Skip to Main Content

Conférence internationale du Travail: 5th Session

Countries Represented

Albania, Argentine Republic, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chili, China, Colombia, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Esthonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Netherlands, Paraguay, Persia, Poland, Portugal, Roumania, Siam, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

5th Conference

Preparations leading to the Fifth Conference

A letter convening the Session and communicating the Agenda was addressed to the Governments of the Members on 20 February 1923.

At its Eighteenth Session in April 1923, the Governing Body of the International Labour Office decided to suggest that the length of the 1923 Session of the Conference should be limited to one week and that only one of the items inscribed on the Agenda should be considered, the other items being carried over to the Sixth Session, to be held in June 1924. Consequently, a supplementary letter was sent to the Governments of the States' Members on 28 April 1923.

A single subject — that of the general principles for the organisation of factory inspection — was therefore chosen from the Agenda already agreed upon, and it was anticipated that a session of short duration, involving a minimum of expense, would suffice for its adequate examination.

The subject had been divided for the purposes of examination into four principal sections, under the headings:

(1) Scope of Factory Inspection;

(2) Nature of the Functions and Powers of Factory Inspectors;

(3) Organisation of Factory Inspection; and

(4) Inspection Reports.

The Organisation has long been preoccupied with the question of inspection. An international code was in the process of formation by the decisions of the successive sessions of the Conference, a code covering essential matters in the sphere of labour conditions. That code was being transformed into action by enacting portions of it in this or that national legislation and the ends appointed for the Organisation by the Treaties of Peace.

The Questionnaire was sent to the Governments, prepared by the International Labour Office, according to its usual method to obtain the opinions of the Governments as to the possibility or desirability of embodying in a Recommendation certain general principles concerning the functions, organisation and working of factory inspection services. The replies received from the Governments were analysed in a Report issued by the Office before the Session opened, and they form informative material on the general question of inspection and a draft for a Recommendation.

In preparing the stenographic record of the proceedings of the Fifth Session of the Conference, the same general method has been followed as in the case of the records of previous Sessions.

Five committees were appointed, composed as usual of equal numbers from the three groups (Government, Workers, and Employers). Three of the Committees were composed of 24 members, and the other two of 18 members.

The First Committee, under the chairmanship of Mr Jules Gautier, a French Government delegate, had to “examine the question of the sphere of inspection”. The report submitted to the Conference by the chairman recommended therefore what should be the principal end to be aimed at by inspection, namely, the supervision of the application of legislation relating to the conditions of work and the protection of the workers, and under what conditions other duties related to but not strictly speaking comprised within this end might be confided to the inspecting staff.

To the Second Committee, which elected Mr de Michaelis, an Italian Government delegate, as its chairman, was entrusted the consideration of the powers with which inspectors should be endowed so that the general aims discussed by the First Committee should be attained. The Conference inserted verbal amendments to the Committee's text, intended to make it applicable to all judicial systems.

To the Third Committee, under the chairmanship of Mr Armand Julin, a Belgian Government delegate, fell the consideration of the relations of inspection to the problems of safety, a term interpreted in a broad sense, to include not only accident prevention but the maintenance of health and the avoidance of unnecessary fatigue.

The Fourth Committee, under the guidance of Sir Malcolm Delevingne, a British Government delegate, found that many general principles can now be deduced from the successful practice of the industrial nations. The Fourth Committee also considered the methods of inspection and included in their report many clauses concerning the periodical visitation of factories and workplaces, which lay down a standard for regular practice in this matter.

The Fifth Committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. François Sokal, Polish Government delegate, discussed the reports which should be made by inspectors, which agreed upon clauses asking that these reports should be regularly communicated to the central authorities, and should be framed on uniform lines.

The reports of the five committees dealt respectively with one aspect or another of the subject before the Conference and made several recommendations in each case. The Conference examined the reports and the recommendations and, after amending their texts, sent them to a Drafting Committee to be established in the form of a Recommendation. It will be recalled that the more important decisions of the Conference take the form of either a Draft Convention or a Recommendation.

The Drafting Committee assembled and coordinated the work of the five committees and submitted to the Conference for its final approval a single Recommendation comprising the various proposals of the committees. Following the Treaties of Peace, such a Recommendation must be agreed upon by a two-thirds majority; the recorded vote, taken when the Drafting Committee's proposal was placed before the Conference, revealed unanimity, with 105 delegates voting for the Recommendation and none against.

