Did You Know That Only Two Of The Eight International Labor Organization Conventions Have Been Ratified?

Many people seem to be unaware of the ILO conventions which the U.S. has not yet signed or ratified.

Did You Know That Only Two Of The Eight International Labor Organization Conventions Have Been Ratified?

Many millions of Americans work at jobs in numerous industries in which hiring practices, regulations regarding fairness in salaries, the right to unionize as well as the conditions that they work under are determined by the International Labor Organization.  While most people who work throughout the U.S. are well aware of the laws which regulate what employers are required to do for workers, it seems that far fewer people throughout the U.S. are aware of the role that ILO conventions play in determining many aspects of the conditions at their workplaces. 

Most Americans are well aware that their employers are required to adhere to many hundreds, if not thousands of regulations regarding hiring practices, security at their workplaces, workplace safety, equal pay for equal work as well as laws that protect against discrimination and harassment at their places of work.  Most Americans are aware that local city and county regulations regarding labor and workplace conditions have to comply with all state laws, and that all state laws need to be in full compliance with all of the regulations that have been established by various Federal agencies.  However, it seems that far fewer people in the U.S. are aware that all Federal laws need to comply with the terms of the conventions of the International Labor Organization that the U.S. has ratified.  Many people also seem to be unaware of the ILO conventions which the U.S. has not yet signed or ratified.

In this article, I will discuss the six fundamental ILO conventions that the U.S. has not ratified including two which we’ve never signed party to, and I’ll also discuss the two fundamental ILO conventions that we have ratified.

A Brief History Of The International Labor Organization

The International Labor Organization was originally established in 1919.  The ILO was the organization within the League Of Nations which was intended to protect the rights workers throughout the world with regard to fairness in hiring practices, fairness in terms of salaries as well as workplace safety conditions.  The League Of Nations was dissolved in 1946, which was the same year that the United Nations began operating, so in 1946, the ILO became one of the UN’s organizations.  

The Forced Labor Convention

Since I began writing for The Pavlovic Today, I’ve written several articles in which I discuss various international treaties and conventions which the U.S. government has either never signed party to or which we’ve signed party to but we’ve not ratified.  The oldest international convention which the U.S. government has not ratified is the Forced Labor Convention of 1930

Although slavery had officially been outlawed in every country in the world by the end of the nineteenth century, there were still a handful of countries in the developing world in which there had been incidents in which various forms of modern slavery were still being practiced in the early 1900s.  In some of those countries, law enforcement agencies simply lacked the personnel and the funding to enforce anti-slavery laws, while in other countries police had been bribed to turn a blind eye to the continuation of the practice.  There were also a number of countries in the developing world in which people were being paid for the work that they were doing, but in a number of industries, salaries were so low that people were working in near slave-like conditions.  The purpose of the Forced Labor Convention was to end all slavery and near slave-like conditions throughout the world.  The Forced Labor Convention became effective in 1932.

The wording of the Forced Labor Convention is different from the wording of all of the other treaties and conventions that I’ve written about because, in contrast to all of the other treaties and conventions that I’ve written about, the Forced Labor Convention was written prior to the founding of the United Nations.  The Forced Labor Convention is the only convention that the U.S. has not ratified which predates the founding of the UN.   

The U.S. has signed party to the Forced Labor Convention, but we’ve not ratified it, and as of 2020, the U.S. is now only one of a handful of countries in the world whose government has not ratified this treaty.

 When I write articles in which I discuss treaties and conventions which the U.S. has either never signed or that we’ve signed but not ratified, it is usually relatively easy for me to explain the reasons that the U.S. government is hesitant to sign or to ratify the treaties and the conventions that I write about.  However, our reasons for refusing to ratify the Forced Labor Convention are a complete mystery to me.  Our domestic laws regarding prohibiting forced labor have been in compliance with the terms of this convention since the 1940s, but we've not ratified it. 

The Forced Labor Convention does allow for prison labor, and in the U.S., although people who work in prison industries are paid very low salaries, they are in fact paid for the work that they perform.  

 If one were to analyze the history of salaries in relation to gender and race throughout the U.S., one would easily notice very obvious enormous discrepancies back in 1930 when this convention had originally been written, and to a lesser extent, those same inequalities do still exist 90 years later.  The situation regarding inequalities in salaries in relation to race and gender have vastly improved in the U.S. since the 1930s, and the gaps are not nearly as pronounced as they were in the 1930s, but the inequalities in pay levels do still exist today.  

However, although inequalities in salaries based on gender and race are issues which relate to gender rights and racial inequalities, inequalities in salary do not constitute slavery and the Forced Labor Convention does not address the issues relating to inequalities in salaries, or “equal pay for equal work.”  

