deciding that "the Government of Myanmar should henceforth not receive any invitation to attend meetings, symposia and seminars organized by the ILO, except such meetings that have the sole purpose of securing immediate and full compliance" with the recommendations.

The Resolution is to remain in force until such time as Myanmar has implemented the recommendations of the ILO Commission of Inquiry to revise legislation in the country (particularly the Village Act and Towns Act) to bring laws into line with the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)and to discontinue practices which conference delegates decried as an unacceptable violation of human rights.

A recent report by the Director-General to the ILO's Governing Body concluded that in spite of Government protests to the contrary "the obligation to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour is violated in Myanmar in national law as well as in actual practice in a widespread and systematic manner, with total disregard for the human dignity, safety and health and basic needs of the people."

The ILO's Committee on the Application of Standards also cited Myanmar for repeated non-observation of two fundamental human rights Conventions: the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) and the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention, 1948 (No. 87). In both cases it adopted a "special paragraph", which it does only in exceptional cases.

As concerns Convention No. 29, it "regretted that the Government had shown no inclination to cooperate with the ILO" and felt that "there was convincing information available that forced and compulsory labour on a very large scale still occurred in Myanmar." In regard to Convention No. 87, the Committee "could not help but once deplore the fact that no progress had been made toward the application of this fundamental Convention."

Child labour Convention: Rapid action in sight

The new "Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention 1999" applies to all persons under the age of 18 and calls for "immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency." An accompanying Recommendation urges ratifying States to declare the worst forms of child labour criminal offences and impose penal sanctions on those who would perpetrate them. The vote on the Convention was 415 in favour, with no objections or abstentions. The Recommendation was voted by 382 votes for, with no objections or abstentions.

"With this Convention, we now have the power to make the urgent eradication of the worst forms of child labour a new global cause," Mr. Somavia said. "This cause must be expressed, not in words, but deeds, not in speeches, but in policy and law. To those who exploit children, forcing them into slavery, debt bondage, prostitution, pornography or war, we are saying, Stop it, now!"

The ILO estimates that some 250 million children between the ages of five and 14 work in developing countries alone. About half, or some 120 million work full time, while the rest combine work and schooling. In some cases, nearly 70 per cent of these children are engaged in hazardous work. Of the 250 million children concerned, some 50-60 million between the ages of five and 11 are working in circumstances that could be termed hazardous considering their age and vulnerability.

Mr. Somavia announced that the ILO will immediately launch a worldwide campaign for ratification - the process by which the Convention is translated into national law and practice - through its International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) and other ILO departments. Many delegates who spoke at the Conference pledged early action for the ratification of the new Convention.

"It is a gift for our children worthy of the millennium," said United States President Bill Clinton who became the first US President to address the International Labour Organization's annual Conference in Geneva who promised that he would push for early ratification of the Convention by the US Senate.

"By giving life to core labour standards, by acting effectively to lift the burden of debt, by putting a more human face on the world trading system and the global economy, by ending the worst forms of child labour, we will be giving our children the 21 st century they deserve," said President Clinton.

Improved Maternity Protection

The Committee on Maternity Protection agreed that the time was right for new international standards, revising the Maternity Protection Convention (No. 103) and its accompanying Recommendation No. 95, to take account of developments since the latest provisions for maternity protection were adopted in 1952.

The adopted Conclusions reflected a number of changes with respect to Convention No.103 as regards the scope of application, maternity leave and additional leave in case of illness due to complications in connection with pregnancy or confinement. Cash benefits should be provided "at a rate which should not be less than two-thirds of the woman's previous earnings or of such of those earnings as are taken into account for the purpose of computing benefits; or by means of a flat rate benefit of an appropriate amount." Medical benefits should include prenatal, confinement and postnatal leave.

The Committee also agreed that it would be "unlawful for an employer to terminate employment of a woman who is pregnant, absent on maternity leave or additional leave (...) except on grounds unrelated to the pregnancy or childbirth and its consequences or nursing." The burden of proof should be on the employer. Furthermore, member States should adopt measures to ensure that maternity does not lead to discrimination in employment. Such measures include a prohibition from requiring a test for pregnancy or a certificate of such a test when a woman is applying for employment - except for work which, under national laws and regulations, is prohibited or restricted for pregnant and nursing women.

The Proposed Conclusions with a view towards a Recommendation contains more specific provisions concerning maternity leave, maternity benefits, employment protection and discrimination, health protection and nursing mothers. They also encourage member States to extend the period of maternity leave to at least 16 weeks.

The first discussion provided the basis for the second discussion next year. The 88 th Conference in 2000 will decide on the final adoption of the new standards on maternity protection which will guide member States in the century to come. Under the ILO Constitution, the new Convention, if adopted in 2000, will come into force one calendar year after receiving two ratifications by member States.

New Programme and Budget sharpens the focus of ILO activities

The Conference delegates examined the Director-General's strategic and budget proposals for the 174 member-State Organization, adopting unanimously a US$467,470,000 budget at the budget rate of exchange of 1.53 Swiss francs to US$ 1 for the biennium 2000-2001 to finance ILO activities around the world.