The clauses of the Recommendation concerning inspectors’ reports represent an attempt to make certain progress towards their international comparability; the task of making that comparison can be entrusted only to the International Labour Office, and the Conference, by a special resolution adopted unanimously, invited the Office to publish annually a general report based upon the annual national reports, and further, to make every endeavour to secure the highest possible degree of uniformity in their presentation, more especially as concerns their statistics.

A second resolution, put forward by the Third Committee and again adopted unanimously by the Conference, called attention to a particular device used in certain countries to reduce the number of accidents. Certain members of the Committee put forward evidence of the success of this plan, and the resolution asks for an enquiry into the matter to be carried out by the Office.

Still, in connection with the subject of accidents, a third resolution, put forward by Mr Schurch, the Swiss workers' delegate, called upon the Governing Body to enquire into the need for an international agreement upon the use of automatic couplings for the rolling-stock of railways.

Mr Uno, the Japanese workers’ delegate, asked the Conference to consider the possibility of the inspection of labour conditions in the merchant marine, and the Conference agreed.

In accordance with the Standing Orders, the Director of the International Labour Office presented detailed reports to the sessions of 1921 and 1922 on the working of the Organisation and the Office during the preceding year. On this occasion, given the circumstances to which reference has been made, the report was relatively short, confining itself first to a tabular statement concerning the progress made in the ratification of the Conventions adopted at previous sessions of the Conference and in the adoption of measures in pursuance of the Recommendations, and secondly to the publication of the annual reports which, by the terms of Article 408 of the Treaty of Versailles, are to be forwarded to the International Labour Office by the Governments of States which have ratified any of the Conventions.

The discussions on the Director's Report, which have taken place during three successive sessions of the Conference, have centred, for the most part, on the extent of the ratification and application of the decisions of the Conference.


The Fifth Conference

The Fifth Session of the General Conference of Representatives of the Members of the International Labour Organisation was held in Geneva from 22 to 29 October 1923. Dr Adatci was elected the president of the session, the first Japanese Government delegate, with experience as Chairman of the Selection Committee at the previous session, member of the Governing Body, and member of the Fourth Committee of the Assembly of the League of Nations.

According to the Standing Orders, the three vice-presidents are nominated by the Government, employers', and workers' groups respectively, and must be of different nationalities. In order to avoid certain difficulties caused by the latter point, the new Standing Orders adopted in 1922 provided that the order in which the groups should nominate their vice-presidents was to be determined by lot at the Fifth Session, and that at subsequent sessions the groups should have priority of nomination in rotation. The vice-presidents elected were Mr Pfister, one of the Swiss Government delegates who has long been associated with the Conference and the Governing Body, Mr Jouhaux, French workers' representative, member of the Governing Body, and Mr Olivetti, representative of the Italian employers at three sessions of the Conference, and member of the Governing Body.

Forty-two states sent delegations, and no state of any great economic importance (except the United States of America and Russia, which remain outside the League of Nations and the International Labour Organisation) was unrepresented. There were 74 representatives of the Government, 24 of the employers', and 24 of workers' delegates; accompanied by seventy technical advisers.

On the present occasion, 17 delegations consisted of Government representatives only. In two further instances, workers and employers had failed to come to an agreement concerning the nomination of a delegate, resulting in the Norwegian employers' representative' and the Bulgarian workers' representative, though present at the Conference and taking part in its work, were not able to exercise their vote, Article 390 of the Treaty of Versailles providing that when a State Member of the Organisation fails to nominate one of the non-Government delegates, the other may sit and speak, but not vote at the Conference.

The Fifth Session of the International Labour Conference held twenty-two plenary sittings and resulted in a Recommendation and six Resolutions adopted:

  • Recommendation (No. 20) concerning the General Principles for the Organisation of Systems of Inspection to secure the Enforcement of the Laws and Regulations for the Protection of the Workers;
  • Resolution concerning safety work;
  • Resolution concerning the publication of a general report based upon the annual inspection reports;
  • Resolution concerning the publication of a report on the comparability of inspectors’ reports;
  • Resolution concerning the question of automatic couplings;
  • Resolution concerning the institution of a special inspection service for the mercantile marine;
  • Resolution concerning the conditions of labour in the Saar Basin.