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Committee on Application of Standards Cites Labour Abuses in Iran, Myanmar, Morocco, Nigeria, Sudan and Swaziland; United Kingdom Settles GCHQ dispute


Press release | 19 June 1997


GENEVA (ILO News) ­ In its Report to the 1997 International Labour Conference, the Committee on the Application of Standards determined that the non-application by Iran, Myanmar, Morocco, Nigeria, Sudan and Swaziland of fundamental international labour standards, including forced labour, discrimination and denial of the right to organize, were a cause of special concern.

The Committee cited three of those countries ­ Myanmar, Nigeria and Sudan ­ as cases of "continued failure to implement ratified Conventions".

However, the Committee also noted with satisfaction that in a number of cases, including many involving basic human rights, governments had introduced changes to their law and practice. In one particularly long-standing case, involving the right to organize of Government Communications Headquarters in Cheltenham (GCHQ) staff in the United Kingdom where workers, for many years, had not been allowed to join the trade union of their own choice, the Committee noted with satisfaction that the Government had eliminated divergencies with previous Committee rulings.

Islamic Republic of Iran - C. 111 Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958

In the Committee hearings, it was alleged that the Islamic Republic of Iran continued to practice systematic discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, religion and political opinion. In light of the gravity of the accusations, the Committee "strongly urged the Government to accept a direct contacts mission as soon as possible."

The problems concerning Iran include discrimination against women, notably in the judiciary, where, according to available information, women only held advisory and support posts in the judicial system, and in the departments for the protection of children.

The complaints also include allegations of religious discrimination which was said to take three forms: discrimination against officially recognized religions, discrimination against religions that were not officially recognized (as in the case of the Baha'is), and discrimination against Moslems who did not appear to fulfill the requirements of Islam.

Morocco - C. 98 Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949

The Committee regretted "with deep concern the large number of complaints concerning measures of anti-union discrimination and interference in trade union activities," despite the Government having undertaken to submit a draft Labour Code to Parliament in order to bring Morocco's legislation into full conformity with Convention No. 98.

It urged the Government to supply a draft of the Labour Code so that the Committee of Experts could "examine whether its provisions guaranteed adequate protection to workers against acts of anti-union discrimination and to workers' organizations against acts of interference."

The Committee also regretted that the Government had not accepted a proposal to invite a direct contacts mission, as had been requested three years ago.

Myanmar ­ C. 87 Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention, 1948

On the basis of recognition of widespread denial of basic human rights, including the right to freedom of association, Myanmar was cited both in a special paragraph and for continued failure to implement Convention No. 87.

In addition, the Committee deplored the fact that "no Government report was received by the Committee" and "that the Government failed to cooperate" in responding to previous rulings.

Noting that the case involving Myanmar had been discussed on numerous occasions in 1987, 1989, 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996, the Committee expressed great concern "with the total absence of progress" and urged the Government to adopt the measures necessary, in legislation as well as in practice, to ensure the right of workers to join organizations of their own choosing to protect their interests.

Nigeria - C. 87 Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention, 1948

Nigeria was cited in a special paragraph for non-observance of Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize and for continued failure to implement the convention. The Committee expressed its great concern that, although this case had been the subject of two previous special paragraphs (in 1995 and 1996) "no concrete progress had been made to date in relation to the very grave trade union situation in the country."

It called upon the Government to "accept without delay a direct-contacts mission to examine the trade union situation in Nigeria, including the situation of imprisoned union leaders".

The Committee, "profoundly deplored the gravity of the situation of trade unions in Nigeria," and "urged the Government to derogate two Decrees (Nos. 9 and 10 of 1994) concerning dissolution of the executive councils of trade unions persecuted by the public authorities". It also called upon the Government to "nullify the Decree of January 1996, which fixed the number of trade unions for each category of profession, and which reinforced the current trade union monopoly." Forced consolidations have reduced the number of trade unions from 41 to 29.

The Report of the Committee on Application of standards notes that Decrees 9 and 10 dissolved the executive councils of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), and the Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), adding that "these unions are still being run by a single administrator appointed by the Government."

