Policy Brief: Incomplete Delegations to the International Labour Conference and Regional Meetings (GB.323/LILS/1)
Ahead of the ILO’s newly appointed position as the leading experts in implementing the UN’s 8th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of ‘Decent Work’; discussions at the 323rd Governing Body Meeting centred on ensuring that the ILO was fully equipped and ‘fit for purpose’. One of the ways the ILO has sought to strengthen its institutional framework is through its decision to task the International Labour Office with the responsibility to regularly report on member country participation in both its International Labour Conferences (ILC) and Regional Meetings. This was in response to concerns relating to the functioning of the ILO’s decision and policy making, which has been affected by recurrent failures by some governments to send full tripartite delegations to meetings.
Failure by a member country to send a full tripartite delegation to meetings is normally referred to by the ILO as either unaccredited or incomplete. An ‘unaccredited’ delegation simply means that a member country has not fully completed the ILO’s credentials form for regional and conference meetings. The form requires countries to specify the persons entitled to represent it and to act on its behalf at an international conference. An ‘incomplete’ delegation, by contrast, refers to the non-attendance of a delegation, whether in full or in part. In 2014, the International Labour Office asked member countries to provide explanations for either unaccredited delegations or non-attendance during June 2010–June 2013. Responses were received from less than half of the seventy countries that were contacted. Most of those governments that did reply claimed that failure to attend was a consequence of financial constraints, internal complexities within the country, scheduling difficulties, or issues relating to their nomination process. As a result, the office found an average of 22 member countries per year were either represented by an incomplete delegation or not represented at all. Taking into consideration these results, this report will analyse the discussions and decisions taken by the 323rd Governing Body on reducing unaccredited and incomplete delegations to ultimately strengthen the ILO’s tripartite system.
The importance of Tripartism
The ILO’s constitutional commitment to tripartism is outlined in Article 3, paragraph 1 of its Constitution. It declares that Member countries must provide full delegations to the International Labour Conference (ILC) composed of four representatives. Two should be Government representatives while the other two delegates should represent respectively Employers and Workers. An equivalent provision was made for Regional Meetings, stipulating that each delegation mirrors that of the International Labour Conference. In order to accredit delegations, article 3, paragraph 5 charges governments with providing accurate information to the Credentials Committee on the employers’ and working organisations consulted in the nomination process. The Credentials Committee in 2008 noted that despite online access codes being sent months before ILO meetings, 28% of member States did not submit their credentials online. Although this number is increasing year on year, the Committee found in 2012 that not all member States clearly identified, in their credentials, the persons nominated as delegates and advisers nor the organisations they represented. Without these Credentials, the information provided by the country cannot be considered as credentials and may be rejected by the Office. Accreditation is vital to the functioning of the ILO, not only because it enables every delegate to vote individually in accordance with the constitution, but also because the failure to nominate or accredit either of the non-governmental delegates stops member countries from voting and thus weakens the ILO’s tripartite system.
At the 56th Session of the ILC (1971) strong emphasis was placed on the importance of member countries adhering to their constitutional obligation to accredit full delegations. In the same year, the Director-General was urged at the 183rd Governing Body Meeting to inquire into the full extent of incomplete delegations at both Conferences and Regional Meetings. This was later extended at the 205th Governing Body Meeting (1978) to cover the cases of member countries failing to send any delegations at all.
Progress was made in 2005 after the adoption of the Interim provisions of the Standing Orders of the International Labour Conference to amend article 5, paragraph 2. This awarded the Credentials Committee with a strengthened accountability mechanism to examine governments that had failed to provide credentials on Employer or Worker delegates. These mechanisms enabled the committee to either refer unsatisfactory government attendance to the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association for action or to the International Labour Conference to issue monitoring measures to reduce the number of unaccredited delegations. However, the 323rd Governing Body Report noted that although the Credential’s Committee is arguably more effective in obtaining on-the-spot information concerning non-accreditation than the Director-Generals follow-up letters, it is still believed that these mechanisms remain underutilized.
