Date Released: 11 June 2014
The Irish Congress Trade Unions on Wednesday (11th June) welcomed what it described as “an historic vote” at the International Labour Conference in favour of a binding protocol that will ensure greater protection globally against forced labour.
The binding protocol supplements the existing Convention on Forced Labour and was passed overwhelming by delegates at the conference, with 437 in favour and just eight against.
The International Labour Conference is the annual gathering of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the United Nations agency charged with promoting rights at work and dialogue on work-related issues.
The Irish delegation - representing workers, employers and government - voted in favour.
Speaking after the vote, the Irish Worker Delegate to the conference, Congress Legal Affairs Officer Esther Lynch, called on the Irish Government to quickly ratify the protocol and “make those rights a reality for vulnerable workers, as Ireland was among the first countries to ratify the Forced Labour Convention (No. 29), in 1931.
“Ratifying this protocol will advance prevention, protection and compensation measures for victims.
“The convention in 1930 was negotiated in an era when forced labour was mainly an activity of state powers. Today, ILO statistics show most of the forced labour occurring in the world is a private sector phenomenon and Convention No 29 does not provide clear guidelines on how the state should set about eliminating and eradicating it.
“The protocol provides clear direction and sets out obligations on member states – including Ireland - to adopt policies and programmes to address forced labour in all forms,” Ms Lynch explained.
“Adopting the protocol will mean that all victims of forced or compulsory labour will have to have their employment rights upheld.
“This means Ireland has to review the law highlighted in recent cases that set back the rights of irregular migrant workers. In one such case the High Court ruled against undocumented workers being entitled to their back wages (Hussein -v- The Labour Court and Mohammah Younis ).
“This involved a situation of the most appalling exploitation, of seven days a week work, pocket money pay, no holidays and no effective recourse for the worker.
A second case (Lin -v-Governor of Cloverhill Prison & Ors ) involved a ruling that workers in situations of forced labour can be guilty of criminal activity - even when they are compelled to carry out that activity. This involved a man from China in a situation of forced and compulsory labour, growing cannabis,” Ms Lynch said.
She said conference also adopted amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention of 2006 to provide for improved repatriation rights for seafarers.