Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

ILO Adopts New Standards on Health Services, Labor Data

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

ILO Adopts New Standards on Health Services, Labor Data

Article excerpt

The 71st International Labor Conference, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, largely kep disruptive political issues below the surface, and adopted new international labor standards on occupational health services and labor statistics, according to American delegates.

The June 7 to 27 Conference also gave preliminary consideration to standards concerning asbestos, adopted a resolution and conslusions on equal opportunities and equal treatment for men and women in employment, and approved two technical resolutions concerning steps to alleviate Africa's food problems and to curtail the use of dangerous substances and processes in industry.

U.S. Secretary of Labor William E. Brock, in his first appearance before the ILO's annual meeting, stressed the importance of ILO programs aimed at promoting labor/management cooperation, explaining to the Conference that "new technologies often demand a more flexible approach to the organization of work, one guided by greater interaction, understanding and cooperation between labor and management."

To help the ILO begin collecting and disseminating information on effective labor/management soltuions to specific problems, Brock offered a special grant to study successful labor/management efforts to develop training and retraining programs in advance of the introduction of new technology.

Of the Conference's four technical agenda items, two--occupational health services and labor statistics--had been carried over from the 1984 Conference.

The Conference adopted both a convention (which can be formally ratified by governments, giving it the same legal status as an international treaty) and a recommendation concerning occupational health services. The convention sets out a general framework for national occupational health services. It emphasizes the preventive nature of such services and defines the functions of health services to include identification of workplace health risks, surveillance of the working environment, and workers' health, training, and participation in workplace design and choice of equipment and substances used in work. The recommendation deals in more specific detail with the organization and functions of occupational health services.

Two controversial issues arose during consideration of these standards. The first involved language requiring that workers and their representatives "cooperate and participate" in implementing occupational health services. American and other employers argued that this inappropriately introduced labor relations issues into the standards.

Employer delegates objected even more strongly to a provision in the recommendation requiring multinational enterprises to provide "the highest standard of services, without discrimination, to the workers in all its establishments, regardless of the place or country in which they are situated." The employers argued that this provision raised serious issues of sovereignty and could lead to a multiplicity of levels and standards of services in countries in which many multinationals operate.

The majority of delegates, including U.S. Government and worker delegates, believe there was sufficient flexibility in the standards to allow implementation consistent with varying national laws and practices.

The Conference also adopted a new convention and recommendation concerning labor statistics, which revised a set of standards which the ILO had originally adopted in 1938. The new standards identify nine areas for coverage in national labor statistics programs, including employment and unemployment, labor force, earnings and hours of work, labor costs, occupational injuries and illnesses, and industrial disputes.

Efforts by the U.S. Government to include productivity among statistical programs required under the convention were not successful. However, productivity was included in the recommendation and in a special resolution asking the ILO to give high priority to problems of productivity measurement. …

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