Introduction to ILO

Who we are
ILO Tripartite constituents

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is the only tripartite U.N. agency with government, employer, and worker representatives. This tripartite structure makes the ILO a unique forum in which the governments and the social partners of the economy of its 183 Member States can freely and openly debate and elaborate labour standards and policies.

International Labour Office
The International Labour Office is the permanent secretariat of the International Labour Organization. It is the focal point for International Labour Organization’s overall activities, which it prepares under the scrutiny of the Governing Body and under the leadership of the Director-General.

The Office employs some 2,700 officials from over 150 nations at its headquarters in Geneva, and in around 40 field offices around the world. Among these officials, 900 work in technical cooperation programmes and projects.

The Office also contains a research and documentation centre.

ILO Director-General
A new Director-General is elected every five years by the Governing Body. Subject to the instructions of the Governing Body, the Director-General is responsible for the efficient conduct of the International Labour Office and other duties as may be assigned.

The current Director General, Mr. Juan Somavia was elected to serve as the ninth Director-General of the ILO by the Governing Body on 23 March 1998. His term of office began on 4 March 1999, when he became the first representative from the Southern hemisphere to head the Organization. Mr. Somavia was re-elected for a second five-year term in March 2003 and for a third term on 18 November 2008.

ILO Administrative Tribunal
The Tribunal examines employment-related complaints from officials of the International Labour Office and of the other international organizations that have recognized its jurisdiction.

The Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organization is the heir of the Administrative Tribunal of the League of Nations, which was competent from 1927 to 1946 to hear complaints against the Secretariat of the League of Nations and against the International Labour Office. Since 1947 the Tribunal has heard complaints from serving and former officials of the International Labour Office and of the other international organizations that have recognized its jurisdiction. It is currently open to approximately 46,000 international civil servants who are serving or former officials of some sixty organizations.

The Tribunal is composed of seven judges who must be of different nationalities, as was the case for the Administrative Tribunal of the League of Nations. They are appointed by the International Labour Conference on a recommendation of the Governing Body of the International Labour Office for a renewable period of 3 years.

The Tribunal meets twice a year, in spring and autumn, for a period of 3 weeks, at the headquarters of the ILO in Geneva. At each session it delivers approximately fifty judgments.

The Tribunal is serviced by a Registry, comprising a Registrar and a small team of legal officers. The Registry’s secretariat receives the documents submitted in the course of the proceedings and replies to requests for information.

ILO Centres and Institutes
The ILO is a major resource centre for information, analysis and guidance on the world of work. Research accompanies and reinforces all of the Organization’s standard-setting and technical cooperation activities and the ILO is universally regarded as an authoritative source of knowledge on the world of work. Its institutes and Centres are specialized departments of the Organization which provide specialized support for ILO’s offices and constituents.

International Institute for Labour Studies
The ILO International Institute for Labour Studies in Geneva promotes policy research and public discussion on emerging issues of concern to the ILO and its constituents – labour, business and government.

The organizing theme of the Institute’s programmes is the notion of “decent work”. The Institute’s programmes seek to contribute to the development of the analytical and empirical foundations of decent work and a broader understanding of the policy instruments necessary to implement it in practice.

The Institute provides:

  • International research programmes and networks linking academics with business, labour, and government practitioners, to explore emerging policy issues of potential relevance for the ILO and contribute to policy formulation.
  • Educational programmes to assist trade unions, employers’ organizations and labour administrations in developing their institutional capacities for research, analysis, and policy formulation in the economic and social fields.

The Institute’s means of action include research, workshops and seminars, internship programmes, a visiting scholar programme and publications. The Institute’s programmes draw upon the ILO’s operational experience, its field structure and its unique global databases on development policy and social legislation in over 170 countries.

International Training Centre of the ILO
As skilled human resources are central to the pursuit of decent work, in 1965, the ILO established its training arm in Turin, Italy, to assist countries in their social and economic development through training. Working in close partnership with regional and national training institutions, the Centre contributes to disseminating the ILO’s principles and policies, and to strengthening the capacity of national institutions to implement relevant programmes, in line with its strategic objectives.

It offers training/learning opportunities and related services to decision makers, managers, practitioners and trainers from governments, workers’ organizations, employers’ organizations and their partner institutions. It has partnerships with regional and national training institutions and its services are available to the United Nations system as a whole, including ILO staff.

To date, over 90,000 women and men from 170 nations have benefited from its services since it opened in 1965. The annual number of activities exceeds 300 standard courses, customized learning events, comprehensive training projects, advisory services, and training material design and production. Around half the activities take place on-campus and the rest in the field. Besides group training, the Centre organizes, on request, learning programmes for individuals who are placed in public and private institutions and organizations. Increasingly, it uses information technology, including the Internet, to offer distance learning and tutoring services.

Course calendar for the International Training Centre, Turin
The Inter-American Centre for Knowledge Development in Vocational Training (OIT/CINTERFOR)

The Inter-American Centre for Knowledge Development in Vocational Training (ILO/Cinterfor) is a technical service of the ILO, with the mission of the development of a permanent learning and horizontal cooperation community among the national organizations in charge of vocational training. It works as the core of a system integrated by vocational training-related institutions and organisations belonging to ILO Member States in the world.

