Social dialogue and child labour

The main goal of social dialogue is to promote consensus building and democratic involvement among the main stakeholders in the world of work. Labour law, industrial relations and social dialogue are at the core of ILO member States' economic and social organization. Since its foundation, social dialogue is a transversal hub of the ILO’s action and a constitutional mandate. The Declaration concerning the aims and purposes of the International Labour Organisation (Declaration of Philadelphia) states that “the effective recognition of the right of collective bargaining, the cooperation of management and labour in the continuous improvement of productive efficiency, and the collaboration of workers and employers in the preparation and application of social and economic measures …”

Sound industrial relations and effective social dialogue are a means to promote better wages and working conditions as well as peace and social justice. As instruments of good governance they foster cooperation and economic performance, advance social and industrial peace through negotiated solutions to important economic and social challenges and boost stability and economic progress, thus helping to create an enabling environment for the realization of the objective of Decent Work. The "ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization" (2009) to put the emphasis on that “social dialogue and the practice of tripartism between governments and the representative organizations of workers and employers within and across borders are now more relevant to achieving solutions and to building up social cohesion and the rule of law through, among other means, international labour standards". The Global Jobs Pact adopted by the International Labour Conference of 2010 states for its part, that “Social dialogue is an invaluable mechanism for the design of policies to fit national priorities. Furthermore, it is a strong basis for building the commitment of employers and workers to the joint action with governments needed to overcome the crisis and for a sustainable recovery. Successfully concluded, it inspires confidence in the results achieved”.

Social dialogue as defined by the ILO includes all types of negotiation, consultation or exchange of information between, or among, representatives of governments, employers and workers, on issues relating to economic and social policy, including child labour, and to terms and conditions of work and employment. It can exist as a tripartite process with the government as an official party to the dialogue, for example in the development of public policy – including national action plans on child labour or lists of hazardous work.  Or it may consist of bipartite relations between trade unions and management (or trade union organisations and employers' organisations), Dialogue can be informal or institutionalized and often it is a combination of the two. It can take place at the global, regional, national, sectoral, enterprise or workplace level.

The enabling conditions of social dialogue 

In order for social dialogue to take place, the following must exist:

  • strong, independent workers' and employers' organizations with the technical capacity and the access to relevant information to participate in social dialogue; 
  • political will and commitment to engage in social dialogue on the part of all the parties; 
  • respect for the fundamental rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining; and 
  • appropriate institutional support.

The role of the state

For social dialogue to contribute to the elimination of child labour, the State cannot be passive even when it concerns bipartite relations between employers and trade unions. It is responsible for creating a stable political and civil climate which enables autonomous employers' and workers' organizations to operate freely, without interference or fear of reprisal. Even when the dominant relationships are formally bipartite, the State has a role in providing essential support for the process through the establishment of the legal, institutional and other frameworks which enable the parties to effectively engage in the promotion of decent work and the elimination of child labour.

The role of employers’ and workers’ organizations

Employers’ and workers’ organizations have been the historic pioneers in promoting international labour standards, including those on the prohibition of child labour. The cooperation of employers is crucial in the fight against child labour, because they can help to ensure that their enterprises are free of child labour. They also play a powerful role in influencing those who hire children – often small enterprises in the informal economy. Moreover, national employers’ organizations have the potential to help in the collection of data on the incidence of child labour in various sectors; to influence the development of appropriate national policies on child labour elimination; to partner trade unions and NGOs in the design of relevant responses, particularly vocational and skills training for working children; and to promote public awareness on the wrongs of child labour and the rights of children. The impact of employers’ organizations is not limited to the national level. Through the International Organisation of Employers (IOE), they are also active on the international stage in support of child labour elimination efforts through a variety of capacity-building measures, including the development of guidelines for action.

It was workers’ organizations in the 1860s that first called for campaigns against child labour. Child labour remains an affront to the objectives of trade unions everywhere and is therefore a key entry point for developing workers’ organizations. As mass membership organizations, trade unions bring many strengths to efforts to eliminate child labour. Collective bargaining – as part of social dialogue – is one of the main trade union strategies to combat child labour. As campaigning organizations, trade unions can disseminate new messages and take direct action to influence labour law and practices. As vertically integrated organizations they provide a unique link between the global and the national level on issues related to social protection and children’s rights. Trade unions are well placed to act as watchdogs and to take direct action to prevent child labour and remove children from the workplace and help provide the alternatives of quality education and preparation for the adult world of work. Teachers’ organizations at the national and international level have a key role in promoting Education for All (EFA). Finally, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF) continue to play a central role in promoting child labour elimination as part of wider human rights and development debates.