Review of the meeting held by the Governing Body in Geneva: Freedom of Association

On the third day of our trip to Geneva we attended the morning session of the Governing Body, which looked at the report produced by the Committee for the Freedom of the Association, and was their 374th report.

The reports are used as a way of detailing the global situation regarding Freedom of Association and  drawing attention to alleged actions against workers, trade unions or the ability of employees to bargain collectively that contravene the ILO’s Convention on Freedom of Association.

The report was broken into an initial introduction, which amongst other things highlighted new calls for evidence from government and new cases the committee would be looking at, to then moving into the most serious cases determined by the committee, and recommendations that would follow for each case from the committee.

The session began with the floor being given to a member of the Committee, who began by stating future developments in the committee’s agenda. It was highlighted that a session had been set aside to look at the methods of the committee so as to  to ensure that methods and practices had high clarity and impact.

After noting the positive and constructive manner in which discussions were held

by the committee, there was a reiteration of the urgent calls from the committee to countries highlighted in paragraph 5 to bring forward evidence, as such investigations by the committee had been undertaken without response.

The Employers Group was then given the floor. The Employers’ representative echoed the Committee’s concerns regarding the failure of some governments to respond to the Committee’s request. The Employers’ Group representative also welcomes the reviewing of the Committee’s working methods and the objective of strengthening the effectiveness of the Committee.

The Employers’ representative stated that there was a need to clarify what ‘Freedom of Association’ meant in a modern global context and to thoroughly highlight what was and was not involved within such parameters.

Severe time management issues were highlighted by the committee as a potential obstacle to delivering the highest quality work possible. Looking at the 374th report example, 32 cases had to be analysed and looked at in four sessions, and with importance placed on looking at every case, there is a need to reflect on the time management and allocation of time for the committee. The repercussion highlighted was members of the committee could not attend other Governing Body meetings.

The Workers Group was then given the floor, where the committee’s work was seen to highlight a real impact; behind the facts and figures were real people’s lives being changed by the standards being set regarding Freedom of Association.

Prior to conducting a case-by-case analysis, the committee highlighted two cases (numbers 2318 and 2655), both involving Cambodia and the lack of response by the Cambodian government to the requests of the committee. The Committee expressed its hope that the government, despite not producing information on either case for nearly a decade, would still comply with the committee’s requests.

A further 32 cases were then looked at, starting with an overview of the issues and then an examination of what has happened within the country. Although some countries were praised,  such as Bosnia-Herzegovina which had managed to implement new legislation regarding the freedom of trade unions, other countries were criticised for not dealing with what were seen to be cultures of impunity and a failure to help with the committee’s investigations.

All 32 cases were adopted, although Cambodia responded when discussion of Cambodia’s cases was brought up by the committee. Claiming that economic pressures had prevented the government from responding to the requests of the committee, the Cambodian representative said that the government was committed to cooperating with the Committee to deal with violations of Freedom of Association and also wanted to meet at the next session in May to discuss further the issues faced by the government in dealing with the Committee’s requests.

At the end of the session, after the report was adopted by the chamber, GRULAC took to the floor to highlight that, out of 151 cases, 96 were from Latin America and the Caribbean. Seventeen of the 32 substantive cases were from the same region. GRULAC highlighted a continued commitment in dealing with such violations of Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining, as well as placing its experience at the disposal of the committee, to further help the committee in their endeavours.

Simon Renwick


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