The Freedom Of Association And Protection Of The Right To Organize Convention 

 In 1948, the International Labor Organization wrote The Freedom Of Association And Protection Of The Right To Organize Convention, and this convention became effective in 1950.  The Freedom Of Association And Protection Of The Right To Organize Convention is intended to ensure that laborers throughout the world have the right to form as well as join labor unions.  While 154 of the ILO’s 187 member states have ratified this convention, the U.S. has never signed a party to this convention.

 Again, this is a mystery to me.  I’m not going to attempt to explain why the U.S. has continued to refused to sign party to this convention since 1948.  During the latter half of the nineteenth century as well as during the first 3 decades of the 20th century, working conditions in factories throughout the U.S. were notoriously harsh, safety standards were often either non-existent or not enforced and there was no shortage of racism and sexism in hiring practices.  Workers in numerous industries had repeatedly tried to establish labor unions, and practices such as union busting and strike busting were commonplace.  

 However, by 1948 when The Freedom Of Association And The Protection Of The Right To Organize Convention was written, the rights of industrial and agricultural workers throughout the U.S. to create as well as to participate in labor unions were well protected.  The rights of agricultural and industrial workers to participate actively in labor unions are in fact better protected in the U.S. than they are in a number of the countries that have ratified The Freedom Of Association And The Protection Of The Right To Organize Convention.

Labor Unions in the U.S. are not perfect, there have been numerous instances in which the administrators of labor unions in the U.S. have been found to have been engaging in business with organized crime.  However, these situations are always investigated by Federal investigators, and the people who were involved have usually ended up being tried and sent to prison.  The links between labor unions in the U.S. and organized crime are no secret, the issue is not likely to entirely successfully resolved anytime in the near future, but this is not the reason that every President since Harry Truman has refused to sign party to this convention. 

The Right To Organize And Collective Bargaining Convention 1949

 The Right To Organize And Collective Bargaining Convention were written in 1949 and this convention was entered into force in 1951.  The Right To Organize And Collective Bargaining Convention is a continuation of The Freedom Of Association And The Protection Of The Right To Organize Convention.  The terms of The Right To Organize And Collective Bargaining Convention include nor specific details about the roles that labor unions can assume with regard to negotiations between laborers and administrators than The Freedom Of Association And The Protection Of The Right To Organize Convention had.

The U.S. has never signed party to this convention, and again the reasons for this escape me entirely because our domestic laws which protect the rights of labor unions to negotiate with corporate management on virtually every single issue that affects hiring practices, laborers’ rights and workplace safety are more advanced than the laws regarding those same issues in a number of the countries which have signed and ratified this convention.

The Convention Concerning Equal Remuneration For Men And Women Workers For Work Of Equal Value (1951)

In 1951, The ILO wrote The Equal Remuneration Convention, and this convention was entered into force in 1953.  As the name of this convention implies, the purpose of this convention is to ensure equal pay for equal work. The U.S. has signed party to this convention, but we’ve never ratified it.

The U.S. has never been free from sexism, racism or ageism, and this becomes very noticeable when we read every reliable study which analyzes salaries throughout the U.S.  However, as the 2020’s begin, we’re now closer than we have ever been at any time in our history to date to closing up the gaps in salaries with regard to gender, race, and age in many professions and industries.  No politicians anywhere in the U.S. have anything to gain by waiting any longer for us to ratify this convention. 

The Abolition Of Forced Labor Convention 1957

In 1957, administrators at the ILO wrote the Abolition Of Forced Labor Convention, and this convention became effective in 1959.  This 1957 convention is a continuation of the 1930 Forced Labor Convention.  Both the Forced Labor Convention as well as The Abolition Of Forced Labor Convention allow for prison labor.  However, in some countries, political dissidents are routinely sent to prisons, and the Abolition Of Forced Labor Convention prohibits requiring people who are in prisons as political dissidents to work in prison labor programs, whereas the 1930 convention had not addressed this loophole.  

 The U.S. has signed as well as ratified The Abolition Of Forced  Labor Convention, which further contributes to the mystery about why we continue to refuse to ratify the Forced Labor Convention of 1930 90 years after the original convention was written because The Abolition Of Forced Labor Convention addresses many of the same issues that the Forced Labor Convention of 1930 addressed.

Employment And Occupation 1958

In 1957, the ILO wrote the Discrimination Convention, and this convention became effective in 1958.  The U.S. government has signed party to this convention, but not ratified it.

