Public Procurement and Labour Rights – Sapiens Network at the ITCILO Academy on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work

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Natalia Spataru updates on her secondment and research at the ITCILO Academy

Natalia Spataru

Natalia Spataru

1) ITCILO – SAPIENS Network Partner Organisation

The International Training Centre of the International Labour Organisation (ITCILO), in Turin, Italy, is a partner organisation of the SAPIENS Network. ITCILO is the training arm of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and has been at the forefront of learning and training since 1964. The Centre leverages global alliances and partnerships to deliver training activities. Courses cover aspects such as employment promotion, international labour standards, social protection, social dialogue, innovation, gender equality and diversity, sustainable development, and the future of work.

Natalia Spataru, SAPIENS Network Early Stage Researcher 1 (based at the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom), started her secondment at the ITCILO on the 17th of September 2023, where she has been conducting research on the formation of labour standards in international agreements. As part of her secondment, Natalia was invited by the ITCILO to deliver presentations – during ITCILO training activities – on the findings of her research relating to international agreements and social sustainability.

2) Academy on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work

One of the training activities in which Natalia has presented her research is the ITCILO Academy on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (FPRW). FPRW took place 16 – 20 October 2023, with the primary aim of providing the fundamental principles for achieving equitable and just societies. The training sessions covered the latest tools to tackle the challenges of a changing world of work drawing upon the latest innovative approaches.

From right to left: Nicolas Torres Vieira, (ITCILO Programme Officer; Activity manager) Natalia Spataru (SAPIENS Network, Early Stage Researcher 1).

The Academy covered topics such as:

  • The key principles of freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
  • Tools to identify and tackle forced labour and trafficking in persons;
  • Public and private compliance initiatives to tackle child labour;
  • Corporate due diligence and FPRW;
  • Measures to promote diversity, inclusion and non-discrimination in the workplace;
  • Measures to ensure a safe and healthy working environment.

3) Balancing public procurement and labour rights

Natalia delivered a presentation on public procurement (PP) and social sustainability as part of the corporate due diligence and FPRW session. The presentation focused on introducing the linkages between PP and international labour standards to a heterogeneous audience. The Academy participants were government representatives and public officers; representatives from trade unions and employers’ organisations; other actors from the public and private sector, from civil society; and staff from the ILO and other international organisations.

Natalia commenced her presentation with a quote from McCrudden:

It is interesting to examine how governments use government contracting to produce social justice results. The particular issue is how government attempts to combine the three functions of government: participating in the market but regulating it at the same time, by using its purchasing power to advance conceptions of social justice.

(Christopher McCrudden, Buying Social Justice: Equality, Government Procurement, & Legal Change, OUP: 2007, 3).

 After having introduced the PP discipline and national and regional PP systems’ objectives, Natalia tackled the connection between labour rights and PP. She covered the objectives and instruments of the ILO Convention on Labour Clauses (Public Contracts), 1949 (No. 94) and Recommendation (No. 84).

The rationale behind the adoption of Convention No. 94 and Recommendation No. 84 is to restrict public authorities from entering into contracts concerning the employment of workers – whether for the construction of public works, the manufacture of goods, or the provision of services – that do not have an ‘acceptable level of social protection’. By an ‘acceptable level of social protection’, the ILO Convention 94 seems to imply that workers should be entitled to wages, hours of work and other labour conditions no less than those normally observed for the kind of work in question in the area where the contract is executed and to ensure that higher local standards, if any, are applied.

The ILO Convention 94 applies to PP contracts for construction (works), goods (supplies), or services:

  • concluded by a government authority;
  • involving the expenditure of public funds;
  • including the employment of workers.

Likewise, Recommendation 84 stipulates that labour clauses should be used where private employers are granted subsidies or are licensed to operate a public utility. ILO Convention 94 provides for specific remedies for non-observance of the provisions of labour clauses, e.g. the exclusion of economic operators from participating in future tendering, or suspending the payment of sums owed under a contract.

The final part of Natalia’s intervention was devoted to discussing the following with participants: the PP stages and how labour rights considerations may be integrated into these; approaches to combating violations of fundamental principles at work; and public and private compliance initiatives to tackle child labour.

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