Commonwealth Trade Union Group (CTUG) statement for World Day Against Child Labour 2024: Unions say child labour must come to a full stop in the Commonwealth

photo: UN MINUSTAH Logan Abassi

On 12 June 2024, the annual World Day Against Child Labour, the 70-million strong Commonwealth Trade Union Group, is calling on those Commonwealth member states which have not yet ratified the ILO Convention 138 on the Minimum Age on Admission to Employment or Work (1973), to do so urgently, making it the second ILO child labour convention after C182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999) to achieve universal Commonwealth ratification.

The call comes as Commonwealth Year of Youth (extended into 2024) comes to and end. There are 1.5 billion people in the Commonwealth under 30, making up 60% of its population.

Of the 11 ILO member states that have not yet ratified C138, five are in the Commonwealth which means the Commonwealth is lagging behind the rest of the world*. Those who need to ratify are mostly in the Pacific: the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Tonga and Tuval as well as Saint Lucia in the Caribbean.

And as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting later this year in Samoa (which ratified the Convention in 2008 setting the legal minimum age at 15) will be the first in a Pacific island state, the call for four other Pacific governments (including New Zealand, which still does not have a minimum age for work) and Saint Lucia, another small island developing state, to do so is particularly relevant.

The objective of Convention 138 is the effective abolition of child labour by requiring countries to: 1) establish a minimum age for entry into work or employment; and 2) establish national policies for the elimination of child labour. ILO Recommendation 146 which accompanies it stresses that national policies and plans should provide for: poverty alleviation and the promotion of decent jobs for adults, so that parents do not need to resort to child labour; free and compulsory education and provision of vocational training; extension of social security and systems for birth registration; and appropriate facilities for the protection of children, and adolescents who work.

CTUG President Zahoor Awan from the Pakistan Workers’ Federation (Pakistan ratified the convention in 2006 setting 14 as the legal minimum age) said:

“Now is the right time to put a full stop to child labour in the Commonwealth. Around a third of people in the Commonwealth should be protected by minimum working age laws, but five countries have yet to ratify the relevant ILO Convention, which is the necessary but not sufficient first step – implementation is needed too. We are calling on those five Commonwealth countries to put that right by the Blue Pacific Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Samoa this October, as part of the Commonwealth’s commitment to personal development for all young people.”

The call to Commonwealth governments is part of the overall International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) call for a New Social Contract, and Education International’s advocacy for safe and secure school environments, ensuring that children removed from child labour stay permanently in schools, based on the lessons learnt from EI’s Child Labour Free Zones project.

ITUC General Secretary Luc Triangle said: “The world has made a promise to children to end child labour by 2025 as stated in SDG Target 8.7. But there are still 160m children working today. Governments must scale up their efforts to tackle poverty and social injustice, and propose urgent rights-based action as set out in the Durban Call to Action. They can learn a lot from the work done by trade unions.

“As long as workers continue to struggle for a decent living wage and adequate social protection, we will witness the scourge of child labour. We want a New Social Contract for decent work for all workers, so that parents can earn a good living and children can learn at school. To achieve these reforms, we need democracy in every workplace, and beyond, so workers always have a say.

“Ending corporate greed is essential to ending child labour. That means enforcing due diligence in global supply chains and holding businesses to account for their exploitation of workers and children, particularly in agriculture, where over 70 per cent of child labour occurs.

“We urge all nations to improve their implementation of ILO Convention 182, on the worst forms of child labour and we urge the ratification of Convention 138 on Minimum Age by the 11 governments who have not yet done so”.

  • Trades Union Congress Ghana affiliate, the General Agriculture Workers’ Union, introduced a child labour clause in collective agreements, campaigned on the right to education for children and advocated an area-based approach to end child labour with support from the Global March Against Child Labour.
  • In Bangladesh, with support from ITUC-Asia Pacific, unions joined efforts to accelerate the elimination of child labour by organising workers and rescue missions, advocating for stricter regulations and effective enforcement.

To mark the World Day Against Child Labour, there will be a high-level event at the International Labour Conference that can be watched online here.

* The other six, non-Commonwealth countries, which have not yet ratified Convention 138 are Iran, the Marshall Islands, Palau, Somalia, Timor Leste and the USA. The Commonwealth includes about a third of ILO member states, but nearly half those which have not ratified C138.