Historical Perspective and Raison d’être
The International Association of Labour Inspection (IALI) was founded in 1972 in order to provide a professional forum for the exchange of information and experience between inspectors about their work. It promotes closer cooperation and greater understanding between inspectorates, authorities and other institutions of the role, the realities and challenges of labour inspection. The statutes exclude any political, trade union or religious activity and any judgement in respect of the labour law or inspection systems of individual states. The Association is a non-governmental organization (NGO) recognized by the ILO.
Structure and Membership
In 1996, the General Assembly (which meets every three years at the same time as the Triennial Congress) elected a seven-person Executive Committee (EC). The EC elected the President (Germany) and appointed the Honorary Secretary (United Kingdom) as well as the Honorary Treasurer (Switzerland). The four Vice-Presidents came from Spain, Denmark, Tunisia and Hungary. The EC meets as necessary to manage the affairs of the Association, whose registered office is at 23 rue Ferdinand-Hodler, CP3974/1211, Geneva 3, Switzerland. The Secretariat is located at: Hessisches Ministerium fur Frauen, Arbeit und Sozialordnung, Dostojewskistrasse 4, 65187 Wiesbaden, Germany. Tel: +49-611-8173316; Fax: +49-611-86837.
Membership of IALI is open to:
- national and regional labour departments (directorates of labour inspection, safety and hygiene directorates and so on)
- national groups of labour inspectors (associations, unions and so on).
There is an annual membership fee which is dependent upon the size of the organization making the application. This covers the expenses of organizing the programme of activities. In September 1995 the Association comprised 65 member organizations from 50 countries. The majority of members are now labour departments or labour inspectorates.
By gathering and summarizing information and documentation on particular aspects of labour inspectorate work and by undertaking comparative studies among its members, the Association promotes professional understanding of all aspects of labour inspection and provides opportunities for the exchange of views between practitioners. The technical symposia (organized jointly with member countries) and the triennial congress let inspectors get to know their colleagues personally, to exchange information on problems, solutions and new developments, and to develop their own thinking. These meetings also serve to focus attention in a practical way on a wide range of specific, but carefully chosen, aspects of labour inspection, thus promoting greater consistency of practice between inspectorates in different countries. The proceedings are published and a regular newsletter is also sent to members.
The programmes of IALI are devoted exclusively to the distribution of information collected through international enquiries based on questionnaires and reports from international or regional symposia. There is an international congress every three years in Geneva, undertaken with the generous technical assistance of the ILO at the time of its annual international conference. The ILO also collaborates in the organization of many of the symposia. Since 1974 programmes have been devoted to the study of a wide range of practices in the field of safety, health and the working environment. Topics have included recording systems for premises and accidents, methods of inspecting smaller enterprises, the problems of large construction sites and the use of computers by inspectors. The Association has considered causes of accidents and other problems in relation to the use of robots and other programmable electronic systems. More recently its symposia and congresses have included topics as diverse as human factors, training of inspectors, inspection of public services, child labour, agriculture, risk assessment and occupational health.
The Changing World of Work
The need for a more effective exchange of information and experience has been stimulated by a number of significant developments in the field of labour inspection, including:
- the increasing complexity and breadth of coverage of labour law
- the introduction of new concepts of oversight such as risk assessment and risk management
- the scale and breadth of technological innovation (seen, for instance, in the introduction of new chemicals and compounds, the increasing reliance on programmable electronic systems, genetic manipulation, new applications for ionizing radiation or generally the growth in the use of information technology)
- the changing structure of industry in established market economies, in countries in transition to a market economy and in developing countries
- the growth, in part as a result of the previous development, in the number of small and medium-sized enterprises
- the decline in membership and influence of trade unions, particularly in many industrial market economies
- the pressure on labour inspectorates themselves through budgetary constraints and demands by government that they justify their existence and demonstrate (and where possible improve) their efficiency and effectiveness.
Challenges to Inspection
Affecting all these issues is the increased emphasis on the human factor. Labour inspectors need to analyse, understand and constructively use their skills to help employers and employees to take this central element into account in developing preventive strategies for health and safety. In many countries too there is increasing public awareness of and concern about the consequences of work and work processes. In much forward-looking legislation this is expressed as the aim that no one should be harmed in any way by the need to work. But it is also evident in concerns about the impact of industry and commerce on the environment and the quality of life.
Labour inspectors cannot simply ignore these trends; they have to take the initiative and explain through the media their role, the advice they give and the effect of their compliance work, in order to promote confidence in the constructive work they do. Inspectorates throughout the world have had to review how they work, set their priorities and carry out their inspections so they can devote more time and more of their limited resources to productive activities.
The exchange of information and experience about all these matters is of enormous interest to inspectors. For whilst inspectorates operate in very different political, economic, legal and social climates, experience shows that they have many practical concerns in common and can benefit in a very instructive way from the experience, the different viewpoints, the ideas and the successes and failures of their colleagues in other countries.