TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (June09/10)
15 June 2009
Third World Network

ILO workers' rights convention not priority for ratification
Published in SUNS #6715 dated 9 June 2009

Geneva, 8 Jun (TWN) -- The ratification of the ILO's core convention on workers' rights, Convention No. 87 of 1948, is not on the priority list of the United States administration of President Barack Obama, according to a blog post by US academic Prof. Steve Charnovitz.

The convention, "Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise", is one of the core ILO conventions on workers' rights. It was adopted by the ILO in 1948, and came into force in 1950. As of now, 149 countries have ratified it.

At the time it was adopted, the United States, under President Truman, viewed it as a priority for ratification, and Truman's Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, wrote a letter of transmittal when President Truman sent it to the US Senate, for advice and consent.

But the US Senate has never acted on it, even though, at least since 1986 (Punta del Este Declaration launching the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations), the US has been promoting and pushing for inclusion of workers' rights in the old GATT, and since Marrakesh, in the WTO.

In a post on 6 June, "Obama Administration Begs Off Freedom of Association Commitments", at the International Economic Law and Policy Blog,, Professor Charnovitz says:

"On May 11, 2009, the US Department of State sent a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to inform them of the Administration's priorities for action on treaties currently before the Committee.

"Sad to say that the ILO Convention on Freedom of Association and the Right to Organize (No. 87) did not make the list of treaties for which the Administration is seeking Senate action.

"For an Administration that promised change, one would have liked to see the Obama State Department seeking Senate approval of this most important treaty on worker rights. But alas, like the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration has failed to do so.

"In my view, if the Administration is not willing to promote worker rights in the ILO by seeking ratification of the freedom of association convention, then the Administration should stop trying to insinuate worker rights into trade policy and trade agreements.

"And if the Administration is not willing to legalize commitments on freedom of association within the United States then why is it asking Colombia to honour the same ILO convention which the United States is not willing to ratify?

"One hopes that the new Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Kerry, will ignore the Administration's disinterest in freedom of association and schedule the Convention for an early hearing."

Convention (No. 87) concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, in its Article 2, states: "Workers and employers, without distinction whatsoever, shall have the right to establish and, subject only to the rules of the organisation concerned, to join organisations of their own choosing without previous authorisation."

Article 3 of the convention states:

"1. Workers' and employers' organisations shall have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules, to elect their representatives in full freedom, to organise their administration and activities and to formulate their programmes.

2. The public authorities shall refrain from any interference which would restrict this right or impede the lawful exercise thereof." +