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Public International Law: International Labour Law

This guide will help you find resources for researching public international law.

INTERNATIONAL LABOUR LAW

Encyclopaedias

The Max Planck Encyclopedia includes the following chapters:

Labour Law, International by Franz Christian Ebert & Claire La Hovary - This chapter includes sections on historical development, sources of international labour Law & selected areas of international labour law.

Work, Right to, International Protection by Angelika Nußberger - this chapter includes sections on the historical development of the right to work (in national constitutions and international law - including binding international instruments and soft law), the definition and nature of the right to work, Comments and Jurisprudence on the Right to Work, the Major Components of the Right to Work, Protection of the Right to Work of Vulnerable Groups, and Actual Trends and Developments on the National and International Levels.

International Labour Organization (ILO) by Heiko Sauer - This chapter includes the historical background and development of the ILO, its basic Features and special legal problems, its relationship with other international organisations, and an evaluation of the organisation.

The Kluwer Encyclopaedia of Labour Law includes:

  • 8 books on international labour law 
  • 60 detailed country monographs 
  • international case law from the International Court of Justice, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, and the Jurisprudence of the ILO Administrative Tribunal
  • regional caselaw from the Court of Justice of the European Communities, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
  • international instruments from the ILO and UN
  • regional instruments from the ANDEAN Group, European Union, Council of Europe and Other Instruments, Organisation of American States, League of Arab States, North American Free Trade Agreement, Nordic Countries: Treaty of Cooperation, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 

NOTE: while these publications are a good starting point for your research, some of the commentary is several years old, so the law may have changed - so be aware that you may need to check eg: national legislation on official government legislation websites to ensure currency, and the ILO databases for up to date status of conventions and recent caselaw.

Print and E-Books

Journals

Finding Journal Articles on International Labour Law

ILO LibraryLabordoc is the ILO Library's database of work-related academic journals, electronic resources, eBooks, news articles, books, reports etc. Labordoc provides all ILO publications, as well as comprehensive coverage of work-related material from more than 500 open access journals. Although Labordoc's coverage is comprehensive, it is not exhaustive, as articles are selected for inclusion. There is a sophisticated search engine, and specific topic collections are also available. powerful search engine, and focused on digital research.

University of Melbourne Library: to find journal articles on international labour law in the University of Melbourne collections, we recommend using the following indexing / abstracting and full text article databases:

AGIS on INFORMIT - Australasian journal articles (UniMelb staff & student access)

Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals on HEIN Online - scholarship from journals from legal journals from jurisdictions (mainly non-common law) not covered by the major indexing services. Coverage from mid-1980s (UniMelb staff & student access)

Index to Legal Periodicals - mainly US, Canadian and UK coverage - but also articles in Australian, New Zealand etc journals. Coverage from the mid-1980s (UniMelb staff & student access) 

International Yearbooks & Periodicals on HEIN Online. Full text coverage from the first volume of each title. (UniMelb staff & student access) 

Legal Journals Index on Westlaw UK - UK and EU journal articles) (UniMelb staff & student access

Legaltrac - mainly US, Canadian and UK coverage - but also articles in Australian, New Zealand etc journals. Coverage from mid-1980s.  (UniMelb staff & student access)

Legal Scholarship Network on SSRN - pre-publication scholarly articles accepted for publication in academic journals. This is the best research tool for finding very recent literature (open access)

Specific International Labour Law Journals

International Journal of Labour Research 

  • e-journal (UniMelb staff & students)
  • vol 1 (2009) to current

International Labour Review

  • e-journal (UniMelb staff & students)
  • vol (1921) to current 

ILO Reports & Research Papers

ILO Research Papers - feed to recent papers

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News & Blogs

Newsfeed from the ILO

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Blog from the multinational law firm Proskauer.

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Blog from the Squire Patton Bloggs Law Firm

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What is International Labour Law?

International labour law is the body of international legal norms which regulates issues concerning work. International labour law covers both the substantive rules of law established at the international level and the procedural rules relating to their adoption and implementation at the national level.

