Published: 04/06/2010

Speaking at a June 3 side meeting at the International Labour Conference in Geneva, the United Nations’ Special Representative on business and human rights (SRSG), John Ruggie, called on the ILO for guidance in elucidating the human rights implications of precarious work.

Ruggie’s work under his mandate has resulted in the “Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework” adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in 2008, and ongoing efforts to render it operational. In his concluding remarks Professor Ruggie specifically called on the ILO to provide guidance in understanding the human rights implications of precarious work within the framework of the state’s duty to protect against rights violations, the responsibility of businesses, in particular transnational corporations, to respect international human rights laws and norms by not infringing on these rights and the need for effective grievance mechanisms (“remedy”). Ruggie specifically referred to the submissions on precarious work made by the IUF and the International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF).

The employer spokesperson at the meeting, which was organized by the ILO’s Multinational Enterprises Subcommittee, responded to the presentation by asserting that precarious employment was not a core human rights issue, should not be examined as such and therefore fell outside of the Special Representative’s mandate. The UK TUC’s Sam Gurney, speaking for the workers’ representatives, defended the centrality of precarious work as a rights issue and the difficulties faced by workers seeking effective mechanisms to address rights violations when faced with opaque, complex supply chains and indirect patterns of employment. Gurney declared that the trade unions stood willing to provide assistance in tackling these issues.

The IUF in its submission (click here to download in pdf format) to the Special Representative argues that “By creating an intermediate network of indirect employment relationships, corporations evade employer responsibility for industrial relations and restrict the size of the collective bargaining unit or even completely eliminate the collective bargaining relationship. By generalizing insecurity through the undermining of direct employment, these practices also exercise a chilling effect on the general environment in which workers organize to exercise their collective rights… Without recourse to death squads or anti-union consultancies, unions can be shrunk in size and influence to die a slow death through outsourcing. It is in this context that precarious work emerges as a fundamental human rights issue demanding a strong response rooted in a comprehensive human rights framework”

The submission calls on the Special Representative “to fully integrate the relationship between precarious work and the effective realization of human rights into his investigations and recommendations as a matter of priority.”