International Labor Organization


The international labor organization (ILO) is a Geneva-based (Switzerland) branch of the United Nations which deals with the rights of workers across the globe. However, its establishment can be traced to years before the UN was established because it was formed by the Treaty of Versailles when the UN was still known as the League of Nations (immediately after the First World War). International Labor Organization affirms that:

“The ILO was founded in 1919, in the wake of a destructive war, to pursue a vision based on the premise that universal, lasting peace can be established only if it is based on social justice. The ILO became the first specialized agency of the UN in 1946”1.

The organization was crafted with some of the best legal minds in the world. Some of the experts included in the formation of ILO’s framework included social policy experts, politicians, scholars (among others). A combination of these minds developed a framework that was ahead of its time (in 1919) but before they drafted the principles and framework of the organization, they had already sat and exchanged ideas on how to draft the social policy framework of the organization.

However, before the formation of the ILO, some key international players led to the formation of the organization. Some of these organizations included the International Association for Labor Legislation (IALL) and other social organizations such as the Socialist Second International2. The ILO was backed up by a strong euphoria among many countries to make the concept of a “makeable society” a reality (a concept which was centered on establishing social reforms in the society).

A lot of emphasis was also made in balancing elements of idealism and pragmatism. After its formation, 183 countries subscribed to the organization and currently, the organization’s international Labor office is the permanent secretariat of the International Labor Organization. The organization is also administered in several locations across the globe, spanning over 40 countries (but under the leadership of the secretary general). To date, the ILO serves about 46,000 civil servants who are said to serve (or serving) 60 organizations across the globe3.

Since the formation of the ILO, its main task has been the upheaval of international labor standards by ensuring decent conditions prevail for workers across the globe. The labor organization is also considered the main source of knowledge regarding labor standards, policies and regulations regarding workers. The International Labor Organization affirms that “The Organization has established Institutes and centers that provide specialized research, training and support for the ILO’s offices and constituents”4.

ILO is the only international body that sums up the activities of government representatives across the globe (besides workers and employers) who eventually sit and draft policies and regulations aimed at improving the working conditions of workers across the globe. The organization works in a tripartite form where the view of workers, employers, and governments are treated in equal measure. So far, ILO has managed to achieve successfully its goals and this is the reason it won a Nobel peace prize in the year 19695.

This study seeks to comprehend the role that the International labor organization plays in protecting and furthering the rights of workers in New Zealand. New Zealand remains a respected member of the ILO because it was a founding member of the organization and in subsequent years, the country was home to the organization’s deputy member. The ILO has been attending ILO conventions since 1935 and currently, the world body acts as a forum where the government and social worker unions such as the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and Business New Zealand; all which have been instrumental in setting labor standards and administering supervisory practices in the country6.

Moreover, New Zealand has played an active role in mapping out the direction of where ILO is going and how it carries out its activities. To gain an in-depth understanding of the relevance of the ILO in the protection and furtherance of the rights of workers in New Zealand, this study incorporates relevant ILO conventions and declarations as well as the domestic statutory framework.

Conventions No. 87 and 98

Conventions 87 and 88 were formulated, at the same time, to uphold worker rights to associate, organize and collectively bargain for their rights. The implementation of both conventions (in New Zealand) was supposed to be done at the same instance but under peculiar circumstances, only sections of the conventions were carried out. Convention no. 87 and 98 were formulated at the tripartite international conference in 1948 and 1949 (where New Zealand was in attendance) and they were sent to New Zealand for implementation; in the hope that it will be part of the domestic laws of the country.

Convention No. 87 is relevant to the upheaval of worker rights in New Zealand because it seeks to protect the rights of workers in association, and organization7. Both rights are stipulated under the convention in two parts: association and organization. The right of association seeks to give New Zealand workers the right to work for any organization and make their laws (without any government interference)8. Convention 98 gives New Zealand workers the right to organize and bargain as a union (besides ensuring workers are not affected by anti-union laws or similar acts of interference)9. This means that workers in New Zealand can associate their activities around trade unions and have the autonomy to carry out their activities without interference.

