The United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) just held its annual conference in Geneva from June 1-18, 2010.  The purpose of the annual conference is to develop and monitor compliance with international labour standards. 

The ILO is a tripartite agency of the United Nations, comprised of employer, employee and government representatives.  They have been responsible for pushing forward numerous initiatives to improve workplace standards, develop international standards and raise awareness of workplace issues internationally.


HIV/AIDS in the Workplace

At this year’s annual conference, the ILO focused on an international labour standard regarding HIV/AIDS in the workplace.  While the issue of HIV/AIDS in the workplace has been has been discussed in various forums over the years (e.g. the ILO and the Commission on HIV/AIDS and Governance in Africa in 2004) it was in 2007 when the ILO initiated a working group to develop an international standard. This reflects an increasingly obvious awareness that HIV/AIDS remains an issue that is dealt with in a broad range of approaches in workplaces around the globe. 


Final Text of Recommendation Passed by General Assembly

The final text of the new standard was passed by the General Assembly in a vote on June 16, 2010.  The standard is unique in that it is the first internationally sanctioned legal instrument aimed at strengthening the contribution of the world of work to universal access to HIV prevention treatment, care and support.


The new standard is in the form of a Recommendation and must be communicated to national parliaments and discussed in terms of how it will be implemented through national policies and legislation. 


This is a historic development for those suffering from HIV/AIDS and those affected by this pandemic.  Let’s hope the international standard will be able to push forward a better understanding of the skills, talent and hard work that employees with HIV/AIDS can contribute to the workplace.


The head of the employment and labour group in my firm, Kevin Coon, served as the Canadian employer delegate and has been working on the international labour standard for a couple of years.  In a press release about the new standard, Kevin notes that two thirds of those living with HIV/AIDS participate in the workplace, which is why the development of the standard is critical to the ongoing support, awareness-raising and protection of those with HIV/AIDS.  You can check out his video interview on the ILO website as well.


Impact in Canada

While it remains to be seen how the new international standard will be applied at Canada, increasingly, Canadian courts and arbitrators are considering international labour standards in the interpretation of other national laws.


Good examples are the Supreme Court of Canada cases of Health Services and Support – Facilities Subsector Bargaining Assn. v. British Columbia and Fraser v. Ontario (A.G.) (the latter of which was heard in December 2009 but for which a decision has not yet been released). Both cases consider the international labour standard of freedom of association in the context of rights set out in the Charter.


While the development of policies, standards and recommendations of the ILO may seem a world way, their impact on local law continues to grow.