The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Standard Labour Inspection Systems

Integrated or standardised labour inspection systems and occupational safety and health (OSH) cannot be separated in trying to achieve decent work for all. In an endeavour to achieve this, the African Regional Labour Administration Centre (ARLAC) has been holding tripartite workshops targeting labour inspectors, officers, OSH inspectors and industrial relations officers.

This targeted audience is responsible for conducting inspection visits and has been drawn from several African governments, worker and employer representatives. One important role of labour inspection in any country is the promotion of compliance with ILO conventions and recommendations.

This is through national labour legislation that gives effects to them, as well as good labour practices.

The aim is to achieve basic workers' rights, balanced socio-economic development, and sound and effective industrial relations as a basis for constructive social dialogue, industrial peace and a positive investment climate. Ultimately, they thus contribute to the ILO decent work agenda. Concurrent with increased global competition is the trend towards greater liberalisation to a free trade environment where resource allocation is more influenced by market forces.

The desire to attract investment and create employment in line with economic parameters can then dominate the social imperative of labour protection.

As with globalisation, increased liberalisation puts pressure on Governments to reduce their interventions in the labour market. This is with the need for labour inspection services being further questioned and opposed. Globalisation and liberalisation place increased pressure on labour resources, requiring greater vigilance by labour inspectorates if labour exploitation and deteriorating working conditions are to be prevented.

The strategies of labour protection interventions certainly have to change, but their purpose and objectives remain the same. There is need to offer Africa's labour inspectors access to good, practical solutions and guides in running effective and efficient integrated labour inspection services. They should be imparted with knowledge, skills and attitudinal change of labour and OSH practitioners geared towards the realisation of decent work for all.

Special attention should be paid to the many difficult, changing and sometimes conflicting, often new and unfamiliar roles of labour inspectors.

The inspectorates can effectively manage the reform process, which inevitably includes change in policy, the legal frame, organisational structures of the inspection services. Also not to be overlooked are the methods of intervention, that is what and how inspectors inspect, and how to promote the concept of and integrated inspection service.

In this regard, there is need to promote the global code of integrity for labour inspection and understand the roles of OSH labour inspectorates in the changing world of work. ARLAC believes that work is central to people's well being. In addition to providing income, work can pave the way for broader social and economic advancement, strengthening individuals, their families and communities.

Every year, more than two million people die from occupational accidents or work related diseases.

By conservative estimates, there are 270 million occupational accidents and 160 million cases of occupational diseases. Work related accidents and ill health place a tremendous burden on workers, their families, enterprises and the society as a whole.

The ILO estimates that four percent of the world GDP is lost through injury, death and disease. The safety of work varies enormously between countries, economic sectors and social groups.

To reduce the number of occupational accidents and diseases at the workplace, it is necessary that proper management of risks in the work environment be instituted. This is crucial in a globalising world characterised by changes in the ways that individuals work and the hazards they have to face.

Tackling these changes on working life demands an integrated approach, merging the traditional, technical and medical issues with the social, psychological, economical and legal ones. The new reality demands global strategies and local responsiveness to enable countries to react by adopting adequate socio-economic policies, avoiding economic turbulence and promoting industrial peace.

The right to decent working conditions can be considered a fundamental human right. Labour inspection is one of the basic tools to put this principle into practice, and has a key role in promoting compliance with ILO Core Labour Standards national.

The labour inspectorates are the State authority for many work-related activities. These include health and safety, social dialogue, legislation, market control mechanisms, child labour, working conditions, and the fight against illegal work, among others.

Strengthening labour inspection is crucial for ensuring a high standard in labour protection. In many countries, labour inspections are catalysts to start reform process in Government structures as well as for social partners when it comes to establishing a sustainable tripartite culture.

The effects of globalisation will change the role of labour inspection. To develop an integrated labour inspection approach, based on the principle of "one enterprise -- one inspector" and the implementation of OSH necessitates an increase of the effectiveness and efficiency of inspection services.

This makes optimal use of available resources and being able to respond to our future needs. There is widespread concern that labour inspection services in many African countries are not able to carry out their roles and functions. They are often understaffed, under-equipped, under-trained and underpaid.

Small transport and travel budgets and inadequate means of communication and record keeping also hinder their capacity to perform inspections and take necessary follow-up action. The squeeze on labour inspection resources can also put severe strain on the professionalism and impartiality of inspectors.

Through its technical advisory services, the ILO has over the years promoted an integrated approach to labour inspection as a means of improving inspection standards at national level. An integrated labour inspection system is a holistic, coherent and flexible concept that contains elements such as administrative, procedural and technical integration.

In its "Decent Work, Safe Work" programme, the ILO entrusts labour inspection and its social partners with new roles and responsibilities.

The idea is to ensure workers' health and safety by improving working conditions and guaranteeing decent labour relations through an Integrated Labour Inspection System.

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