A number of Decrees adopted recently further aggravated the situation of trade unions in the teaching sector, universities, hospitals and research institutes. Other long-standing complaints cite imprisonment of trade unionists, human rights abuses and prohibitions on Nigerian trade unions associating with international federations and confederations.

Sudan - C.29 Forced Labour Convention, 1930

In response to serious and long-standing accusations of forced and slave labour in Sudan, the Committee decided to mention this case in a special paragraph and to cite it as a case of continued failure to implement the relevant Convention (No. 29, Forced Labour).

The accusations against Sudan involve trading in slaves and the imposition of slavery, servitude and forced labour on people from the Dinka, Shilluk and Nuer tribes and the tribes of the Nuba mountains in southern Sudan. Committee members cited "evidence from eye witnesses and first-hand accounts which testified to gross human rights abuses encouraged or directly inflicted by the Government and its security forces."

The Committee heard accusations that the number of chattel slaves held in northern Sudan was estimated in the tens of thousands, with Government backed militia regularly raiding black African-Sudanese communities for slaves and other sorts of booty. Women and children were among the principle victims, and atrocities common.

The Government responded that it was committed to bringing forced labour to an end and denied the charges as politically motivated, saying the areas where forced labour allegedly took place were held by rebels or marked by tribal warfare.

In its conclusions, the Committee recalled that it has commented on this case several times in recent years, with Sudan having been mentioned three times in special paragraphs for failure to implement the Forced Labour Convention (in 1989, 1992 and 1993).

The Committee said that it had often been called upon to respond to the accusations that forced labour was being imposed with the complicity or indifference of the Government and that the same allegations had been made in the various reports of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation in Sudan, and in comments made by the World Confederation of Labour.

It concluded that "in view of the contradictory information received and the continuing denunciations concerning violations of the Convention, that the Government should increase its efforts to give full application to this Convention and request the technical assistance of the Office."

Swaziland - C. 87 Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention, 1948

The Committee noted with concern that provisions of Swaziland's Industrial Relations Act contained provisions that violated the fundamental principles of freedom of Association, despite a direct contacts mission undertaken to the country in October 1996 and specific progress in the education sector.

In response to accusations of an overall climate of fear and intimidation surrounding trade union activity, including such acts as violence against and administrative dissolution of trade-union organizations, the Committee expressed its deep concern for the numerous and major discrepancies between national law and practice on the one hand, and the provisions of ILO Convention 87 on the other.

It urged the Government to respect the civil liberties essential to the implementation of the Convention and to take all the measures necessary to eliminate the restrictions on the right of workers to constitute organizations or their free choice, to hold meetings and to demonstrate peacefully. The Committee decided to include its conclusions in a special paragraph of its General Report.

In addition to those already mentioned, 22 governments ( Endnote ) provided oral information to the Committee during the discussions of their individual cases. The Committee on the Application of Standards monitors the performance of countries in fulfilling obligations under the ILO Constitution and especially in implementing Conventions they have ratified. The Committee this year was composed of 237 members (117 Government members, 32 Employer members and 88 Worker members). It also included 15 Government deputy members, 44 Employer deputy members and 102 Worker deputy members. In addition, there were 44 international non-governmental organizations represented by observers.


Bangladesh (C. 87), Belarus (C. 87), Bolivia (C. 87), Brazil (C. 29), Colombia (C. 87), Costa Rica (C. 87), France (C. 118, Equality of Treatment, Social Security Convention, 1962), Guatemala (C 87), Honduras (C. 122, Employment Policy Convention, 1964), India (C. 107, Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention. 1957), Indonesia (C. 98, Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention), Malaysia (C. 97, Migration for Employment Convention, 1949), Morocco, (C. 98), Myanmar (C. 87), Nepal (C. 100, Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951), New Zealand (C. 17, Workmen's Compensation - Accidents - Convention, 1925), Pakistan (C. 29), Peru (C. 102, Social Security - Minimum Standards Convention, 1952), Sri Lanka (C. 81, Labour Inspection Convention - and Protocol 1995, 1947), Turkey (C. 87), Ukraine (C. 95, Protection of Wages Convention, 1949), Venezuela, (C. 87).