In 1998, ILO established a provision in their guidelines titled, “Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work” which reinforces convention 88 and 98, since it upholds the freedom of workers to associate and organize. The core rights stipulated under the provision ensure workers are not subjected to forced labor (through child labor or otherwise). The same provision also upholds anti-discrimination laws. Convention 88 has not been ratified by the New Zealand government but convention no. 98 has been ratified10.

Child Labor

The ILO has played a crucial role in the elimination of child labor practices in New Zealand over the past few years. In 2001, the New Zealand government, in conjunction with the ILO, ratified Convention 182 which sought to protect the rights of children in the workplace environment11. Under convention 182, the New Zealand government is supposed to report to the ILO regarding the programs and practices it is undertaking to eliminate the worst forms of child labor (which is the basic aim of convention 182). As a result of such conditions (stipulated by the ILO), the New Zealand government now has a responsibility of raising awareness about child labor; besides seeking the best way to prevent the practice12.

To make this aim a reality, the New Zealand government is expected by the ILO to come up with effective legislative policies that prevent child labor. Because ILO has very stringent conditions on the New Zealand government, International labor Organization notes that the New Zealand government has the duty of eliminating “all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labor, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict”13. Because of the same regulation, International labor Organization also observes that the New Zealand government also has the duty of prohibiting “the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties”14.

However, in as much as the New Zealand government follows the regulations of convention 182, the convention does not speak against all forms of child employment. For instance, in the fruit picking sector (and newspaper selling industry), children are encouraged to seek employment because it prepares them for the adult life of independence. In the same manner, ILO acknowledges that children can also seek gainful employment that can eventually help them support their families. Convention 182 therefore seeks to prevent the use of child labor, only in practices which are deemed inappropriate for children.

For instance, practices such as child pornography, child trafficking (and the likes) are highly prohibited under the convention. So far, the New Zealand government was able to ratify convention 18215.

Occupational Safety and Health

ILO ensures that the New Zealand government upholds all measures of safety to ensure that factories and companies in New Zealand maintain high safety standards and health obligation for New Zealand workers. This provision is upheld in convention 155 which stipulates that “Each Member shall, in the light of national conditions and practice, and consultation with the most representative organizations of employers and workers, formulate, implement and periodically review a coherent national policy on occupational safety, occupational health and the working environment”16.

This provision ensures that workers in New Zealand are protected from hazardous elements in the organization which exposes them to accidents and injuries. The same provision also ensures that whenever workers in New Zealand suffer such forms of eventualities, they should be adequately compensated for their injuries. The convention therefore puts a lot of pressure on employers operating in the country to ensure that their equipment, machinery and tools are in perfect working condition and do not pose any dangers to their workers, because if it is established by a court of law that certain injuries or accidents occurred as a result of an employer’s negligence, it may amount to a lot of financial damages. International Labor Organization affirms that:

“Primary responsibility for health and safety within the workplace rests with the employer. The employer has duties, in relation to the identification and management of hazards, information, and training and supervision. Employees in turn have to ensure their safety while at work. Employees, their representatives, and employers have a responsibility to cooperate in good faith to establish and maintain employee participation systems”17.

Some of the practices employers are supposed to uphold under convention 155 include, supplying their workers with protective clothing and protective equipment to ensure they are exposed to minimal risk of injury or accidents when working in their companies. Under the same conditions, employers are also required to formulate safety procedures and avail first aid kits (including formulating emergency procedures that should be carried out in case of an accident). These safety procedures need to be undertaken without charging the workers for the extra costs.

ILO has ensured that the New Zealand government lives up to its obligations under convention 155 through the enactment of the health safety and Employment act. However, the same act is limited by New Zealand laws to exclude New Zealand defense forces18. Also, as a result of ILO’s intervention, employers operating in New Zealand are required to keep a record of all accidents that have happened under their watch and these statistics in turn add up to the national statistics on worker accidents and injuries. Also, with regard to the stipulations binding the New Zealand government, the New Zealand injury prevention strategy was developed by the government (in conjunction with the New Zealand business community, and community groups) to add up to the efforts aimed at reducing the prevalence of worker accidents and injuries19.

