Accueil » 42-1 ( 1987) » L'OIT face au problème des relations professionnelles

L'OIT face au problème des relations professionnelles

Francis Blanchard


Le nouveau contexte dans lequel s'inscrit le fonctionnement des relations professionnelles présente aux partenaires et aux pouvoirs publics une série de défis qu'ils doivent affronter. L'auteur se propose d'évoquer diverses questions à partir de l'expérience de VOIT et de donner quelques indications sur les perspectives que l'Organisation s'efforce de tracer et de proposer.


The economic crisis of the past fifteen years in industrialised and developing countries, marked by the need to combat recession, unemployment and inflation and to deal with the consequences of quickening technological change, while maintaining or improving standards of living, has presented a series of challenges to trade unions, employers and their organisations and governments. In the first place, trade unions in many countries have seen their membership reduced and their influence and negotiating power diminished. This situation, referred to by some as a «crisis of trade unionism», is due to several reasons: unemployment, which dries up the source of trade union recruitment; the decline in importance of basic and manufacturing industries along with a growing prominence of new domains of activity in which trade unions have difficulty to organise; and a massive influx of women into the labour force and a growing recourse to various forms of atypical employment. In addition, there has in some countries been a tendency to prefer to rely on individual rather than collective labour relations with the view to circumventing the trade unions in respect of employer/employee relations at the enterprise and other levels. This tendency is unacceptable because individual labour relations deal with issues which are of interest to ail workers, and in relation to which unions have something to contribute. While both the health of the enterprise and workers' satisfaction in fulfilling their tasks depend on increased participation, these are matters in respect of which trade unions have a contribution to make. Experience shows that wherever there is a sincere willingness to combine efforts, enterprises and trade unions succeed better in overcoming current difficulties jointly. At present, the most important challenges are not only development, growth, improved productivity and competitivity, but also the improvement of working conditions in a climate of freedom. Industrial relations are an important means towards the achievement of economie and social objectives and the defence of liberty. Freedom of association, as formulated in the instruments adopted by the ILO, is of great importance in this domain.

The question, at what level should collective bargaining take place, is getting more and more attention. There has been a tendency to move away from industrywide or inter-occupational bargaining to enterprise or plant level negotiations, a tendency that has been accentuated by the need of enterprises to respond to competitive pressures through restructuring and technological change. But such decentralisation may also require that unions adapt their structure and their bargaining methods. It also presents problems to employers' organisations, whose role as partners to collective bargaining at sectoral level may be undermined. As far as the state is concerned, what should be its role in respect of collective bargaining, particularly at a time when governments are being confronted with the need to combat unemployment and inflation? As the guarantor of the general interest, the state cannot remain indiffèrent to the macroeconomic implications of collective agreements. At the same time, the State should refrain from abusive interventions which suffocate free bargaining. One important means of permitting government to play its role as defender of the public interest without undermining free collective bargaining is through tripartite «concertation» at the national level. Promoting a more systematic recourse to «concertation» between authorised and responsible representatives of governments, trade unions and employers' organisations at the highest levels remains one of the major objectives of the ILO. The issue of employment, has been the subject of sometimes bitter public debate in industrialised countries and is the cause of endemic poverty in large parts of the third world. The ILO has sought increasingly to assist governments, employers and workers to reduce unemployment and to understand its origins better. Currently, the problem of «flexibility» has corne to the fore in both international and national discussions. Sometimes the word designates organisational changes, at other times adapting remuneration to productivity or removing legal constraints on the enterprise. The doctrine of flexibility has so far not been formulated in precise terms, and consequently prudence is called for before measures are undertaken in its name. The ILO has a particular interest in ensuring that this debate is not turned to the weakening, — or worse, the undoing — of international labour standards.