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Conférence internationale du Travail: 4e session

Countries Represented

Albania, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chili, China, Colombia, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Esthonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Netherlands, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Roumania, Serb-Croat-Slovene Kingdom, Siam, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

4th Conference

Preparations leading to the Fourth Conference

The letter convening the Session and communicating the Agenda was addressed to the Governments of the States Members on 28 February 1922:

I. Revision of Part XIII of the Treaty of Versailles and the corresponding Parts of the other Treaties of Peace:

(a) With a view to the reform of the constitution of the Governing Body;

(b) With a view to modification as regards the periodicity of the Sessions of the Conference;

II. Communication to the International Labour Office of statistical and other information regarding emigration and immigration and the repatriation and transport of emigrants.

The first of these questions had provoked considerable heartburning, and it had been the subject of repeated protest on the part of several states since the birth of the Organisation, for the Treaty of Peace provides permanent seats on the Governing Body for the ‘eight states of chief industrial importance’, but lays down no criteria by which ‘industrial importance’ may be judged. The general expectation was that the question would prove thorny and that any solution proposed would possibly leave cause in certain quarters for discontent.

Concerning the second question, that of the periodicity of the sessions of the Conference, a divergence of opinion had been marked. On the one hand, those who held that the Conference had been proceeding possibly too rapidly in its social legislation programme were inclined to believe that biennial sessions would be adequate. This view tended to find support among the states which, because of distance or the state of the exchanges, felt the expense of sending delegations to be heavy. On the other hand, it was felt by some that the adoption of a system of biennial sessions would at once appear to be evidence of a slackening of the spirit which had created the Organisation, would diminish the importance of the Conference, and render its decisions perhaps tardier and less effective than under the existing system.

There were, however, many questions which, while not appearing upon the formal Agenda of the Conference since they did not call for legislative decisions or amendments to the Treaty, were nevertheless of great interest. These were the revision of the Standing Orders, election of a new Governing Body of the International Labour Office; consideration of the reports of the Office on unemployment; the distribution of raw materials; and the hours of labour.

A further letter was sent to the Governments of the States Members on 19 June 1922, transmitting the questionnaires in connection with items I and II of the Agenda. The Questionnaires have been prepared by the International Labour Office, following the method adopted for the Third Session of the Conference, to ascertain the opinions of the Governments of States Members on the two items on the Agenda. In the light of the replies received, the Office will proceed to prepare general reports on the two items on the Agenda for distribution to the Delegations immediately before the opening of the Session of the Conference.

Finally, a letter containing further detailed information concerning the various questions for discussion at the Conference was sent to the Governments on 14 September 1922.

The report of the Director-General was submitted, which would deal with the past year’s work of the Organisation and with the state of affairs concerning the progress of ratification of the Conventions adopted by former sessions, and with the annual reports received from the States Members concerning the application of the Conventions they had ratified. The report was divided into three parts: 1) concerned all problems of the general organisation; 2) related to the results obtained in the sphere of international labour legislation; and 3) devoted to the scientific work of the Office, enquiries already carried out, and the collection and distribution of information. In the end, the Director reviewed the general position of the Office and expressed the range of its effort after three years of work and experience.

Furthermore, the reports on the unemployment crisis, on the distribution of raw materials and on the hours of labour, together with the general report of the Director of the International Labour Office, served as a basis for discussion at the Conference.

In the choice of Commissions, the three groups of government, employers’ and workers’ delegates, respectively make their nominations, which are afterwards approved, usually without question, by the entire Conference.


The Fourth Conference

The Fourth Session of the General Conference of Representatives of the Members of the International Labour Organisation was held in Geneva from 18 October to 3 November 1922. During the Conference was presented 112 delegates, of which 68 represented their governments, 22 the employers, and 22 the workers from 39 States Members.

For the second time, the Conference had the assistance of Viscount Burnham, as President, whose conduct of its proceedings during the Third Session had won the approbation of all delegations. The Conference, therefore, decided to suspend the Standing Order and elect only one Vice-President, the nominee of the government group, namely Dr Aristides de Agüero y Bethencourt, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of Cuba.

The experience of three years' work has shown the necessity for adopting some procedures to facilitate the solution of difficulties met by states in their efforts to apply the decisions of the Conference through their national legislation. It has happened in many cases that a minor amendment to the terms of a Convention, in no way affecting the principle laid down therein, would remove obstacles to ratification by one or more states which may be desirous of ratifying but find themselves faced by minor difficulties of application. The question was brought before the current session of the Conference by the Report of the Director, and a Commission was appointed to consider it, the Commission on the Procedure of Amendment of Conventions.

The results of this session may be summed up as being of the nature of a consolidation of the position gained and of preparation of foundations for future extension.

A small Committee to examine the credentials of delegates, consisting of one member from each group, was first appointed.

The Commissions whose work was legislative were, because of the restricted nature of the programme, fewer in number than those of the preceding session; corresponding to the items on the ‘formal Agenda there were created Commissions on Constitutional Reforms, and on Emigration and Immigration Statistics. To consider a problem referred to this session by that of 1921, a Commission on the Procedure for Amendment of Conventions was constituted, and to evaluate the special report on the unemployment crisis; a fourth Commission was formed.

The Commission on Constitutional Reforms revised two of the items on the agenda – the reform of the Governing Body and the periodicity of the sessions of the Conference – was grouped the third question, the amendment of the Standing Orders of the Conference, and the three were confided to a large Commission of thirty-six members. The Commission on Constitutional Reforms dealt further with the knotty but urgent problem of the composition of the Governing Body.

The Commission on Migration Statistics was entrusted with examining the question of emigration and immigration statistics. At the end of this examination was to be the proposal of a decision of a legislative character.

The Conference referred the report to a Commission specially constituted for the purpose, the Unemployment Commission, which, taking the conclusion of the report as its basis, adopted a series of Resolutions bearing upon the enquiry into unemployment problems now being carried out by the Office.

The Fourth Session of the International Labour Conference held twenty-one plenary sittings and adopted an Amendment to article 393 of the Treaty of Versailles and a Recommendation:

  • Amendment to Article 393 of the Treaty of Versailles and to the Corresponding articles of the other Treaties of Peace;
  • Recommendation (No. 19) concerning Communication to the International Labour Office of Statistical and other Information regarding Emigration, Immigration and the Repatriation and Transit of Emigrants.