Whereas the Equal Remuneration Convention of 1951 had addressed the issue of equal pay for equal work, the terms of the Discrimination Convention are intended to address equality in hiring practices as well as protection against harassment as well as equality in salaries.  It is important to note here that the terms of the Discrimination Convention do specifically mention gender, race, religion, nationalities, and political views, but in 1957, the administrators at the ILO were not yet ready to mention gender identity and LGBT rights in the terms of any ILO conventions. 

As I mentioned when I was discussing the Equal Remuneration Convention, the U.S. has never been free from sexism, racism, and ageism, and sadly this is still reflected in hiring practices.  Harassment in the workplace has never disappeared either.  However, again, as the 2020’s begin, we’re now progressing closer than we’ve ever been to seeing full equality in hiring practices as well as to ending all forms of harassment in the workplace.  And again, there now exist a total of zero (0) politicians anywhere in the U.S. who have anything to gain by our continuing to refuse to ratify this convention.

A recent series of lawsuits which employees filed against the corporate management of McDonald’s in which a number of employees claim that they had been repeatedly sexually harassed at the fast-food restaurants that they’d been working at illustrates that issues relating to sexual harassment in the workplace have not yet been entirely successfully resolved in the U.S.  If our existing domestic laws are not successfully addressing these issues, then perhaps it is time to consider linking our domestic laws to international law.

The Minimum Age Convention 1973

The Minimum Age Convention was written in 1973, and this convention became effective in 1976.  The terms of The Minimum Age Convention require countries to establish a minimum age for which people are allowed to enter into the workforce; this convention is intended to establish a minimum age for which people are allowed to work in jobs in which any physical dangers may be present, while concurrently allowing for the option for people who are younger (usually junior high school and high school-aged teens) to have the option to work at jobs in which they won’t be exposed to any dangers if they want to do so.

 The U.S. has signed party to this convention, but not yet ratified it.  As far as I know, all of our state and Federal laws have been in complete compliance with this convention since it was first written back in 1973.  

 This is yet another complete mystery to me because I cannot think of any members of Congress who would oppose any aspects of this convention.  In the U.S., when a person turns 18 years old, they have the option to apply for any job that they want, and people who are aged 18 and older can join labor unions.  People who are aged 14 through 17 have the option to work in jobs in which no physical dangers are present if they want to, but no one under the age of 18 is ever required to work, and people who are aged 14 through 17 are not legally permitted to work in any jobs in which any physical dangers may be present.  I suspect that if President Trump or his potential successor were to send this convention to the Senate for ratification, nearly all members of the Senate would support ratification this convention.

Child Labor

The U.S. has ratified The Worst Forms Of Child Labor Convention Of 1999.  Despite all of the earlier ILO conventions, by the mid-1990s, child slavery and child prostitution were still being practiced in some countries in the developing world.  These practices are illegal, but in some countries, these practices still persist either because the police do not have enough personnel to investigate people who are engaging in these practices and to enforce the laws which prohibit these practices, or because some law enforcement agencies have become corrupted.  This convention is intended to require all signatory states to enforce their laws which prohibit child slavery and child prostitution.  

The Worst Forms Of Child Labor Convention also continues the terms of the aforementioned Minimum Age Convention with regard to jobs in which physical dangers may be present.  The Worst Forms Of Child Labor Convention includes more specific terms than the Minimum Age Convention with regard to defining which kinds of jobs are considered to be too dangerous for anyone who is under the age of 18 to be allowed to work.  

I recently wrote an article which appeared in the January 18th, 2020 issue of The Pavlovic Today in which I discussed The UN The Convention On The Rights Of The Child (1989).  I’d mentioned that in relatively recent years, occasionally some religious groups such as certain sects of Mormons had been using elementary school and junior high school students to harvest fruits and nuts during school hours and that they were able to get away with this practice because their schools are entirely privately funded, the schools which were involved are not accredited with any state or federal agencies, and the school administrators had claimed that because this practice was consistent with the religious values and the cultural traditions of the communities that they are located within, using young children to harvest fruits and nuts during school hours was within their First Amendment rights.  However, those schools were fined and Supreme Court has stated very clearly that religious groups cannot use young school children to work in agricultural harvests during school hours, even if they claim that this is a part of the religious values and traditions of the communities that they are located in.  Because the U.S. Supreme Court has clearly specifically stated that religious communities and religious schools cannot require children to work in agricultural harvests, the U.S. is in complete compliance with the Worst Forms Of Child Labor Convention.

The fact that the U.S. has ratified the Worst Forms Of Child Labor Convention further deepens the mystery as to why our government still refuses to consider ratifying the Minimum Age Convention because if we’re willing to encourage the elimination of the worst practices which involve child labor, it would seem that we’d likely also be willing to ratify an international convention which protects the rights of people who are aged 14 through 17 to work in jobs which are not at all dangerous if they want to do so.

