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Under the international system there are different UN specialised agencies charged with specific mandates. These are normative and standard setting organisations, with less focus on broad implementation on the ground. Their nature as member-driven organisations must be understood, as they can appear somewhat politicised, which may be detrimental to actual implementation, but which also leaves much space for civil society to exert its influence. UNESCO is the UN agency for education (amongst other themes) and ILO deals with labour issues. Both have conventions which are relevant to the broader understanding and framing of the right to education.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has an impressive array of conventions and normative instruments covering almost all walks of life which concern the world of work and labour. Below we have highlighted a few that have direct consequences for teachers, teacher unions, indigenous people’s rights, child labour and minimum ages, etc. As with UNESCO conventions, the principal role these play are as normative texts and guidance for national laws and policies, as well as for other international standard setting aspirations, as their oversight mechanisms may appear to have less ‘bite’ for civil society campaigners or lawyers than the UN conventions.

Bringing violations to the ILO
The Constitution of the ILO itself contains two mechanisms by which representations and complaints may be brought to the ILO. These mechanisms may not be activated by individual workers, but must be brought by trade unions that are members of the ILO.

Representations concerning a country that may have failed to comply with obligations in a ratified Convention may be brought under Article 24 of the ILO Constitution. These are dealt with by specially-constituted three person (and tripartite) committees of the Governing Body.

Complaints concerning a country that may have failed to comply with obligations in a ratified Convention may be brought under Article 26 of the ILO Constitution. These are heard by a specially constituted commission of inquiry that consists of three independent persons who are sworn in for this purpose alone.

Supervision of compliance
Aside from complaints, there is a regular process of the supervision of compliance with the ratified obligations that takes place under the reporting procedures.
Reports are scrutinised by the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations.

The Committee meets in private, and no party is represented before it. More serious cases may later be taken up by the Committee on the Application of Standards of the International Labour Conference. This is an open, public and political forum, at which a representative of the government of the country in question will be asked to appear. Neither body has any power other than to issue reports. The exception is the case of a country failing to comply with recommendations of a commission of inquiry established under Article 26 of the ILO Constitution.

Then, ultimately, the ILO Conference may take steps to ensure compliance with the recommendations, pursuant to Article 33 of the ILO Constitution.

(The above was adapted from COHRE’s Litigating Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Legal Practitioners Dossier (2006) p.241 )

The 6 conventions relevant to the right to education are:

87 Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Org. Convention, 1948

98 Right to Organise and Collective bargaining Convention, 1949

111 Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958

138 Minimum Age Convention, 1973

169 Indigenous and tribal Peoples Convention, 1989

182 Worst Forms of Child labour Convention, 1999 

For information on ratifications, please see:

For more information about the ILO treaties click here

For information on child labour, see the website of the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour here