History of Labour laws
Labour law arose due to the demands of workers for better conditions, the right to organize, and thesimultaneous demands of employers to restrict the powers of workers in many organizations and tokeep labour costs low. Employers’ costs can increase due to workers organizing to win higher wages,or by laws imposing costly requirements, such as health and safety or equal opportunitiesconditions. Workers’ organizations, such as trade unions, can also transcend purely industrialdisputes, and gain political power-which some employers may oppose. The state of labour law atany one time is therefore both the product of, and a component of, struggles between differentinterests in society.
International Labour Organisation (ILO) was one of the first organisations to deal with labour issues.The ILO was established as an agency of the League of Nations following the Treaty of Versailles,which ended World War I. Post-war reconstruction and the protection of labour unions occupied theattention of many nations during and immediately after World War I. In Great Britain, the Whitley
Commission, a subcommittee of the Reconstruction Commission, recommended in its July 1918 FinalReport that “industrial councils” be established throughout the world. The British Labour Party hadissued its own reconstruction programme in the document titledLabour and the New Social Order.In February 1918, the third Inter-Allied Labour and Socialist Conference (representing delegates fromGreat Britain, France, Belgium and Italy) issued its report, advocating an international labour rightsbody, an end to secret diplomacy, and other goals. And in December 1918, the American Federationof Labor (AFL) issued its own distinctively apolitical report, which called for the achievement ofnumerous incremental improvements via the collective bargaining process.
As the war drew to a close, two competing visions for the post-war world emerged. The first wasoffered by the International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), which called for a meeting in Bernein July 1919. The Berne meeting would consider both the future of the IFTU and the variousproposals which had been made in the previous few years. The IFTU also proposed includingdelegates from the Central Powers as equals. Samuel Gompers, president of the AFL, boycotted themeeting, wanting the Central Powers delegates in a subservient role as an admission of guilt for theircountries’ role in the bringing about war. Instead, Gompers favored a meetingin Paris which wouldonly consider President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points as a platform. Despite the Americanboycott, the Berne meeting went ahead as scheduled. In its final report, the Berne Conferencedemanded an end to wage labour and the establishment of socialism. If these ends could not beimmediately achieved, then an international body attached to the League of Nations should enactand enforce legislation to protect workers and trade unions.
The British proposed establishing an international parliament to enact labour laws which eachmember of the League would be required to implement. Each nation would have two delegates tothe parliament, one each from labour and management. An international labour office would collectstatistics on labour issues and enforce the new international laws. Philosophically opposed to theconcept of an international parliament and convinced that international standards would lower thefew protections achieved in the United States, Gompers proposed that the international labour bodybe authorized only to make recommendations, and that enforcement be left up to the League ofNations. Despite vigorous opposition from the British, the American proposal was adopted.
The Americans made 10 proposals. Three were adopted without change: That labour should not betreated as a commodity; that all workers had the right to a wage sufficient to live on; and thatwomen should receive equal pay for equal work. A proposal protecting the freedom of speech,press, assembly, and association was amended to include only freedom of association. A proposedban on the international shipment of goods made by children under the age of 16 was amended to
ban goods made by children under the age of 14. A proposal to require an eight-hour work day wasamended to require the eight-hour work dayorthe 40-hour work week (an exception was made forcountries where productivity was low). Four other American proposals were rejected. Meanwhile,international delegates proposed three additional clauses, whichwere adopted: One or more daysfor weekly rest; equality of laws for foreign workers; and regular and frequent inspection of factoryconditions.
The Commission issued its final report on 4 March 1919, and the Peace Conference adopted itwithout amendmenton 11 April. The report became Part XIII of the Treaty of Versailles. (TheTreatyof Versailleswas one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of warbetween Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919.)
The first annual conference (referred to as the International Labour Conference, or ILC) began on29thOctober 1919 in Washington DC and adopted the first six International Labour Conventions,which dealt with hours of work in industry, unemployment, maternityprotection, night work forwomen, minimum age and night work for young persons in industry. The prominent French socialistAlbert Thomas became its first Director General. The ILO became a member of the United Nationssystem after the demise of the Leaguein 1946.
History of Labour laws