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International Labour Conference: 1st Session

The International Labour Conference through time

1st Session - 1919 (29 October-29 November)

Washington, USA

Conference Documents

Reports submitted to the Conference Reports of the Commissions and Committees Texts Adopted Other Documents

Report I: The Eight-Hours Day or Forty-Eight Hours Week

Report II: Unemployment

Report III: The Employment of Women and Children and the Berne Conventions of 1906

Report IV: Supplemental Report on Certain Countries for Which Information Was Received Too Late for Inclusion in Reports I, II and III

Report on a Draft Convention Relating to the Eight-Hours Day and the Forty-Eight Hours Week

Reports of Committees and Commissions of the Conference

Report of the Chairman of the Committee of Selection on Various Proposals Submitted to the Governing Body of the International Labour Conference

Report of the Commission on Applications for Admission of New Members

Report of the Commission on Credentials to the International Labour Conference

Report of the Commission on Employment of Children upon the Age of Admissions of Children to Employment

Report of the Commission on Employment of Women on Employment of Women before and after Childbirth

Report of the Commission on the Application of the Hours-of-Work Convention to Special Countries, as Provided in Article 405 of the Treaty of Peace

Reports of the Commission on Standing Orders

Report of the Commission on Unemployment

Report of the Commission on Unhealthy Processes

Report of the Committee on Drafting

Resolutions Adopted

Agenda of First Session of Conference

Circular Letter Addressed by the Organising Committee to the Governments

List of Delegates and Advisers

Motions Presented by Delegates

Notification of the Closure of the Conference

Official Bulletin

Countries Represented

Argentine, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chili, China, Colombia, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Finland, France, Great Britain, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Persia, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Siam, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay and Venezuela.

1st Conference

Preparations leading to the First Conference

On 11 April 1919, the Peace Conference approved the provisions concerning a First Meeting of the International Labour Conference at Washington in October 1919, and these provisions contained the Agenda for this meeting.

An International Organising Committee composed of seven members was appointed by the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Belgium, and Switzerland to work on documentary preparation. The Committee held seven sittings from 14 April to 4 August 1919 to undertake the preliminary arrangements for the First Session of the International Labour Conference.

The Committee decided in the first place that it would be necessary to consult the Governments of the various Members of the Organization on each of the questions to be treated at the Conference, and from the replies received to draw up the information of the Delegates to the Conference condensed reports showing the scope of existing law and the attitude of the Governments regarding each problem.

From 6 May to 9 May, the Committee met in London. They drew up a questionnaire relative to the five items included in the Agenda by the Peace Conference, and circulated it to the 45 Governments named in the Annex to the Covenant of the League of Nations, together with a covering letter dated 10 May 1919 explaining the purpose of the questionnaire and the urgency of replies.

The meetings of the Organising Committee, held in Paris on 28 and 29 June, and in London, 31 July and 5 August, were busy with answering the various questions asked by the different Governments, taking note of the relations established with the League of Nations, proposing urgent measures relative to the organization of the Conference by the American Government, discussing the draft reports on the subjects included in the Agenda, drawing up a draft of the rules for the International Conference (Article 401 of the Peace Treaty and Article 17 of the Statutes), and proposing a provisional list of the eight States of chief industrial importance.

Later, the Committee summed up its work and its proposals in a circular dated 20 August 1919, addressed to all the Governments, and through them to all the Delegates already appointed.

The Organising Committee prepared reports based on the replies to questionnaires received from the various governments. In each case, the Committee has appended to the Report a Convention or Recommendation based on the information received, which it suggests might serve as a basis for the discussions of the Conference.

I. Report on the Eight-Hours Day or Forty-Eight Hours Week (Item 1 of the Agenda);

II. Report on Unemployment (Item 2 of the Agenda);

Ill. Report on the Employment of Women and Children and the Berne Conventions of 1906 [Items 3 (a), 3 (b), 3 (c), 4 (a), 4 (b), 4 (c), and 5 of the Agenda];

IV. Supplemental Report on certain countries from which information was received too late for inclusion in Reports I, II. and III.

These reports stated (1) the scope of the existing law on the subjects in question and the nature of the measures taken in the countries concerned to deal with the problems involved; (2) the attitude of the Governments towards these problems as expressed in their replies to the questionnaires and (3) the proposals, based upon (1) and (2), put forward to the Conference by the Organising Committee.

These proposals took the form either of recommendations to the Conference or of projected Draft Conventions which might form a basis for discussion:

  • Draft of a Convention to Limit the Hours of Work in Industrial Undertakings to Forty-Eight in the Week;
  • Draft Convention on Unemployment;
  • International Convention Respecting the Prohibition of Night Work for Women in Industrial Employment, Concluded at Berne in 1906;
  • Draft of a Convention to Fix the Age of Admission of Children to Industrial Employment at 14 Years;
  • Draft of an International Convention to Prohibit the Night Work of Young Persons Employed in Industry;
  • International Convention on the Subject of the Prohibition of the Use of White (Yellow) Phosphorus in the Manufacture of Matches, Concluded at Berne in 1906.

