Workers' and employers' organisations shall have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules, to elect their representatives in full freedom, to organise their administration and activities and to formulate their programmes.
The public authorities shall refrain from any interference which would restrict this right or impede the lawful exercise thereof.
Principles of the ILO supervisory bodies
- Legislation should lay down only formal requirements related to trade unions’ constitutions;
- Constitutions and rules should not need prior approval at the discretion of the public authorities;
- Foreign workers should be allowed to take union office after a reasonable period of residence and conditions of nationality should not be imposed;
- Financial administration requirements should be limited to those intended to protect the rights of members and to ensure sound and efficient management;
- Legislative provisions on the political activities of organizations should balance their legitimate interest in expressing their point of view regarding the economic and social policies affecting their members and workers in general.
However, purely political activities and trade union activities should be clearly separated to ensure the organization’s independence.
Some examples of State interference
1. In constitutions and rules:
- Where a first-level trade union may be required by law to conform to the constitution of a single federation;
- Where the constitution of a new trade union may be subjected by law to approval by the central administration of the existing organization;
- Where the sole central organization or higher level organizations specified by the law may have the exclusive right to set the by-laws of first-level trade unions;
- Where the constitutions may have to be drawn up by the public authorities;
- Where trade unions may be required to follow a model constitution which contains more than certain purely formal clauses, or to use such a model as a basis;
- Where the approval of constitutions and rules of occupational organizations is subject to the discretionary power of the public authorities;
- Where the public authorities have the right to require amendments to constitutions.
2. In the election of representatives:
- Where very precise rules are laid down in law on the subject of trade union elections, thus enabling the public authorities to interfere in the voting process;
- Where there is supervision by the administrative authorities or the single trade union central organization of the election procedure, for example by requiring the presence of labour inspectors or representatives of the administration;
- Where the results of elections must be accepted or approved by the public authorities before they can be given effect;
- Where legislation requires all candidates for office to belong to the respective occupation, enterprise or production unit, or be actually employed in this occupation, either at the time of candidature or during a certain period prior to election;
- Where legislation sets nationality as a condition for trade union office;
- Where political beliefs or affiliations (or lack of them) is set as a condition for trade union office;
- Where a condition for trade union office is that candidates be free of any criminal conviction;
- Where a restriction is placed on re-election.
3. In administration and activities:
- Where the law establishes the minimum contribution of members which should normally be left to the by-laws;
- Where regulations specify the proportion of union funds that must be paid to the federations or require that certain financial operations, such as the receipt of funds from abroad, be approved by the public authorities;
- Where administrative authorities have the power to examine the books and other documents of an organization without safeguards of ordinary due process;
- Where administrative authorities may conduct an investigation and demand information at any time;
- Where there is a legislative provision interfering with organizations’ right to dispose of all their fixed and movable assets unhindered.
4. In formulation of programmes:
- Where organizations are forbidden from making financial contributions for any political activity;
- Where there is a total ban on any political activities by trade unions;
- Where legislation establishes a close relationship between trade union organizations and a single political party in power.