The International Labor Organization recently released a new report detailing how freedom of association fosters and supports economic and social development.  Entitled Freedom of Association and Development, the report identifies the ways in which strong independent worker and employer organisations contribute to the conditions that underpin economic progress.

Freedom of association is the cornerstone of the ILO’s approach to development through decent work; namely ensuring that all men and women have the ability to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. Freedom of association refers to the right of workers and employers to create and join organisations of their choice freely and without fear of reprisal or interference.  This includes the right to establish and affiliate to confederations and international organisations.  Linked to the freedom of association is the right to collective bargaining.

The Freedom of Association report includes a variety of case studies ranging from organising the informal economy in Ghana and India, the development of industrial relations through partnership between employers and unions in the Turkish metal sector, to the role of unions in promoting democratic transition in Poland.  The report also identifies the internal and external challenges for governments, worker and employer organisations in promoting freedom of association.

Whilst the report is written from a development context, the principles and findings about how freedom of association benefits business and the community are just as applicable in developed economies.

In particular the report emphasises the benefits of promoting freedom of association to business, as respect for these principles within the workplace can result in positive results in the following areas:

  • economic competitiveness
  • dispute resolution
  • skills development
  • change management
  • promoting cooperation in times of crisis and assisting in responsible restructuring.

The report also discusses the important role that genuine tripartite interaction has on the economic development of a country.  It concludes by outlining detailed roles for government, unions and employer representatives in promoting and realising the benefits of freedom of association.

This report provides a comprehensive, easy-to-read overview of the foundations of freedom of association, and illuminates why it  is a key feature of our system in Australia.

For those wanting to explore in more detail how to create an environment supportive of freedom of association in your organisation, AIER’s Australian Charter of Employment Rights and its accompanying Standard of Employment Rights, is a useful framework.

If you would like to discuss in more detail how to realise the Charter principles in your organisation, contact AIER Executive Director Lisa Heap.