Source: L Swepston, 'International Labour Law' in Roger Blanpain (ed), Comparative Labor Law and Industrial Relations in Industrialized Market Economies (Kluwer, 10th ed, 2010) 141. Law Library KB 224 COMP

Sources of International Labour Law

INTERNATIONAL LABOUR ORGANIZATION

The principal international institution that develops and enforces international labour law is the International Labour Organization (ILO), a specialised agency of the United Nations with the mandate to promote social justice and internationally recognised human and labor rights. 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's labour standards form the majority of the sources of international labor law.

  • The objectives of the ILO are contained in the Preamble to the ILO Constitution, and the Annex to the Constitution, entitled Declaration concerning the aims and purposes of the International Labour Organisation (the 'Declaration of Philadelphia'). These objectives form the basis for the formation of the international labor standards.
  • ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. This declaration is binding on all Member States and commits them to respect and promote principles and rights in four categories, whether or not they have ratified the relevant Conventions.These four categories are: freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour, the abolition of child labour and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation (Article 2).

OTHER SOURCES OF INTERNATIONAL LABOUR LAW

Treaties adopted outside the ILO framework, and certain rules of customary international law also form part of international labour law. 

A number of UN Human Rights Conventions create international labor law. Many of the rights and obligations conferred by UN Treaties include some that are intended to be exercised specifically in the context of employment, such as the rights to equal pay and to join and form trade unions. In addition, UN instruments confer rights that are intended to be exercised generally, but also affect the employment relationship. For example, instruments that guarantee free association require that individual workers should have the right to form and join trade unions. UN Human Rights Declarations, Covenants and Conventions that form part of international labor law include:

For more information on the Human Rights Conventions, see the Human Rights Law Research Guide.

Australia - incorporation of ILO Conventions in Domestic Legislation

Under Australian law, ratification of a treaty does not give it binding force domestically - a treaty only becomes part of Australian law as a ‘direct source of individual rights and obligations’ when it is incorporated into domestic legislation (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs v Ah Hin Teoh (1995)183 CLR 273 [25]).

Of the 7 fundamental ILO Conventions ratified by Australia, only one has been explicitly incorporated into Australian domestic legislation: the  Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 has been implemented by the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) as Schedule 1.

However, when Australia is a party to a treaty but  has not implemented this domestically by legislation, there is a presumption that when enacting legislation, Parliament, prima facie, intends to give effect to Australia's obligations under international law (High Court of Australia - Mason CJ and and Deane J in Teoh (1995) 183 CLR 273 [26]). In addition to this judicial interpretation of Australian statutes, one of the explicit objects of Australia’s primary statute governing industrial relations, the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), is to ‘take into account Australia’s international labour obligations’ (s 3(a)).

To see if any ILO Conventions other than the Fundamental Conventions have been ratified by Australia and implemented by Australian Commonwealth legislation, use the Federal Register of Legislation:

Click Search, then Advanced Search

Type the name of the Convention into the Exact Phrase box

Select Full text including title and brief description in the Content drop down box

Select Acts in the Type box

 

Caselaw

Interpretation of Conventions

Member States may ask the ILO to interpret the meaning of an international labor standard. Various ILO organs offer interpretations of Conventions, which are treated as authoritative by member States and form a body of ‘case law’ which gives content to the obligations imposed by Conventions and Recommendations. If a member state requests a formal interpretation of a Convention, the decision will be published in the ILO’s Official Bulletin and circulated to all member states.

(source: Marilyn J Pittard and Stuart Butterworth, 'The rich panoply of sources of labor law: National, regional and international' in Matthew W Finkin and Guy Mundlak (eds), Comparative Labor Law (Edward Elgar, 2015) 51)

Cases: the following print resources and databases contain cases on International Labour Law:

International survey of legal decisions on labour law (1925-1938) KB 224 INTE (on Level 5 of the Law Library)

  • This series contains only domestic cases in England, France, Germany, Italy and the US which substantively consider ILO Conventions. It also provides useful summaries of the labour laws of each jurisdiction.