Proposed Initiatives and Discussions to strengthen the ILO’s Tripartite System
In response to the concerns assigned to non-accreditation, the 323rd Governing Body proposed to increase the ILO’s awareness-raising activities, through the use of its pre-ILC information sessions, to elevate the importance of accreditation at both regional headquarters and field offices. In response, both the Representative for the Industrialized Market Economy Countries (IMEC) and the African Group applauded the proposal to increase awareness at the regional level as it might result in more conscientious behaviour by governments. However, the Governing Body still urged the Director-General to continue his role in engaging with awareness-raising through regular monitoring letters to member countries that are unable to accredit their delegations at ILO meetings. However, no further discussions were held over alternative strategies to raise awareness.
Cited as one of the main reasons for non-accreditation in the International Labour Office’s Report, the Governing Body focused mainly on discussing the possibility of funding Member countries that claimed to be unable to send tripartite delegations to ILC and Regional Meetings. The report illustrated that non-accreditation figures were two to three times higher for delegations from the Americas and Asia–Pacific regions and in particular those from the pacific islands who’s geographically position from Geneva, incurred higher financial costs. However, the report cautioned that no definite conclusions should be drawn from this evidence due to the small number of responses from governments from these sub-regions.
The reason for discussing the possibility of funding, in whole or in part and under certain conditions, is based upon the constitutional implication that member states who accept the Regional Meeting representation must assume responsibility for its tripartite delegation’s travel and subsistence expenses. Although the Governing Body Meeting agreed that financial constraints were the primary cause of non-accreditation, the suggestion of funding was consensually rejected despite demands for better legitimacy at high-level meetings. Industrialized Market Economy Countries (IMEC) in particular positioned that funding would be harmful the ILO’s constitution as it would wrongly incentivize attendance and create potential inaccuracies when deciding an objective criterion for the few countries it affected. Alternatively, the Employers’ Group suggested that the adoption of ‘Distance Participation’ through the medium of online video calls would be more sustainable for those unable to send full delegations.
International Labour Conference Costs
Moreover the ILO was applauded by its members for adopting the proposal to shorten the Conference from three to two weeks to enable a greater number of member countries to accredit full tripartite delegations to the session. Although GRULAC, The Latin American and Caribbean Regional Group praised the reduction of the ILC length, it suggested that the Governing Body should focus more on assisting delegations in accessing more affordance services and hotels whilst in Geneva due to the high expense. This suggestion was supported by the African Group.
The Governing Body also recognised the need to explore the possible correlations between the failure of member States to fulfil their constitutional obligation and their overall engagement with the International Labour Organisation, by analysing member country convention reporting, attendance and information given to the Committee of Experts. It was also noted in the Governing Body’s discussions that responses to non-accreditation should aim to be more inclusive. Both the representatives of Trinidad and Tobago and the Worker’s Group called for increased inclusion. In particular, the Worker’s Group emphasised the importance of addressing the gender balance within tripartite delegations. Although, the Governing Body requested the process of monitoring inclusion and further analyses of reasons for non-accreditation, no plans were made to expand the ILO’s current practises.
In summary, the ILO’s investigative response in understanding the reasons for both incomplete and unaccredited delegations has led to proactive steps to strengthen its tripartite system of governance. By identifying financial constraints as one of the main reasons for non-attendance, the ILO has adopted proposals to shorten the length of ILC and encouraging the re-prioritisation of attendance at regional levels through awareness-raising activities. Although, the possibility of providing funding to member countries that are unable to send a full tripartite delegation was rejected, representatives believed that more information was needed before committing to providing financial provisions.
 International Labour Organisation, ‘Constitution of the International Labour Organisation and selected texts’, (Geneva, International Labour Office, 2010), p.7
 Ibid., p.5
 International Labour Conference, ‘Report on Credentials’ 101st Session, Geneva, May–June 2012, paragraph 24
 International Labour Organisation, ‘Constitution of the International Labour Organisation and selected texts’, (Geneva, International Labour Office, 2010), p.8
 GB.323/LILS/1, p.4
 ERM.9/D.2, p.1