This duty was further entrenched in the government through the department of labor. This New Zealand government has since established the Workplace Health and safety council which provides leadership, coordination and advice to existing agencies mandated with the duty of upholding workers’ safety standards. International Labor Organization further affirms that:

“Health and safety services are freely provided by the Department of Labor and the Accident Compensation Corporation through the provision of technical information and guidance through their websites and call centers. Furthermore, health and safety inspectors have a duty to help employers, employees and others to improve workplace safety through information and education”20.

Holidays with Pay

Under ILO convention no. 52, virtually all New Zealand workers have a right to take at least six working days (annually) for a holiday21. The six days of holiday are subject to pay and therefore no worker is supposed to be penalized for taking the holiday. Minors are entitled to more holiday days (16days). These regulations are normally enforced by the employment relations Act 2000, Holidays act 2003, minimum wage act 1983 and the minimum wage order 200822.

To ensure this stipulation is correctly enforced, ILO ensured that no other agreement which waivers this right is enforceable. This means that no employer can strike an agreement with an employee to work during the stipulated holiday days because such an agreement would be null and void in the eyes of the law. However, before workers get to enjoy this benefit, they ought to be considered, permanently employed in New Zealand and must have worked for the organization for not less than a year.

Employee Discrimination

The ILO ensures that all New Zealand workers are fairly recruited and treated in the course of their employment. In other words, instances of discrimination are normally prohibited under convention 111 which only allows for exclusion based on the skills and requirements needed for the job23. This means that New Zealand employers are not supposed to deny a prospective employee the right to work (based on unfair criteria such as race, color, religion, creed and the likes).

This provision ensures that New Zealand workers have equal access to employment opportunities, and comprehensively, it upholds the concept of “equality” in the workplace where no one is superior to each other (based on unfair grounds such as race). International Labor Organization emphasizes that “The terms ’employment’ and ‘occupation’ include access to vocational training, access to employment and particular occupations, and terms and conditions of employment”. He further affirms that “Ratifying countries must declare and pursue a national policy designed to promote equality of opportunity and treatment in employment and occupation, to eliminate discrimination”24.

In New Zealand, this condition is normally overseen by several legislative provisions including Disabled Persons Employment Promotion Repeal Act 2007, Employment Relations Act 2000, Equal Pay Act 1972 Minimum Wage Act 1983, Minimum Wage Order 2008, and the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 198725. Other governmental bodies that ensure the above regulations are enforced include the ministry of justice, ministry of social development, ministry of women’s affairs, and the state services commission26.

In other words, if any New Zealand worker feels like he or she has been discriminated on, based on the stipulated grounds (such as race or religion), he or she can seek justice in any of the above institutions. Workers are also entitled to three kinds of reprieves, if it is established that his or her rights were infringed by an employee. They include the right to financial compensation, reinstatement in case of wrongful termination) or the reimbursement of any money lost as a result of the lawsuit.

In addition to this provision, the ILO also requires the New Zealand government to improve equal access of employment for marginalized employment groups such as women and disabled persons. This responsibility is normally undertaken by the ministry of women affairs. An example of one accomplishment that was achieved by the New Zealand government under this provision is the right to “leave” for one parent, when a couple has given birth to a child. In addition, under the same mandate, disabled workers in New Zealand were able to establish sign language as one of the official languages of the country27. These accomplishments have gone a long way in upholding the rights of workers in New Zealand.


This study establishes that ILO plays a vital role in the upheaval of worker rights in New Zealand because it touches on almost every basic right of employees in the country. One basic function is to enforce the commitment of the government in upholding workers’ interests and rights in New Zealand organizations. This has a trickle-down effect because when the ILO sets stringent regulations for the New Zealand government (in upholding the rights and interests of the workers), the New Zealand governments also do the same to New Zealand employers.

