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APSO President Tabea Magodielo flies industry flag at ILO Conference 2014

Tuesday, 01 July 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: APSO
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ILO Conference 2014

Author: Tabea Magodielo


The International Labour Organisation (ILO), a specialised agency of the United Nations, is characterised by its unique tripartite structure of governments, employers and workers. It is the only international organisation where these three groups come together, on an equal footing, to discuss labour and social issues with a view to their improvement.


The International Labour Conference is an annual event that takes place in Geneva and to which member states have a constitutional obligation to send a tripartite delegates. The key function of the Conference includes the adoption of International Labour Standards and general discussions of issues falling within the field of the ILO.


Through Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), CAPES nominated me to be one of the South African business representatives. Each representative is allocated to a different Committee for the three-week Conference and I was allocated to the Forced Labour Committee. This year, the following Committees were convened:


·                Selection

·                Credentials

·                Application of Standards

·                Employment

·                Forced Labour

·                Informal Economy


The Forced Labour Committee

The goal for this Committee was: “to address implementation gaps to advance prevention, protection and compensation measures, to effectively achieve the elimination of forced labour”.  Linked to these are more brutal forms of Forced Labour, known as Slavery and Human Trafficking.


The Convention on Forced Labour is Convention 29, which was adopted in 1930. Our assignment was to come up with tools that enable the total eradication of these practices. The end products were two tools:  (1) a Protocol and (2) a Recommendation.


A Protocol can be defined as: “the original draft of a diplomatic document, especially of the terms of a treaty agreed to in conference and signed by the parties.”


·                A Protocol, just like a Convention, is an international treaty subject to ratification.  In the context of the ILO, however, a Protocol does not exist independently and is always linked to a Convention.  It creates legal obligations applicable to the ratifying State (member country) and can be ratified only by those Members that have ratified the associated Convention.  The associated Convention remains open for ratification.  A Protocol is used for the purpose of partially revising or supplementing a Convention, to allow adaptation to changing conditions, thus making the Convention more relevant and up-to-date.


·                A Recommendation, just like a Convention, has to              be brought before the competent authorities, but is not subject to ratification and, therefore, does not have binding force.  It provides guidance as to national policy, legislation and practice.  It can supplement a Convention (or Protocol) or it can be a stand-alone instrument.


Both these were adopted at the end of the Conference. This was a historical event and has great significance for the work we do as private employment agencies. I want to pause at this point and discuss how our Industry is implicated in this Convection, Protocol and Recommendation.


Forced Labour is defined as: work or service exacted “under the menace of any penalty” and for which the person “has not offered himself voluntarily”. While forced labour takes on various forms in practice, it displays many common features: perpetrators prey on vulnerable people who are unorganised and unable to defend and protect themselves; the means of coercion used may be overt in the form of physical restrictions or violence, but are often more subtle, involving deception and threats; and manipulation of wages, advance payments and debts for illegal job-related costs is widespread.


As one begins to interrogate the explanation above the mind starts to wonder how Recruitment and Staffing Services could become a point of discussion in this debate. However, reality is that some of the characteristics above may be found amongst rogue recruitment agencies with the end result that all of us are painted with the same brush. 


We find that these rogue agencies:

·      Prey on vulnerable people who are unorganised;

·      Subtlety coerce people often through deception;

·      Manipulate wages; and

·      Charge recruitment fees, forcing individuals to work


As a country representative for the Employer Group, I was relied upon by the other business reps to give expert opinion and to protect the interests of our Industry within the debates and the implications within the final draft of the Protocol and the Recommendations.


To illustrate the point:


The ILO recommendation on the Protocol Article 2(c) reads as follows: Protecting Workers who use recruitment and placement services, particularly migrant workers against abuses and fraudulent practices. This statement implies that recruiters are perpetrators of forced labour. Agencies were generally viewed to be responsible for deceiving workers, manipulating salaries/wages and in some cases participating in Human Trafficking circles where individuals are migrated to other countries under the guise of better work prospects only to be turned into ‘slaves’ in the receiving countries. We had to deal with this and debunk these perceptions. Without underplaying the reality that these practices are real, we had to protect the legitimacy of our Industry and the commitment of the legitimate Industry to operate in legal ways that are fruitful to both the individuals and the economy of the countries within which we operate. We had to communicate in no uncertain terms that the staffing industry is made up of legitimate businesses that are above board.


After the discussion, we were successful in replacing wording within the clause and it now reads as follows:  Protecting Workers particularly migrant workers, from possible abusive and fraudulent practices during the recruitment and placement process. Recruitment and placement in totality are open to misuse, be it from agents, end-user employers or criminals.


The fight for our Industry continues on the home front and even internationally. There is a great realisation of the good work that we do and the impact we have on the economy, and as we continue to professionalise our work, we stand toe-to-toe with other professionals and will gain the respect we deserve. "A luta continua, vitória é certa" "The struggle continues, victory is certain".


Note:  A copy of the Protocol and the Recommendation is available from the APSO Offices on request.

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