The current budget increases resources for all regional programmes, with greatest emphasis on Africa and Asia. Net cost savings have enabled a small increase in real terms of US$ 785,000 compared with the current 1998-99 biennium, a sum which will be applied to substantive programme activities.

The ILO's programme and budget sharpens the focus of ILO activities by setting out four strategic objectives for the ILO at the turn of the next century: to promote and realize fundamental principles and rights at work; to create greater opportunities for women and men to secure decent employment and income; to enhance the coverage and effectiveness of social protection for all; and, to strengthen tripartism and social dialogue.

Under each strategic objective, a number of international focus programmes (InFocus) of high priority will concentrate and integrate activities already under way while responding to new needs and demands. InFocus programmes cover the promotion of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the progressive elimination of child labour, reconstruction and employment-intensive investment, economic and social security in the next century, the boosting of employment through small enterprise development, safety and health at work, the investment in knowledge, skills and employability and the strengthening of the social partners.

Global programmes such as the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), the International Programme on More and Better Jobs for Women (WOMEMP), Strategies against Social Exclusion and Poverty (STEP) and the International Small Enterprise Programme (ISEP), cornerstones of the ILO's technical cooperation programme, will fit within the InFocus programmes. The development of a global programme on safety and health at work (Safe Work) is at an advanced stage and a global programme on the promotion of tripartism and social dialogue is being considered.

Technical Cooperation

The Committee on Technical Cooperation discussed the role of the ILO in technical cooperation and adopted a resolution with conclusions which will guide the International Labour Office in its future conception and management of technical cooperation. The last review of this kind took place in 1993.

Participants welcomed the proposal of establishing an integrated, focussed technical cooperation programme guided by the four strategic objectives, and more particularly the eight related InFocus programmes, approved by the ILO's Governing Body, and the Declaration on fundamental Principles and Rights at Work adopted by the Conference in 1998. At the same time, the Office was asked to further upgrade its management, evaluation and monitoring mechanisms in order to maximize impact and visibility. The resolution also highlighted the need for strengthening partnerships with the UN system and the Bretton Woods institutions.

In 1998, the ILO technical cooperation programme represented an expenditure of US$ 94 million and over 1,500 projects on various subjects including the fight against child labour, social exclusion and discrimination; the promotion of employment, micro- and small enterprises, and of occupational health and safety; as well as strengthening trade unions, employers' organizations and social dialogue.

The challenge of global migration

The situation of migrant workers was taken up in the general discussion of the Committee on the Application of Standards. The discussion based on the ILO report Migrant Workers was timely in the light of a recent ILO estimate saying that over 90 million migrant workers and their families were currently residing, legally or illegally, in a country other than their own. The General Survey focussed on the protection and measures to ensure equality of treatment contained in the Migration for Employment Convention, 1949 (No. 97), and the supplementary Convention (No. 143)adopted on this subject in 1975. The Conference concluded that it was necessary to review existing international labour standards, and possibly revise them, to provide adequate protection in this area.

In the next biennium the ILO's activities will reflect the growing importance of labour migration in the global economy. The primary objective should be to help forge an international consensus - which would include sending and receiving countries - on how to ensure adequate protection for migrant women and men and their families, while allowing orderly and advantageous movements of workers in search of better lives.

Another distinguished guest of the Conference, Madam Ruth Dreifuss, the President of the Swiss Confederation, called upon the ILO to resume its pioneering role and to redefine its place in the international community so as to be better prepared to meet the social challenges of globalization.

In a speech to the Conference, Mr Henri Konan Bédié, President of the Republic of the Côte d'Ivoire, launched an appeal for a new vision of development shared by human societies with an ethic linking democracy, globalization, solidarity and justice.

The ILO also welcomed Mr. Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1998, who told the gathering that if globalization is to fulfill its potential, it has to be accompanied by "well-deliberated action in support of social and political as well as economic changes to the conditions that govern our lives and work."

The Conference President was the Honorable Alhaji Mohammad Mumuni, Minister of Labour of the Republic of Ghana. The three Vice-presidents of the Conference were Mr. Ali Khalil (of Syria) for the Government Group, Mr. Tom Diju Owuor (of Kenya) representing the Employers Group, and Mrs. Patricia O'Donovan (of Ireland) representing the Workers Group.

The Conference elected the new members of the ILO Governing Body on 7 June. The period of office of the Governing Body is three years. Elections were held to select the 18 Governments which have elective seats (1) / and the 14 employer and 14 worker members of the Governing Body. Ten out of the total of 56 members of the Governing Body are appointed by member States of chief industrial importance holding permanent seats. (2)


The Conference held a Special Sitting on the situation of workers in the occupied Arab Territories.

The International Labour Conference meets annually. It provides an international forum for discussion of world labour and social problems and sets minimum international labour standards and broad policies of the Organization. Every two years, the Conference adopts the ILO's biennial work programme and budget, which is financed by its 174 member States.

Each member country has the right to send four delegates to the Conference: two from the government and one each representing workers and employers, each of whom may speak and vote independently.

1 Algeria, Burkina Faso, Canada, Chad, Croatia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Islamic Republic of Iran, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Namibia, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela.

2 Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, United States.