Moreover, ILO has a program whereby the New Zealand government is supposed to report to its offices on the progress and programs it has undertaken to fulfill its obligations under the treaty. These stringent conditions are most beneficial to the marginalized worker groups in New Zealand, comprised of women, children and the disabled. From this analysis, we therefore see that the ILO is at the centre of the enforcement of worker rights in the European nation.

Reference List

Honey, Kelly. “Freedom of Association: New Zealand after the Employment Relations Act 2000.” Otago Management Graduate Review 5 (2007): 27 -40.

International Labor Office. Report, Volume 7. New York: International Labor Organization, 1919.

International Labor Organization. Official bulletin – International Labor Office: Series B., Volumes 62-63. New York: International Labor Organization, 1979.

International Labor Organization. Report of the Committee of Experts On The Application Of Conventions And Recommendations (Articles 19, 22 And 35 Of The Constitution): General Report And Observations Concerning Particular Countries. New York: International Labor Organization, 1997.

International Labor Office. Record of Proceedings. New York: International Labor Organization, 2008.

International Labor Organization. “Who we are.” 2011. Web.

Kucera, David. Qualitative Indicators Of Labor Standards: Comparative Methods And Applications. New York: Springer, 2007.

New Zealand Department of Labor. “ILO Conventions Ratified By Nz 2008.”. Web. “The Nobel Peace Prize 1969.” N d. Web.

OECD. Model Tax Convention On Income And Capital: Condensed Version 2010. New York: OECD Publishing, 2010.


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  2. International Labor Organization, “Who we are,” 2011. Web.
  3. International Labor Organization, “Who we are,” 2011. Web.
  4. International Labor Organization, “Who we are,” 2011. Web.
  5., “The Nobel Peace Prize 1969,” n d. Web.
  6. International Labor Organization, “Who we are,” 2011. Web.
  7. International Labor Office, Record of Proceedings (New York: International Labor Organization, 2008), 12.
  8. Kelly Honey, “Freedom of Association: New Zealand after the Employment Relations Act 2000.” Otago Management Graduate Review 5 (2007): 27 -40.
  9. International Labor Organization, Official bulletin – International Labor Office: Series B., Volumes 62-63 (New York: International Labor Organization, 1979), 418.
  10. Kelly Honey, “Freedom of Association: New Zealand after the Employment Relations Act 2000.” Otago Management Graduate Review 5 (2007): 27 -40.
  11. International Labor Office, Report, Volume 7 (New York: International Labor Organization, 1919), 196.
  12. International Labor Organization, “Who we are,” 2011. Web.
  13. International Labor Organization, “Who we are,” 2011. Web.
  14. International Labor Organization, “Who we are,” 2011. Web.
  15. International Labor Organization, “Who we are,” 2011. Web.
  16. International Labor Organization, Report Of The Committee Of Experts On The Application Of Conventions And Recommendations (Articles 19, 22 And 35 Of The Constitution): General Report And Observations Concerning Particular Countries (New York: International Labor Organization, 1997), 25.
  17. International Labor Organization, “Who we are,” 2011. Web.
  18. International Labor Organization, “Who we are,” 2011. Web.
  19. International Labor Organization, “Who we are,” 2011. Web.
  20. International Labor Organization, “Who we are,” 2011. Web.
  21. OECD, Model Tax Convention on Income and On Capital: Condensed Version 2010 (New York: OECD Publishing, 2010), 369.
  22. International Labor Organization, “Who we are,” 2011. Web.
  23. David Kucera, Qualitative Indicators of Labor Standards: Comparative Methods and Applications (New York: Springer, 2007), 127.
  24. International Labor Organization, “Who we are,” 2011. Web.
  25. International Labor Organization, “Who we are,” 2011. Web.
  26. International Labor Organization, “Who we are,” 2011. Web.
  27. International Labor Organization, “Who we are,” 2011. Web.

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