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ILO adopts new standards on night work, hazardous chemicals.

The 77th Conference of the International Labor Organization (ILO) met in Geneva, Switzerland, in June of 1990. Highlights of the conference included the adoption of new labor standards on nightwork and the use of hazardous chemicals in the workplace.

Employer, worker, and government delegates from the United States and 138 other countries participated in this year's conference. Speakers included Elizabeth Dole, U.S. Secretary of Labor; Nelson Mandela, deputy president of the African National Congress; and Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Polish prime minister.

The conference adopted a resolution linking environmental protection with employment creation and formulated plans for promoting self-employment worldwide.

To force an end to apartheid, all of the ILO's 149-member governments were urged to maintain and strengthen political and economic sanctions against South Africa.

Conference actions

Nightwork. The conference adopted a new Convention and Recommendation which applies to both male and female workers, and a protocol revising Convention 89 (adopted in 1948) which prohibits nightwork in industry by women.

The Convention outlines measures to protect nightworkers' health, provide maternity protection, assist them in meeting family and social responsibilities, and provide them opportunities for job advancement, along with appropriate compensation.

The Recommendation centers on nightworkers' hours of work, rest periods, financial compensation, health and safety, and social services.

Occupational health. The conference adopted a Convention and Recommendation to prevent or reduce the incidence of chemically-induced illnesses. The Convention proposes to:

* Provide guidelines for evaluating

chemicals to determine their


* Provide employers with a

mechanism to obtain information from

suppliers in order to set up

effective protection.

* Provide workers with necessary

information for their participation

in protection programs.

The Convention's protective measures include standards for classifying all chemicals; compulsory labeling of all chemicals; and, for hazardous chemicals, data sheets showing identity, supplier, classification, hazards, safety precautions, and emergency procedures.

The new standard stipulates that the workers "shall have the right to remove themselves from danger resulting from the use of chemicals when they have reasonable justification to believe there is an imminent and serious risk to their safety or health."

Also, when the use of hazardous chemicals is prohibited in an exporting country, the importing country must be notified.

Other issues

In 1991, the conference will consider adoption of new standards on improving working conditions in the hotel and restaurant industries. The plan is to ensure that all workers in these industries are covered by minimum standards concerning hours of work, rest periods, paid annual leave, and social security entitlements.

The conference stressed the need for adequate social protection and respect for international labor standards for self-employed workers, pointing out that self-employment contributes to economic growth, alleviates unemployment and poverty, and helps create a more flexible economic environment.

An environmental resolution adopted by the conference called for governments, employers, and employees to cooperate in achieving full employment in a clean and healthful workplace. In addition, it adopted a resolution appealing for greater international cooperation in assisting the newly independent Namibia.

In his address to the conference, Nelson Mandela praised the 149-nation ILO for its "commitment to the struggle to end the evil system of apartheid." He called on the international community to maintain its economic sanctions against South Africa, explaining, "Sanctions were imposed as a peaceful means to end apartheid. Given the fact that apartheid has not ended, it is only logical that we should continue to use this weapon of struggle." Mandela noted that the "new" South Africa "will have to ratify the conventions that the ILO adopted over the decades, to ensure that the humane purposes intended by the promulgation of those conventions are realized in our country as well."

Employer behavior in two countries

The efforts made by employers in the United States to escape from the pressures of unions and collective bargaining have been quite successful. Between the mid-1950's and the mid-1970's employers made modest "progress" in pushing back the tide of collective bargaining. Over the past decade, however, industrial democracy in America has been in rapid rather than merely slow retreat. At the high watermark of collective bargaining in the 1940's about 40 percent of American workers were covered by collective agreements; today the figure is perhaps only 20 percent. In Canada, by contrast, the coverage of collective bargaining made fairly steady progress in the postwar period before leveling off in the 1980's at about 45 percent of the labor force.

--Roy J. Adams "North American Industrial Relations: Divergent Trends in Canada and the United States," International Labour Review Vol. 128, No. 1, 1989, p. 54.
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Title Annotation:Foreign labor development; International Labor Organization
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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