ILO Instruments on Labour Standards concerning Women Workers

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The following write-up is part of Trade and Gender: Opportunities and Challenges for Developing Countries which has been published by UNCTAD:

ILO Standards take the form of international labour Conventions and Recommendations. ILO Conventions are international treaties, subject to ratification by ILO member States. The Recommendations are non-binding instruments – typically dealing with the same subjects as Conventions – which set out guidelines that can orient national policy and action. Both forms are intended to have a concrete impact on working conditions and practices in every country of the world.

Although most international labour standards apply without distinction to men and women workers, there are a number of Conventions and Recommendations that refer specifically or are particularly relevant to women.

ILO standards regarding women address three key issues:

  • The elimination of sex-based discrimination in the employment relationship;
  • The balance of work and family responsibilities; and
  • The protection of maternity and the health of women in order to promote effective equality

Elimination of Discrimination

Equal remuneration for work of equal value
The Equal Remuneration Convention (No. 100) and Recommendation (No. 90), 1951 apply to all workers in all economic sectors, private or public. These instruments set out principles for national policy on how to promote and secure equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value. The accompanying Recommendation gives guidelines and sets out special procedures for a step-by-step application of these principles.

Non-discrimination in the employment relationship
The Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No.111) and Recommendation (No. 111), 1958 aim at the elimination of discrimination in the employment relationship through effective application of appropriate national policies and measures to implement such policies. They apply to all workers in all sectors of activity. The Convention defines seven specific types of discrimination, including discrimination based on the sex of a worker. States which ratify the Convention are obliged to formulate and apply appropriate policies with the aim of promoting equality of opportunity and treatment and eliminating discrimination. The accompanying Recommendation suggests specific principles for implementing such policies.

Moreover, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No. 169), 1989 stipulates that indigenous men and women shall enjoy equal opportunities and equal treatment in employment, and protection from sexual harassment.

Work and Family Responsibility

Full equality of opportunity and treatment between men and women workers also requires the promotion of equality with regard to workers with family responsibilities.

The Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention (No. 156) and Recommendation (No. 165), 1981 aim at creating equality of opportunity and treatment in employment and occupation between men and women workers with families, and establishing equality of opportunity and treatment in employment and occupation between men and women workers with family responsibilities and those without such responsibilities. The Convention is applicable to all workers with family responsibilities in all sectors of activity. It requires ratifying States to make equality of opportunity and treatment for workers with family responsibilities the objective of national policy, to be promoted by appropriate measures. The supplementing Recommendation stipulates more detailed policies and appropriate measures regarding vocational training, employment and employment conditions, and contains additional provisions on family and childcare services and institutions as well as social security.

Protection of Maternity and the Health of Women

The main instruments for maternity protection are the Maternity Protection Convention (No. 183) and Recommendation (No. 191), 2000.

These instruments apply to all women in all employment relationships. The Convention sets out specific provisions to ensure the health and well-being of a woman and her child during maternity, e.g. by providing health protection at work, maternity leave, social benefits, protection against dismissal and discrimination based on maternity, and breast-feeding breaks. The Convention provides for 14 weeks of maternity leave, while the Recommendation provides for 18 weeks in certain circumstances. Convention No. 183 is considered the most up-to-date instrument on maternity protection. Previous instruments on the subject, the Maternity Protection Convention (Revised), 1952 (No. 103) and the Maternity Protection Convention, 1919 (No. 3), remain in force for States that have ratified them, although they are encouraged to consider ratifying the more recent Convention No. 183.

Night Work and Underground Work

The Night Work Convention (No. 171) and Recommendation (No. 178), 1990 apply to men and women. Especially for women workers, the Convention requires alternatives to night work before and after childbirth and during pregnancy, if it is deemed necessary to protect the health of the mother or child. The Night Work (Women) Convention (Revised) (No. 89), 1948 obliges ratifying States to prohibit women from working in industrial undertakings at night. The 1990 Protocol to the Convention permits variations in the duration of night work and exemptions from the prohibition of night work.

The Underground Work (Women) Convention (No. 45), 1935 prohibits the employment of women in mines, which exposes them to specific underground work hazards.

Other ILO Instruments of Relevance to Women Workers

The ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work adopted in 1998 contains the principles embodied in the standards on equal remuneration for work of equal value and non-discrimination in the employment relationship.

The Declaration on Equality of Opportunity and Treatment for Women Workers adopted in 1975 sets forth principles for international and national action as targets to be achieved progressively in relation to the overall objective of equality of opportunity and treatment of women, and their integration into economic and social life.

A Resolution and Plan of Action of 1975 of the International Labour Conference laid out more concrete national and international action to be taken with a view to ensuring the implementation of the principles and targets of the 1975 Declaration, specifically emphasizing the importance of ratifying and applying ILO Conventions and Recommendations. The Conference later examined the progress achieved in this regard and adopted a new resolution and plan of action, adopted in 1985.


Commonwealth Secretariat: Gender and Trade

See also




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