Page images

But the Conference discusses and votes Draft Conventions, by which States agree to observe strictly certain regulations, and Recommendations which should be taken as guides in framing and passing national legislation, or in issuing administrative orders relating to the conditions of employment or other matters affecting labour. These may, it is true, vary in different countries, but they have to conform to one and the same principle. The Parliaments of the member-States are not bound to adopt the Conventions agreed to by the General Conference; but if Governments refuse to submit them for their ratification, the States concerned incur the risk of having applied against them the economic penalties provided for in the Treaty (Arts. 409-420). Once the Conventions have been ratified by a State, or the Recommendations become the subject of special legislation, the State is bound to respect them. Any violation may bring the International Labour Office and its Commission of Inquiry and the International Court of Justice into action, armed with powers for enforcing the decisions of the Conference.

The International Labour Office, the secretariat and administrative machine of the Organisation, is under the control of a Governing Body of twenty-four persons, twelve of whom represent the Governments of the member-States. Of the remainder six are elected by the Employers' delegates to the Conference and six by the Workers' delegates. Eight of the persons representing Governments are nominated by the States of chief industrial importance, and the remaining four are nominated by States selected for the purpose by the Government delegates to the Conference, excluding the delegates of the eight States mentioned above. The period of office of the Governing Body is three years. It meets every three months.


The functions of the International Labour Office include the collection and distribution of information on all questions relating to the international adjustment of industrial conditions of life and labour, and the conduct

• The eight States that rank at present as of chief industrial importance are Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Japan, Denmark, and Switzerland.


of such special investigations as may be ordered by th Conference. It is entrusted with the duty of seein that the terms of the Conventions ratified are dul carried out, and it can, by means of commissions, condu inquiries into any complaint of violations of ratifie Conventions, and, if the complaint is found to be justifie it can, through the League of Nations, take measures t bring the defaulting nation to account.

It will be realised at once that the scope of th activities of the Office is wide and entails an enormou amount of detailed work. Contact must be kept no only with the Governments of the member-States, bu also with the national and international organisation of employers and workmen. The great problems create by the war are, generally speaking, mainly economic character, and affect the conditions of the masses i every country. As a result, the workers throughou the world are making demands for modifications of th existing industrial system, demands which the Peac Treaty recognises as in principle well-grounded. I order to meet these demands by sound constructiv measures it is necessary to build on a foundation o accurate information regarding every aspect of th social and industrial conditions and problems of, a least, the chief countries of the world; a task of con siderable magnitude, requiring the services of a larg expert staff.

The International Labour Office has already organise two meetings of the General Conference: one, th inaugural assembly at Washington in October and November 1919; and the other, the Conference at Geno in June and July 1920. The Conference at Washington met under less than favourable auspices. The Leagu of Nations had not been formally established, and th debates in the Senate on the question of accepting th Peace Treaty, including the League of Nations, ha aroused acute political differences in the United States The foremost advocate of the International Labou Organisation in America, President Wilson, was to unwell to take part in the Conference. In spite o these untoward circumstances, the Conference wa successful. It was unfortunate that, owing to the fac that its proceedings were overshadowed by events neare

home, its significance was hardly recognised in England and Europe. Representatives of forty countries attended. Three important States, however, were not represented. The United States had no official delegates, as the Peace Treaty had not been ratified by the Senate; but the Conference was presided over by Mr W. B. Wilson, the United States Secretary of Labour. Germany and Austria (invited by an almost unanimous vote at the opening of the session) were not able to send delegates in time to take part in the business. The delegations, in normal cases, included representatives of employers and workers as well as of Governments, making in all 143 individual delegates.

In a session lasting one month the Conference discussed and passed six Draft Conventions, some on highly controversial subjects, and six Recommendations. In addition to these, it considered matters relating to the composition and standing orders of the Conference and the like. The Conventions agreed upon dealt with: (1) The application of the principle of the eight hours' day and the forty-eight hours' week. (2) The prevention of, or provision against, unemployment. (3) The employment of women before and after childbirth. (4) The employment of women on night work. (5) The minimum age of employment of children in industry. (6) The employment of young persons on night work. The Recommendations related to: (1) Public Employment Exchanges. (2) Reciprocity of treatment of foreign workers. (3) The prevention of anthrax. (4) The protection of women and children against lead poisoning. (5) The establishment of Government Health Services. (6) The application of the Berne Convention of 1906 on the prohibition of the use of white phosphorus in the manufacture of matches.

