One of the most important international labor standards is the freedom of association. This is expressed in Article 41 of the original constitution of the International Labour Organisation and it is considered, in that document and its successors to be at the level of a fundamental human right which in the context of labour law is associated with the right of the workers to assemble and form labor organisations. It also appears to be universal that there must be a level of respect and observance of the right to freedom of association by employers for workers in order for economies to function effectively in developed and developing countries.
Interestedly, also at the international level there is the operation of the international labour organisation’s special procedures for inquiring into an alleged failure to respect these principles. The first of these procedures is the Fact Finding and Conciliation Commission on Freedom of Association. This first procedure appears to have suffered from under utilisation and now appears to have been relegated to the role of dealing with complaints against countries that are members of the United Nations but not of the International Labour Organisation. The second major procedure in operation is the Committee on Freedom of Association. This committee has remained active and engaged in the purpose that it was originally envisaged for. It has 9 sitting member states and has examined nearly 3000 complaints since its establishment in 1951. The committee has heard a number of complaints relating to the breach of the principle of freedom of association. The committee will hear the complaints from a variety of sources including employers and employee organisations. However, there is a need to notice that a state is only bound by the terms of the committee’s decision if the State has ratified conventions number 87 and 98. However, the United States has not ratified these conventions and is therefore only subject only to the jurisdiction of the committee rather than the conciliation commission.
The United States has always had an active interest in the International Labor organisation from the time of its formation to the present time. However, there are a number of issues which prevent the deep implementation of the principles of the International Labor Organsiation in the United States. The bulk of the jurisdictional requirements for labor laws in America are dealt with at state level with only a handful of employment matters, most notably in the area of discrimination on the grounds of race, sex and age at federal level. There is therefore only limited application of the principles of freedom of association as a human right in the labor laws of the United States.