In continuation of its work of preparation for the Conference, the Organising Committee formulated a draft of the Standing Orders to govern the procedure of the Conference. The draft for the First Session of the International Labour Conference circulated with the letter of 20 August 1919.

The Conference appointed a Commission consisting of three delegates to be responsible for examining cases based on the credentials of delegates and their advisers. The Commission on Credentials presented its Report, and later a Supplementary Report.


The First Conference 

The First Session of the International Labour Conference occurred from 29 October 1919 to 29 November 1919 in the Pan-American Building in Washington, USA. The Conference was attended by 123 Delegates (73 Government, 25 Employers and 25 Workers representatives), accompanied by 155 technical advisers, representing 40 countries.

The Conference was presided by William Bauchop Wilson (USA), and the three Vice-Presidents selected were: George Nicoll Barnes (United Kingdom), Jules Carlier (Belgium) and Léon Jouhaux (France).

The Chairman of the Organising Committee submitted the Report in the second sitting on 29 October 1919, and the Report was adopted in the third sitting on 30 October.

The Conference held twenty-five plenary sittings. At the conclusion of each sitting, a verbatim report was printed by the Secretariat, appended to the report, the list of delegates and advisers presented at the sitting, together with the texts adopted and the results of the votes.

A Drafting Committee was appointed by the Conference to draw up the decisions adopted by the Conference in the form of Draft Conventions or Recommendations. After the sittings, the following Recommendations and Draft Conventions were adopted:

  • Recommendation (No. 1) concerning unemployment | adopted, paragraph I by 79 votes to 9; paragraph II by 61 votes to 24; paragraph III by 73 votes to 11, and paragraph IV by 83 votes to 4;
  • Recommendation (No. 2) concerning reciprocity of treatment of foreign workers | adopted by 80 votes to 9;
  • Recommendation (No. 3) concerning the prevention of anthrax | adopted by 95 votes to 0; -
  • Recommendation (No. 4) concerning the protection of women and children against lead poisoning | adopted by 90 votes to 0;
  • Recommendation (No. 5) concerning the establishment of Government health services | adopted by 93 votes to 0;
  • Recommendation (No. 6) concerning the application of the Berne Convention of 1906, on the prohibition of the use of white phosphorus in the manufacture of matches | adopted by 92 votes to 0;
  • Draft Convention (No. 1) limiting the hours of work in industrial undertakings to eight in the day and forty-eight in the week | adopted by 82 votes to 2;
  • Draft Convention (No. 2) concerning unemployment | adopted by88 votes to 4;
  • Draft Convention (No. 3) concerning the employment of women before and after childbirth | adopted by 67 votes to 10;
  • Draft Convention (No. 4) concerning the employment of women during the night | adopted by 94 votes to 1;
  • Draft Convention (No. 5) fixing the minimum age for admission of children to industrial employment | adopted by 92 votes to 3;
  • Draft Convention (No. 6) concerning the night work of young persons employed in industry | adopted by 93 votes to 0.

During the Conference, several Motions were presented by Delegates and the following 19 Resolutions were adopted:

  • Expression of Thanks to American Government;
  • Resolution of Sympathy with the Population of the Devastated Regions;
  • invitation to the Organisations of Employers and Workers of the United States;
  • Admission of Germany and Austria to the International Labour Organisation;
  • Invitation to the Delegates of Finland to take in the Conference;
  • Refusal to act upon the Admission of Luxemburg, San Domingo and Mexico;
  • Maintenance of Wage Standards;
  • Effect of Convention upon existing Standards more Advantageous than those Provided;
  • Establishment of a Special Section in the international Labour Office;
  • Creation of an International Commission to Regulate the Migration of Workers;
  • Creation of an International Commission to recommend of gathering Unemployment Data;
  • Additional Protection for Women after Confinement;
  • Invitation to the Indian Government to study the Problem of the Employment of Women;
  • Composition of the Governing Body;
  • Delegation of Authority to the Governing Body;
  • Creation of a Committee upon the Activities of the Health Section;
  • Preparation of the Agenda of the 1920 Conference;
  • Extension of the Conventions to States not Members of the International Labour Orqanisation.
  • Greeting to the American People upon Thanksgiving Day.

The First meeting of the International Labour Conference was declared closed on 27 January 1920. This is the date to be considered, in accordance with Article 405, paragraph 5 of the Treaty of Versailles, in determining the time limits within which the Members of the Labour Organisation have undertaken to bring the Draft Conventions and Recommendations adopted at the Washington meeting before the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter lies, for the enactment of legislation or other action.