The 2014 Protocol To The Forced Labor Convention

 The eight conventions that I’ve discussed form the fundamental conventions of the ILO.  More recently, the ILO wrote the 2014 Protocol To The Forced Labor Convention, which was entered into force in 2016.  The 2014 protocol requires national governments to pay compensation to people who were forced to engage in any forms of forced labor which are prohibited by the ILO.  The U.S. will not be able to sign party to or ratify the 2014 protocol until we ratify the original 1930 convention.

The 2020 Elections

As I mentioned in this article, many cities, county, state, and federal laws regarding labor rights have been in compliance with the terms of these conventions for many decades, including the conventions which our government has not ratified or not signed party to.  So, what would the effects be if our government were to sign the fundamental ILO conventions which we’ve not signed and we were to ratify the fundamental ILO conventions which we’ve not yet ratified?

Firstly, whenever a government signs and ratifies an international treaty or a convention, the signature and the ratification send a very clear message to the international community.  A President’s or a Prime Minister’s signature on a treaty or a convention and a government’s ratification of a treaty or a convention let all of the other governments of the world know that a country wants to remain an active partner in the progress of modern international law throughout the course of the twenty-first century, rather than being a country which complies with international law, treaties and conventions only when it is convenient to do so.  As the host country of the main headquarters of the United Nations, the United States is in a unique position to show the rest of the world that international law, treaties, and conventions can continue to ensure that issues regarding labor rights throughout the world will continue to progress throughout the course of this century.

Secondly, while many of our domestic laws regarding labor rights do comply with the terms of these 8 ILO conventions, if our government does not sign the conventions which we’ve not signed and our government does not ratify the conventions which we’ve not yet ratified, there is nothing to prevent our domestic laws from being overturned or violated.  For the past 101 years, The ILO has been the primary body in the world which attempts to ensure that all laborers throughout the world are treated fairly.  If at some point in the future, politicians have very different views about the relationships between laborers and corporate management and laws which are very unfavorable to laborers are proposed in the U.S., there is nothing to prevent such laws from being enacted unless our domestic laws are grounded in international law.

Because we have been in compliance with almost all of the terms of the conventions that we’ve not yet signed party to or ratified, it would initially seem that getting a President to sign the conventions that we’ve not yet signed and then to send the treaties that we’ve not yet ratified to the Senate for approval of ratification would be a relatively easy process.  However, many millions of Americans barely have any idea that the ILO even exists and what the ILO does, many Americans are intimidated by the concept that international law supersedes the authority of our Federal government, and so conventions such as the ones that I’ve discussed in this article may continue to be ignored for many decades.     

As of April when I’m writing this article, it appears that the 2020 general elections will still be held in November.  I’ve never heard President Trump nor anybody in his cabinet mentions The International Labor Organization even once since Donald Trump entered into office in January of 2017.  Joe Biden has had a lengthy career in politics, he may have mentioned the ILO at some point earlier in his career when he was a Senator from Delaware, but as far as I know, he never mentioned the ILO while he was Vice President from 2009 through the first 3 weeks of 2017.  As far as I could find while I was researching this article, no Presidents in recent years have proposed submitting these conventions to the Senate for ratification.  

Later this year as we get closer to the elections I’ll write an article for The Pavlovic Today about the 2020 third party candidates.  So far, the Green Party has addressed some of the issues that the ILO conventions cover, but I’ve not seen any specific references to the ILO on their website.  (The 2020 campaigns have obviously been receiving less attention in the media throughout the U.S. throughout March and the first half of April due to the necessity of covering the present global health crisis.)

Only the President has the authority to sign international conventions and treaties, though all Presidents make the decisions about whether or not to sign party to treaties and conventions with the advice of numerous members of their cabinet staff.  Only the President has the authority to send a convention or a treaty to the Senate for ratification, and only the Senate has the authority to decide whether or not to approve the ratification of an international convention.   

If you feel that the U.S. Federal government has been ignoring these ILO conventions for too many years now, then try to get that message across to any politicians or candidates that you support however you can.  Write to politicians and candidates through their websites.  

 The format for the 2020 Presidential and Vice Presidential debates has not yet been announced.  In some years, the Commission On Presidential Debates has allowed everyone who is a U.S. citizen to submit suggestions for questions which the moderators can ask the candidates during the debates through the commission’s website.  If the commission on debates opens up a section on their website in which members of the public can submit suggestions for questions this year, and if you feel that the ILO conventions are important to you, then the commission’s website is another opportunity for you to suggest that the 2020 candidates for President begin to discuss and address these conventions.

 

 


 

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