The Contribution of International Labour Standards to French Labour Law

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Any assessment of how and to what extent international labour standards and ILO action have contributed to the development of French labour law is a daunting challenge. With its ratification of 114 Conventions out of a total of 174, France ranks second behind Spain in the list of member countries with the most ratifications. Above all, France has been a constant source of inspiration for the Organization and it might well be argued that French law has contributed more than it has received. It might even be claimed that progressive legislation in France actually antedated the establishment of the corresponding international standards whose ratification was a "gratuitous" formality, a simple matter of international prestige.

This sense of satisfaction, which some might see as epitomizing a patronizing attitude on the part of the French, is not fully consonant with the facts. But there are other reasons which make it difficult to assess the ILO's contribution to French labour law.

France has certainly provided inspiration to the ILO through its citizens (Albert Thomas in particular) and its legislation, which in many respects has been in advance of its time. The influence of international law has therefore been rather vague and "ratification has mainly had the effect of confirming the existing state of affairs".(1) On the other hand, account must also be taken of the influence which Conventions have between the time of their adoption and that of their ratification. This explains why in some 70 per cent of cases in which ratification by ILO member States has taken place, the situation already conformed with the requirements of the ratified Conventions when reports from the governments concerned were first examined by ILO supervisory bodies.(2) Furthermore, international instruments, even if not ratified, are a source of reference for the harmonization of measures taken at the national level, for example concerning the protection of dockers against accidents to ensure the greatest possible uniformity in technical requirements for the loading and unloading of vessels. Thus many States have based their regulations on the Protection against Accidents (Dockers) Convention (Revised), 1932 (No. 32), even though they have not ratified it.(3) Account should also be taken of the influence of international labour Recommendations, for example the provisions of the Termination of Employment Recommendation, 1963 (No. 119), are clearly reflected in the legislation of many highly industrialized countries, including France.(4) The same is also true of resolutions adopted by the International Labour Conference and many ILO technical committees and of model regulations or codes adopted by the Organization.(5)

The complexity and varying impact of the means of evaluating the influence of ILO action in general and on the law of a given country in particular are enough to discourage an attempt to determine its contribution to the law of a country such as France and it would be folly to try to reach any conclusions within the limits of a relatively short article. The following analysis is therefore partial, one might almost say "impressionist", and lays no claim to being exhaustive. It is based on some recent cases in which France has either ratified (sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly and usually after having brought its legislation into conformity), or decided not to ratify for a variety of reasons (but always with a sense of scruple), or occasionally refused more or less outright to conform to the provisions of a duly ratified Convention.

France has always sought both to ratify a Convention only after its own legislation had been brought into line with the instrument (in most cases this was in effect a prerequisite), and to do so by incorporating the provisions of the Convention through a formal amendment of internal law; this practice has the advantage of clarifying the situation for the public authorities, the courts and the general public as regards the applicable law. …