ILO Compendium of Court Decisions (open access)

This ILO database contains selected judicial decisions in which domestic and international courts have relied on international labour standards and other international legal instruments to resolve the cases brought before them. The cases included in the database concern not only disputes arising from the world of work but also decisions on human rights outside the sphere of the world of work but still relevant to it. The decisions are presented in the form of summaries underlining how international law was used in each specific case. Decisions can be accessed by searching or browsing via three indexes:

  1. by country (in the case of decisions of domestic courts)
  2. by courts (in the case of decisions of international courts)
  3. by subject

International Labor Rights Case Law: Annotated Jurisprudence on Fundamental Rights at the Workplace 
(vol 1, 2015+) (UniMelb staff and student access)

This online caselaw database from Brill focuses primarily on recent jurisprudential developments relating to fundamental rights at the workplace. The database reproduces the relevant texts of key international cases, drawing upon the decision of regional and international mechanisms, such as the ILO Committees, the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights as well as key national courts such as the United States Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of India. It also contains commentaries on selected decisions from leading international labor law academics from around the world.

The Kluwer Encyclopaedia of Labour Law (UniMelb staff & student access) 

The Encyclopaedia includes international case law from the Permanent Court of International Justice, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, and the Jurisprudence of the ILO Administrative Tribunal.

ILO Committee on Freedom of Association Cases (open access)

Search or browse all CFA cases on NORMLEX. Since its inception in 1951, the Committee has examined over 3000 cases covering over 60 countries. Cases can be searched, or browsed by eg: country, status of case, or type of documentation.

The ILO Administrative Tribunal (open access)

The Tribunal hears complaints by serving or former staff members against arbitrary administrative decisions by international organisations which have recognised the jurisdiction of the Tribunal .

More information on the Tribunal. 

More information on the international organisations that have recognised the jurisdiction of the Tribunal. 

All Tribunal decisions are available on the TRIBLEX caselaw database. Decisions can be browsed by sessionorganisation or keyword, and searched by term, date, organisation, session, keyword, or judgment number. The enabling statute and rules of the Administrative Tribunal are also on TRIBLEX.

Australian Cases considering ILO Conventions

The ILO Compendium of Court Decisions and the International Labor Rights Case Law: Annotated Jurisprudence on Fundamental Rights at the Workplace referred to in the Caselaw box above contain selected decisions from domestic courts ie: those considered legally significant and / or those that contain substantive discussion of an ILO Convention. To find all Australian cases mentioning ILO Conventions, use JADE (open access):

  • Select JADE Browser from the top menu
  • use the Advanced Search feature
  • Type the Convention into the TEXT box, selecting WHOLE DOCUMENTS
  • Select ALL COURTS from the COLLECTION drop down menu

International Labour Standards

International labour standards are a comprehensive set of legal instruments that establish basic principles and rights at work, with a goal to improve working conditions on a global scale. The Conventions and Recommendations of the ILO form the international labor standards. Conventions are legally binding international treaties that may be ratified by member states. Recommendations are non-binding guidelines. In many cases, a convention lays down the basic principles to be implemented by ratifying countries, while a related recommendation supplements the convention by providing more detailed guidelines on how it could be applied. Recommendations can also be autonomous, ie: not linked to a convention.

The standards are backed by a supervisory system designed to address their application at the national level.

Source: ILO Labour Standards website

More on International Labour Standards, their benefits, how they are created and how they are used

International Labour Instruments - Conventions and Recommendations

The ILO NORMLEX International Standards and Instruments database contains all Conventions, Protocols to Conventions, and Recommendations. These can be also be viewed by subject and status.

  • To date there are 155 Conventions in force, 6 Protocols and 204 Recommendations.

Ratification of all Conventions can be searched, or browsed by country/ region or Convention.

The ILO's Governing Body has identified eight conventions as 'fundamental', covering subjects that are considered as fundamental principles and rights at work. The eight fundamental conventions are:

1. Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to  Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87) 

2. Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98) 

3. Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) 

4. Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105) 

5. Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) 

6. Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) 

7. Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100) 

8. Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111) 

The Table of ratifications of the fundamental conventions  can be sorted by country, regions or number of ratifications.