The procedure adopted by the Conference was to appoint Commissions to prepare the Conventions and Recommendations. The discussions on these Commissions, to which technical advisers as well as delegates were elected, were extremely valuable. Points of difference between nations as well as between employers and employed had to be threshed out and drafts arrived at for submission to the plenary meetings of the Conference. Conventions were so thoroughly discussed


in the Commissions, and such a degree of agreement wa arrived at, that with comparatively few alterations the were adopted by the General Conference.'*

In spite of the mass of work accomplished in Wash ington it was not carried out hastily or superficially The delegates were animated by good-will and a kee desire to achieve practical results. They threw int their task a remarkable degree of energy and zea and overcame with extraordinary success the mos difficult obstacle of international assemblies-diversit of language. The business was rendered especiall complicated by the necessity of taking into account an making exceptional provisions for the conditions pr vailing in backward countries. The constitution of th International Labour Organisation declares that 'i framing any Recommendation or Draft Convention c general application, the Conference shall have du regard to those countries in which climatic condition the imperfect development of industrial organisatio: and other special circumstances, make the industria conditions substantially different, and shall suggest th modifications, if any, which it considers may be required t meet the case of such countries.' In drawing up Draf Conventions the various Commissions had, therefore, t make special provisions for Japan, India, and othe countries where the industrial system and the regulation of the conditions of labour are less highly evolved tha in Europe or America. For the eight-hour day question a separate Commission on Special Countries was set up the Recommendations of which were afterwards embodied in the Draft Convention drawn up by the Commission on the eight-hour day. Japan, which showed its interest in the Conference by sending a delegation numbering with its technical advisers, secretaries, and interpreters more than fifty persons, naturally took a conspicuous part in the debates on this subject. A majority of the Conference agreed with the view held by the representa tives of the Japanese Government and Employers' repre sentatives that Japan could not be expected to advance in two years so far as countries which had been developing


* International Labour Conference, 1919.

Draft Conventions and Recommendations; with an Introduction.' H.M. Stationery Office.

their systems of industrial law for half a century. The decision finally reached represents relatively greater progress for Japan than for almost any other country. The working hours in the Japanese silk industry are to be reduced from the present total of 93 per week to 60, and a 57-hour week is to be introduced in other industries. Young persons under 15 and all underground workers in mines are to be granted the 48-hour week. The Japanese delegates also agreed to the introduction of a weekly rest period of 24 hours-an important point for Japanese workers, who have no customary rest from labour on Sundays.*

The representation of women was a feature of the Conference, and was rendered possible by the institution of technical advisers empowered to act in the place of delegates on occasions when questions in which they are specially competent arise. Thus women technical advisers took part in the Commissions on the Employment of children, Childbirth, and Maternity, and were largely responsible for the preparation of the Conventions on those subjects.t

The results of the Washington Conference, although not fully appreciated by the general public, are rapidly becoming recognised, especially by organised workers, as of paramount importance for the welfare of the working classes of the whole world, those of the Orient as well as those of Europe. The Washington Conventions are known in Labour circles in Great Britain as the International Labour Charter.' The report of the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress, adopted at Portsmouth in 1920, is interesting:

"The Washington Conference was not only unique from the international standpoint, but without parallel; and, as

* As evidence of the earnest desire of the Japanese Government to carry out the obligations incurred by members of the Permanent Labour Organisation, it should be mentioned that the Government has established at Geneva an Office with a large staff, whose functions are to keep in close touch with the International Labour Office and to study labour problems in the Western world. As a means of doing so effectively the Japanese Government has appointed the head of this Office as its representative on the Governing Body of the International Labour Office.

† Among the technical advisers from Great Britain at the Washington Conference were Miss Mary MacArthur and Miss Margaret Bondfield, the well-known trade-union leaders, and Miss Constance Smith, Senior LadyInspector of Factories.

« PreviousContinue »