International Occupational Safety and Health Information Centre (CIS)

CIS is the knowledge management arm of SafeWork of the International Labour Organization (ILO). Its goal is to ensure that workers and everyone concerned with their protection have access to the facts they need to prevent occupational injuries and diseases. The network of CIS Centres contributes to the exchange of information among persons responsible for the establishment and implementation of national policies and programmes.

CIS continuously monitors world literature on occupational safety and health through its contacts with publishers and with about 150 centres at the national and regional level around the world. In addition to covering up-to-date OSH literature, CIS also provides a basic reference service to its worldwide users by delivering information on conferences and educational opportunities in the OSH field, as well as in maintaining directories of various kinds.

CIS was founded in 1959 as a joint endeavour of the ILO, the International Social Security Association (ISSA), the European Coal and Steel Community (one of the predecessors of the European Union) and occupational safety and health institutions in 11 European countries. Very quickly, the CIS network of centres expanded to include members from other continents, and by now it has grown to cover 110 countries all over the world.

Mission and objectives

The primary goal of the ILO today is to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.” - Juan Somavia, ILO Director-General

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is devoted to promoting social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights, pursuing its founding mission that labour peace is essential to prosperity. Today, the ILO helps advance the creation of decent work and the economic and working conditions that give working people and business people a stake in lasting peace, prosperity and progress. Its tripartite structure provides a unique platform for promoting decent work for all women and men. Its main aims are to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue on work-related issues.

The ILO has four strategic objectives

  1. Promote and realize standards and fundamental principles and rights at work
  2. Create greater opportunities for women and men to decent employment and income
  3. Enhance the coverage and effectiveness of social protection for all
  4. Strengthen tripartism and social dialogue

In support of its goals, the ILO offers unmatched expertise and knowledge about the world of work, acquired over more than 90 years of responding to the needs of people everywhere for decent work, livelihoods and dignity. It serves its tripartite constituents – and society as a whole – in a variety of ways, including:

  1. Formulation of international policies and programmes to promote basic human rights, improve working and living conditions, and enhance employment opportunities
  2. Creation of international labour standards backed by a unique system to supervise their application
  3. An extensive programme of international technical cooperation formulated and implemented in an active partnership with constituents, to help countries put these policies into practice in an effective manner
  4. Training, education and research activities to help advance all of these efforts

Decent work agenda

Promoting Decent work for all

Work is central to people’s well-being. In addition to providing income, work can pave the way for broader social and economic advancement, strengthening individuals, their families and communities. Such progress, however, hinges on work that is decent. Decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives.

The ILO has developed an agenda for the community of work. It provides support through integrated Decent Work Country Programmes developed in coordination with its constituents. Putting the Decent Work Agenda into practice is achieved through the implementation of the ILO’s four strategic objectives, with gender equality as a crosscutting objective:

  1. Creating Jobs – an economy that generates opportunities for investment, entrepreneurship, skills development, job creation and sustainable livelihoods.
  2. Guaranteeing rights at work – to obtain recognition and respect for the rights of workers. All workers, and in particular disadvantaged or poor workers, need representation, participation, and laws that work for their interests.
  3. Extending social protection – to promote both inclusion and productivity by ensuring that women and men enjoy working conditions that are safe, allow adequate free time and rest, take into account family and social values, provide for adequate compensation in case of lost or reduced income and permit access to adequate healthcare.
  4. Promoting social dialogue – Involving strong and independent workers’ and employers’ organizations is central to increasing productivity, avoiding disputes at work, and building cohesive societies.

An ILO concept, an international consensus
The Decent Work concept was formulated by the ILO’s constituents – governments and employers and workers – as a means to identify the Organization’s major priorities. It is based on the understanding that work is a source of personal dignity, family stability, peace in the community, democracies that deliver for people, and economic growth that expands opportunities for productive jobs and enterprise development.

Decent Work reflects priorities on the social, economic and political agenda of countries and the international system. In a relatively short time this concept has forged an international consensus among governments, employers, workers and civil society that productive employment and Decent Work are key elements to achieving a fair globalization, reducing poverty and achieving equitable, inclusive, and sustainable development.

Making Decent Work a global goal and a national reality

The overall goal of Decent Work is to effect positive change in people’s lives at the national and local levels. The ILO provides support through integrated Decent Work Country Programmes developed in coordination with ILO constituents. They define the priorities and the targets within national development frameworks and aim to tackle major Decent Work deficits through efficient programmes that embrace each of the strategic objectives.

The ILO operates with other partners within and beyond the UN family to provide in-depth expertise and key policy instruments for the design and implementation of these programmes. It also provides support for building the institutions needed to carry them forward and for measuring progress. The balance within these programmes differs from country to country, reflecting their needs, resources and priorities.

Progress also requires action at the global level. The Decent Work agenda offers a basis for a more just and sustainable framework for global development. The ILO works to develop “decent work”-oriented approaches to economic and social policy in partnership with the principal institutions and actors of the multilateral system and the global economy.

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