Source: ILO Ratifications on NORMLEX

ILO Conventions: background and preparatory work

This collection - on the Labordoc database - provides the background and preparatory work for all ILO Conventions. It includes preparatory reports, discussions at the International Labour Conference, committee reports, votes and texts of the Convention. It covers all up-to-date Conventions and 5 Protocols.

ILO Conventions - Individual & Comparative Country Information

The NORMLEX - Country profiles include: membership information; ratifications; reporting requirements; comments of the ILO's supervisory bodies (CEACR, Conference Committee and CFA), and national legislation.

The NORMLEX Ratifications database provides comparative ratification status by country and instrument.

The Legal Protection database contains information relevant to the legal status of the ILO in its member States and certain other states. The database can be browsed by region, country or instrument, and can also be searched.

The ILO Supervisory System - Reporting

REPORTING

General Surveys

Under Article 19 of the ILO Constitution, member States are required to report on non-ratified Conventions and on Recommendations at regular intervals, at the request of the Governing Body, indicating the extent to which effect has been given or is proposed to be given to those instruments. On the basis of article 19, the Committee of Experts publishes an in-depth annual General Survey on member States' national law and practice, on a subject chosen by the Governing Body. General Surveys are available from 1985 to current.  

Regular Reports on Ratified Conventions

Member States must report regularly to the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) on the measures which they have taken to give effect to ratified ILO conventions (Article 22 of the ILO Constitution). Additionally, Member States have to present the state of domestic law and practice and possible steps of implementation with regard to non-ratified conventions and recommendations. 

  • Reports of the Committee of Experts since 1932 – Links to pdf documents 
  • To find detailed information concerning comments of the Committee of Experts by country or convention, use the advanced search on the  NORMLEX database.
  • ​Use the Regular reporting: ratified conventions (Art.22/35) database on NORMLEX to see individual country information on Requested Reports and Replies to CEACR Comments by country and by Convention.

More on the reporting process.

Use the Supervising the Application of International Labour Standards - Supervision by Country on NORMLEX to find all documents regarding individual countries on Examination by the supervisory bodies, Complaints Procedure, Country situation on reporting obligations, Observations made by employers' and workers' organisations,  Ratifications and National labour law.

More on the Supervisory system and process

The ILO Supervisory System - Representations & Complaints

The ILO Constitution provides for two grievance mechanisms for asserting that a Member State is not fulfilling its obligations under a particular ILO convention: the representation procedure and the complaints procedure.

REPRESENTATIONS over the Application of Ratified Conventions

The representation procedure under Article 24 of the ILO Constitution allows employers and workers unions to make representations to the ILO Governing Body that a Member State has in some way failed to observe its obligations under an ILO convention.  A three-member committee may be set up to review the allegation and Member State’s response, both of which may be published if the Governing Body determines that the State’s response was unsatisfactory (Article 25 of the ILO Constitution). 

COMPLAINTS over the Application of Ratified Conventions

The complaints procedure (Articles 26 to 34 of the ILO Constitution) allows for the consideration of complaints against a Member State by: another Member State of the same convention, a delegate to the International Labour Conference (of Member States), or the ILO Governing Body.  A Commission of Inquiry may be formed to investigate the allegation.This Commission carries out a full investigation of the complaint, reports on all questions of fact, and makes suggestions as to the steps to be taken. The Commission’s report is published, and the governments concerned must inform the Director-General whether they accept the Commission’s recommendations or intend to refer the complaint to the International Court of Justice.

To date, 11 Commissions of Inquiry have been established. See the full list of Commissions of Inquiry and Complaints under Article 26  on NORMLEX.

More on Complaints.

Source: ILO Complaints Procedure webpage

SPECIAL PROCEDURE FOR COMPLAINTS regarding freedom of association

Independently of the Representation and Complaints procedures, the Committee on Freedom of Association  (CFA) examines complaints about violations of freedom of association, whether or not the country concerned had ratified the relevant conventions. Complaints may be brought against a member state by employers' and workers' organisations. The Committee may issue a report and make recommendations to the State if it decides there has been a violation. To date, the the CFA has examined over 3,000 cases. Search or browse all CFA cases on NORMLEX. 

More on the Special Procedures